What are cheek pieces?
Once considered ‘a little bit of a fad’ by the Jockey Club, cheek pieces, otherwise known as ‘French blinkers’, have become commonplace in British horse racing. Nowadays, cheek pieces must, like other forms of headgear, such as blinkers, hoods and visors, be declared overnight. A horse wearing cheek pieces is denoted by a letter ‘p’ after the horse’s name on race cards.
Cheek pieces, as the name suggests, consist of strips of sheepskin, which are attached to the main strap, or crownpiece, of the bridle, on either side, such that they run down the side of the face along the cheekbone. Their purpose is to restrict how much a horse can see behind it and thereby help the horse to concentrate, on jumping and racing, for example.
Cheek pieces are less restrictive than standard blinkers, but can nevertheless help inexperienced, or unreliable, horses to avoid distractions and focus their attention on moving forward. Indeed, another horse moving into the field of vision of a horse wearing cheek pieces, unexpectedly from behind, typically causes the latter to surge forward.