Stand at the mounting yard fence or take a look through the form guide and the amount of gear a horse might wear, its use and how it may affect performance, can be a little daunting.
In the early stages of a horse's education, it can be a trial and error process to determine what gear works best with each individual horse to ensure it is concentrating and performing to the best of its ability. Many trainers and jockeys now also personalise their own gear and the bright colours are a stark contrast against the horse's neutral fur. Only approved items listed on the Australian Rules of Racing's National Gear Register may be used and penalties apply for using unapproved or modified gear. To help demystify it all, here's my The Guide - Raceday Gear Bag...because sometimes in this industry, you need a translator!
BRIDLE - The leather or nylon headgear that the reins, bit and leads attach to that allow the strappers and jockeys to have control and steer the horse. Some bridle browbands are decorated with the trainer's initials or stable colours (as seen above, Gerald Ryan's bridle on Diddums features his stable blue and yellow).
SADDLE - The 'seat' on the horse's back. Jockey saddles are usually made from a lightweight yet strong synthetic material and come in a range of different sizes. Some weigh as little as 180g and are so small they look suitable for a child!
GIRTH - Used to keep the saddle in place, a girth (usually made of leather and elastic) attaches to either side of the saddle under a horse's belly.
SURCINGLE - A strap that is placed over the saddle and girth to assist in preventing movement during a race.
BREASTPLATE - The strap going around the horses chest that attaches to the saddle to prevent it slipping backwards. The strap over the neck also gives the jockey something else to hold onto if required.
NOSE ROLL (or Shadow Roll) - A woolen roll over the bridge of the horse's nose which is used on horses that carry their heads too high and have a tendency to over-race. The nose roll will obscure vision if head is raised too high.
CROSSOVER NOSE BAND - A leather strap that attaches to bridle over the bridge of the horse's nose. They are used for horses that open their mouth in races, get too excited and 'pull' away from their riders. It is also sometimes used to help prevent the horse from getting its tongue over the bit which can obstruct its breathing.
BITS - A bar (usually made of stainless steel) which sits in the horse's mouth and is attached to the bridle and reins allowing the rider to steer and control the horse. There are so many different types and shapes of bits, I could devote an entire post to it! In the gear changes section of a form guide you may often see 2 types of bits - a Lugging Bit which corrects horses from “hanging” either inward or outward and a Norton Bit used on horses that pull hard.
BLINKERS - These are cups behind the horse's eyes that remove the line of rearward and side vision so the horse can only see forward. They assist with a horse's concentration and focus if they are easily distracted and are an educational tool for young horses.
PACIFIERS - Similar to blinkers, however instead of a hard plastic cup, the socket is covered by
a strong mesh. Originally invented to prevent eye injuries from flying dirt, pacifiers assist to keep to the horse calm. For safety reasons, their use is not permitted in muddy conditions.
WINKERS - Long woolen rolls that attach to side of bridle, they are a more milder alternative to blinkers.
EAR MUFFS - These have been used for years however social media have given them recent prominence, with popular horses such as Winx and Jameka photographed regularly wearing them. Ear Muffs muffle sound and help keep the horse relaxed and focused. Some are removed at the barrier before the race starts, while other horses will also race wearing them.
TONGUE TIE - Used to hold the horse's tongue down to prevent it from putting it over the bit and losing control or obstructing its breathing. Rubber ties can be purchased however pantyhose tend to be the most popular material used due to their stretch and softness (plus they're cheap!)
BARRIER BLANKET - Used at the barriers, the blanket drapes over the horses hind and clips onto the barriers so it remains at the barriers once the race starts. Invented by the famous Horse Whisperer, Monty Roberts, the idea is to protect the flanks of the horse from the natural fear of being touched in that region by the sides of the stalls. It helps keep the horse calm and improve barrier behaviour.
RACE PLATES - A lightweight shoe, weighing no more than 150g each. They are usually the preferred shoe for a horse to wear when racing.
BAR PLATES - A fully enclosed shoe that assist to distribute the horse's weight more evenly across its legs. These are usually used if the horse has had a bruise or injury to its hoof.
WHIP - Used by jockeys to encourage them in their run. Whips are padded and must conform to strict measurements, while the amount and way in which a jockey can use the whip is governed by strict rules enforced by the stewards. In a race or official trial, whips cannot be used in consecutive strides or on more than 5 occasions. In the final 100m of a race a rider may use the whip at their discretion. A whip cannot be used on a horse forward of their shoulders or near their head, riders cannot raise their arm above shoulder height nor use the whip when their horse is out of contention or showing no response.
HOOF GREASE - Ever been at the stalls watching your horse being saddled up and seen the strapper paint something onto your horse's hooves? Grease is a cross between moisturiser and nail polish and also makes the horse's feet look blacker and glossier.
Aside from all that required gear, a strapper's raceday bag will also include the horse's registration papers (essentially their ID) which will match up to their microchip, tail and body brushes, head collars and leads, hoof picks, towels, a rug, extra bandages, first aid kit, spare gear and a bucket for water. Some trainers even bring along a friend (in the form of a shetland pony) to help keep their racehorses company during long float trips.
Is there anything else you've seen on track and wondered what it is? Get in touch and let me know!
Blinkers Winkers Pacifiers
Bridle & Bit Shadow Roll Crossover Nose Band
Breastplate Ear Muffs Barrier Blanket
*All images courtesy of Australian Turf Club. Follow their Instagram account for more fabulous raceday images @atc_races