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Sheepskin cheekpieces, known as French blinkers by the racing community, are commonly used on racehorses to help them concentrate on what is ahead of them, but why are they being used in the eventing world?

Which riders use them?

Irishman Michael Ryan has used the cheekpieces to aid his horses’ concentration, and was spotted using them at the Punchestown International three-day event in May.

British rider Louise Skelton has also been seen using the cheekpieces, as well as a sheepskin noseband, which is said to help the horse focus and encourage the horse to lower its head to look at an obstacle.

What are the rules?

British Eventing and FEI rules state that sheepskin covers may be used on each cheekpiece in show jumping and cross-country elements of an event, if the covers do not exceed 3cm in diameter when measured from the horse’s face. The same applies if riders want to use the cheekpieces under BSJA rules.

They are not allowed during any dressage tests, while in racing, they must be declared before each race and their use detailed on the racecard.

What are the benefits?

Sheepskin cheekpieces help the horse concentrate on a jump and avoid distractions.

Racehorse trainer Lucinda Russell uses extra large French blinkers on Caesars Palace, a notable handful on the racetrack.

“He’s a very cunning horse, and if you put normal blinkers on him, he’ll sulk,” explains Lucinda. “But the cheekpieces make him think that he hasn’t got anything on and are less restrictive than blinkers. The effect is that when a horse suddenly comes up behind him and into his line of vision, he’s surprised and surges forward.”

Where can I buy them?

Harley Racing stocks a sheepskin set that goes over different parts of the bridle for £35. A pair of French blinkers retails at £15.95 for either synthetic or pure wool. Contact (tel: 01327 260818) www.harleyracing.net

Some riders make their own cheekpieces from sheepskin or by cutting down a noseband cover; online retailer www.horse-riding-guide.com stocks the Cottage Craft sheepskin noseband cover for £5.99.

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound