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I'm pretty sure a proper horsey person will be able to give you the full answer, but I believe that blinkers are only used while the horse is being controlled and it won't wear them while it's out in its field. Horses don't tend to walk sideways either, and aren't at all keen on going backwards, so they can nearly always see where they're going; in fact, you'd have a hard job getting one to go somewhere where it can't see.I think they're mainly used to stop nervous horses from being spooked by things in their peripheral vision.
The horse has the largest eye of all land mammals. Each eye has around a 180o field of vision. The two fields cross roughly midway between the eye and the end of the muzzle. This means the horse has monocular vision virtually all round, but rather narrow binocular vision only in the front.The blinkers should only shield the eye from the monocular vision field.
And this is presumably to stop the animal becoming alarmed or distracted by things occurring in the periphery?Chris
Although distraction may be an issue with race horses, as it's likely to make them slow down, with most other horses blinkers are just used as a calming measure. Off the racecourse, horses might notice things that they might be curious about, or which they think might represent food, but being in control of a horse means that it'll do what you tell it to do, rather than just stopping when it feels like it to eat or check out something that it's curious about.When a horse is spooked though, you're not in control and it is likely to bolt or possibly even throw you.
Horses are able to see hings approaching from behind because they would have been hunted by nasty carnivores that would jump them from behind, weighing down their hind legs and pulling them over. When I had a horse it would go mad if a bicycle approached it from behind and would kick out thinking it was a carnivore bike. Blinkers on cart horses will often stop them from worrying about the thing they are dragging and the things that are overtaking them. Horses also struggle to see things at their feet. This is why show jumps are painted bright colours and are made of thick wood. They wouldn't see a thin garden cane.
These illustrations show the field of vision of each eye. There is a blind spot directly behind the horse, mono vision at around 180o at a slight angle to the flank and bi vision in a narrow field at the front.The binocular field is both narrow and shallow. The horse must look almost along it's muzzle to get forward binocular vision [diagram=472_0][diagram=473_0]Wow!!! What superb illustrations......... I know, don't give up the day job!