Horses have only worn cheek pieces in recent years. Or at least, trainers have only had to declare them in recent years. It seems to be a fashion that sprang from nowhere. One day a trainer came up with the bright idea of attaching strips of sheepskin to the side of a horse’s bridle as a way of restricting what it could see. It did the trick. The horse won. Then, before you knew it, the idea had caught on and everyone was doing it.
The idea of cheek pieces is to partially obscure a horse’s rear vision with the aim of getting the horse to concentrate on racing. They help to focus and channel a horse forwards. They are often used on green or ‘spooky’ horses. But do they actually work? Are there any real benefits?
According to statistics recently released by the Racing Post, during the last 12 months 3,524 horses wore cheek pieces for the first time. Of those, 308 won. That’s a win ratio of nine per cent. If you had backed every one of them blindly you would have made a loss of £791.38.
Cheek pieces versus sheepskin nose bands
The rules of racing state that cheek pieces must be declared whereas sheepskin nose bands are not. That is a strange anomaly. Perhaps it is just historical. Sheepskin nose bands have been around for so long that nobody takes any notice of them.
A sheepskin nose band helps to keep a horse’s head down, as if they lift their head they can’t see as well. Some believe it would have prevented Dayjur jumping the shadow which caused him to lose the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1990.
Ian Balding ran almost all his horses in sheepskin nose bands. Furthermore, some owners like them simply because they can pick their horse out more easily in a race.
Sadly, because it is not necessary to declare sheepskin nose bands, no stats exist to prove whether or not they make a difference.