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What does a Shadow Roll do?

William Finnegan, The New Yorker, Can Horse Racing Survive , May 15, 2021

This was an article clearly not written by an experienced horseperson, but even so, this explanation gave me pause.

My understanding of a shadow roll’s function is that when a horse inverts and raises its head, the roll blocks a lot of their vision, and they will drop their head in order to see past the roll.

Does a shadow roll reduce the number of shadows a horse can see? How? And how do they aid a spooky horse?

They were often used in the show horse world to indeed encourage the horse to lower his head so that he can see over it. But in racing, yes, it’s the shadows on the ground that can be an issue, or anything on the ground that can upset the horse’s stride should he “spook” at it during a race. I’ve had horses spook at shadows in the morning… going from sun to shaded spots, etc. You can also get harrow marks, if the track conditioning tractor makes a turn rather than staying straight, suddenly causes those harrow marks to change direction… THAT can spook a racehorse. I have a win picture of my horse JUMPING the bar or light that was illuminating the finish line during night racing. Fortunately, he jumped well, it did not interrupt his stride and he still won the race. The horse beside him and only a neck back from him did NOT jump the light well, stuttered a bit, and thus had no hope of catching my horse at the wire. Neither were wearing a shadow roll. They aren’t very popular or much used (that I have seen).


I had it explained to me like this:
It’s like when you have something on your nose. It is not really in your field of vision, but you can see it. and you can’t stop looking at it.

It’s not used every ride, so suddenly it is ‘there’ and the horse stops looking around. instead they look forward (and down) to where the race is.
It is a milder version to blinkers

with (some) jumpers I always thought it was needed to cushion the hardware on the face.
But perhaps also a means to keep them from throwing their head up too high on the hackamore/god-knows-what-bit combination. I was quite surprised when I learned that levered hackamores do not come with a sheepskin cover.

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I used a shadow roll most often to get the horse to lower his head a bit to make his body more horizontal when he ran but it definitely helps a horse from seeing what is directly in front of him like a shadow


A take-off on the shadow roll.

Blinkers. What effect do blinkers have on a horse? Make them more focused and less distracted by horses around them?

I would assume on a young horse, you’d start with no blinkers and then put them in blinkers when there is a reason to (well, unless you’re BB and come from the QH world where they all run in blinkers). What typically would be that reason?

I know it is a ‘reportable’ equipment change if a horse goes into blinkers or will be running without them.

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Generally speaking blinkers keep a horse more focused on the task at hand but also helps keep them going in a straight line. I think Baffert uses blinkers considerably less than the average stable for whatever that is worth.


Blinkers are used for a number of different reasons, and the size and shapes of the cups make a big difference on how they work, and what they are good for. The variations in cup size and shape are very individual, how much you want the horse to see, and what you want to block for that horse.

They are often used on young horses, during breaking, if you happen to have a horse who is terrified of the sight of a rider on his back. Obviously, the horse is not terrified of humans on the ground, but that innate fear of “something on my back, like a predator” can just suddenly become a problem with a horse who has been well started and handled with his ground work. If he’s terrified of the sight of a rider on his back, blinkers block that sight and that terror for him, so that he can be ridden, and learn about everything other than the “sight” of the rider without feeling that innate terror. So he gets “broke to ride” without fear, learns “relaxation”, learns about leg cues, gets rewarded for good behaviour, all by putting off facing what he is innately afraid of. When he’s “broke” in every other way, there is more chance that he will not be as scared of the “sight” of the rider on his back, when it is re-introduced at a later time. Or, some horses will not ever be entirely comfortable with this, and need to wear blinkers for best concentration and racing performance indefinatley. When buying a mature horse off the track, it’s a good idea to find out if he has EVER been ridden without blinkers (if he’s wearing them currently), because he may not have been. And there may still be an issue with seeing a rider on his back. I had one who I NEVER rode without full cup blinkers in the morning, at the track or at the farm, due to his wierdness about seeing me on his back. As a baby, if my hands touched his neck, he would also freak. If a jock wanted speed in a race, I said, “just touch his neck with your hands”. If he knows you are up there, you will get full speed.

