Horse Racing Paraphernalia: What You Need to Know

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Four racing horses in fierce competition for the finish line.
BetMGM @BETMGM Jan 13, 2022, 6:53 AM

Unless you’re placing wagers on the actual racehorse named Paraphernalia (yes, there is one), chances are that horse racing paraphernalia, or horse tack, isn’t at the top of your mind when you’re doing online sports betting. It’s the horse, jockey and track that count, right? Not entirely. 

As a matter of fact, NYRA racehorse trainers know exactly what kinds of horse tack will help horses to perform at their peak on the track. From a sports fan’s point of view, this knowledge can increase their appreciation of horse racing tournaments. What’s more, sports bettors can use it to their advantage, as you’ll discover. With this extra level of research, you’ll better understand how to bet on horse racing.


The Sarmatians are credited with the invention of the first saddle, sometime around 365 AD. Saddles gave these proud horse clans a decisive advantage in battle thanks to the firm seating they provided, and the use of saddles soon became widespread. Today, saddles remain as important as ever, especially during horse racing tournaments. Unlike standard saddles, horse racing saddles are itsy-bitsy leather scraps that the majority of regular riders would fall off of. The reason is to keep the overall tack as light as possible. 

Every extra pound of weight can cost a horse a length of distance, which is a big deal when a margin of a nose or a neck can determine a loss or a win. As Al Pacino said in Any Given Sunday, “One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.” Jockeys know this all too well, so they provide their own racing saddles, which can be larger or smaller depending on the jockey’s weight assignment (their minimum weight for the race).

Saddle towels

The conventional use of saddle towels is to provide cushioning between the horse and saddle and help keep the saddle clean. In stakes races, saddle towels display the horse’s program number, the race name and the name of the horse. 

Useful to know for purposes of online horse racing is that horses’ numbers correspond with standardized saddle towel colors: Red for number one, white for two, blue for three, yellow for four, green for five and so on down the line until 24 (olive-green). This system makes it easier for you to follow the horses written on your NYRA bets!

Saddle girths

A saddle girth, also known as a cinch in Western riding circles, keeps the saddle in place, passing under the horse’s barrel and attaching to the saddle on both sides by means of straps called billets. These are normally made of leather, except when it comes to racing. To reduce weight as much as possible, racing girths are elastic. 

Trainers often add an elastic overgirth as well. This goes across the top of the saddle and over the girth, buckling against the rib cage. The overgirth provides extra protection while keeping the saddle in position at full speed. Slipping saddles can cause tremendous upsets, such as Affirmed’s loss during the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Against all sensible horse racing odds, the Triple Crown winner finished fifth – the worst in his career.


Stirrups help riders to mount their horses and provide support while riding. Most stirrups today are made of stainless steel, but racehorse jockeys use stirrups made of lighter materials. These include carbon fiber, aluminum and even titanium. Jockey stirrup leathers are also much shorter than regular saddle leathers to enable jockeys to adopt the “martini glass” racing position, which helps the racehorse run faster.


Blinkers are usually small leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle to stop it from seeing sideways and behind and getting startled. Racehorse blinkers are different. They’re sewn into blinker hoods that go right over the horses’ heads. 

Blinker sizes differ depending on how much the individual horse looks around. Some will be fitted with half-inch blinkers known as a French cup, while horses that look around a whole lot will get a full cup that covers half the eye. Blinker hoods sometimes include earpieces to muffle distracting sounds. This all helps jockeys to keep racehorses focused. 

When you’re working with horse racing odds, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether a horse has been running with blinkers or not. An underperforming horse will sometimes race better if it starts running with blinkers, which is something punters can use to their advantage.

Shadow rolls

At certain times of day and depending on its position relative to the sun, the racetrack grandstand can throw shadows on the track. Some horses jump at shadows, which can really throw a race, especially when it’s down to the wire. 

At the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, for instance, Safely Kept and Dayjur were heads apart approaching the line until Dayjur jumped at the shadow cast by the grandstand. The delay cost him the race. To prevent this from happening, trainers use a piece of horse tack called a shadow roll. Made of sheepskin or synthetic material, it fits over the bridle noseband and blocks the horse’s vision so it can’t see objects on the ground, including shadows.

Tackle the turf in style at BetMGM Online

We hope you’ve gleaned some useful insights into horse racing tack. To apply them to the track, register for an account at BetMGM. Enjoy different types of NYRA horse racing bets, Triple Crown stakes races, international tournaments and more. Explore our other betting markets, too, from Formula 1 to NBA, MLA and even MMA! In between sports events, our online casino has a broad range of slots and table games to keep you entertained. The game is always on at BetMGM! 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.