The other uses of blinkers are many, and again, the shape of the blinker cup is key, full cup, 3/4 cup, french cup, cheaters, holes cut to let him peek at a horse who might be coming up on him, or no holes. I had another who was a social butterfly. He would be in front, and WAIT for a horse to come to him, so that he could run WITH that other horse, in competition. It was no fun if he was out front alone. Unfortunately, sometimes the horse he was waiting for got past him, and we had “seconditis” for a while. French cup blinkers cured this problem, he didn’t see anyone coming to wait for them, kept him on the job.

The point here is, there are a selection of reasons why a horse may improve his performance with blinkers, and a number of different types of blinkers to effect many different issues that a horse may have, depending on that horse’s personality and issues. If a horse needs blinkers, and you put them on, many horses will heave a sigh of relief, and relax, simply because they no longer see “what scares them”. And for horses, often if they can’t see what scares them, that thing no longer exists, and a problem is solved for a rider or trainer.


Wow that is interesting. I never, ever had a horse who was afraid of the sight of a person on his back. I don’t see how they could see someone up there even if they wanted to. I have had some horses be scared of a person standing above them on a mounting block but we just rewarded them for standing quietly with praise and/or treats and it became a non issue in a hurry. I don’t think I ever had a horse gallop in blinkers.


Not a shadow roll/blinker question but a listed Change on the program…

Usually the talking heads will mention a listed change in the program or during the post parade it is shown.

Today, for, I’m pretty sure, one of the Belmont races, the Change was ‘Ridgling’. I know what a ridgling is but how is that a change? Or the current trainer/owner thought they had a gelding and it was discovered ridgling?

have not heaard that one before
but it sorta kinda makes some sense to mention it.

Hi Nancy, my quarter horse tends to break out the gates more upward then straight forward. This often leads to the jockey pulling on the reigns and well it affects he’s outcome. Can a nose shadow help him break more straight forward out the gates? Any recommendations ?

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Hello. I don’t see a shadow roll helping much with this, sounds more like a training issue to me. Early gate training needs to be calm, and quiet, and slow, and focused on the horse understanding the situation… That everyone is going to load into the gate, and stand and wait quietly for the doors to open, and at that point, acceleration takes place and the race starts. Being calm, quiet, and calculating is the key. If your horse is breaking upwards instead of forward, he’s not thinking. He’s freaking out and breaking like a rocket upwards instead of a race car, forward. He needs to learn patience and what his job is, not freak out vertically, breaking out like a rocket. He needs to be kept calm and quiet in the gate and NOT rushed out, which seems counter productive for a QH, but in fact lets him be calm and learn about what the starting gate is for and use it successfully rather than unsuccessfully, as is currently your problem. The first goal of starting gate training is to load readily and stand quietly. The speed of the break is only introduced AFTER the first two are understood. Then, it is imperative that the rider does not impede the break, goes with the horse and not get left behind and pulls on the reins. The rider takes a handful of mane if necessary. A horse needs little encouragement to increase the speed of his break from the gate. If he understands the game, the speed comes naturally. Don’t rush him, don’t hit him, don’t scream at him to frighten him. Calm, quiet and calculating, understanding his job will get you the best performance possible.

Since your horse has failed to learn these things previously, with his initial training, the job of redoing this is now harder, and with less likelihood of success. Good luck.


Off Topic, but I used to “jump” my TB over bars of light the sun made coming into an open door in the arena :smirk:
He’d also treat tall grass at the edge of a mowed field like a vertical :grin:
I credit their lack of depth perception & their field of vision that makes a fence “disappear” as they approach takeoff.

Back on Topic:
I’m fresh back from a day of watching Trotter/Pacer racing.
Besides the shadow rolls on the nose, some wore them on cheekpieces.
Since horses have wide peripheral vision, were these serving the same purpose of keeping shadows out if sight?

It’s not so much ONLY shadows, it’s just reducing the field of vision, to block things you don’t want him to see or be frightened of, where you put the “shadow roll” or blinker, it’s size or shape is determined by the nature of the problem you are hoping to solve.


Oh, I see now that this is an older horse, not a green one. That’s easy… He’s telling you that he no longer wants to play this game. He doesn’t enjoy it. He’s done. Find him a new situation.

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Thank you Nancy that was actually helpful as it makes sense with my horse. He’s so energetic he seems like he just wants to bolt out. I will begin working on retraining him out the gates in a calm and sound environment. Hopefully he can rewire he’s learning.

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