Why Do Some Racehorses Wear A Hood In The Parade Ring Or Before The Start?

The Grand National is a race that attracts the interest of millions of people, who are not necessarily big racing fans, and for that reason, there are many elements of the race where people have questions. One of those comes with the horses themselves, in this race, the colours of the silks, and the colour of the horse, are reasons to place a bet, so anything that makes a horse stand out is always a talking point.

grey horse with jockey and blinker hood

One possible way in which horses may look different, before the race only, is by wearing a hood, which can be done in the parade ring, on the way to the start and at the start, or both.

What Is A Horse Racing Hood?

horse wearing a black hood with blinkersFirst of all, it is important to understand what a hood actually is. This is a piece of material that is fitted over the head of a horse. The hood is fitted while horses are in the pre-parade ring, which means they are away from the crowds when it goes on.

For those who know what blinkers are in horse racing, which are used during a race, a hood is something that is very similar and used for the same reasons, though done before the race rather than during it.

One of the reasons why punters will see a hood and back the horse in question is because some of these are made in different colours to help them stand out. For example, some horses will wear a bright red hood, which can catch the eye. During the race, these are kept black in colour to prevent them from confusing people with silk colours, but before the race, they can be any colour at all.

Why Does A Hood Work For Horses?

A hood is designed to keep horses focused on the task ahead, as well as keeping them calm. This is the same as blinkers during a race but used because of crowds and noise around horses beforehand, rather than other horses around them in the race.

With a hood on, the horse isn’t able to look out to either side without turning their heads completely around. This means they are looking out straight forward at what they have in front of them, and that often is another horse, so they don’t realise as much that the crowd is there.

Of course, the crowds make noise, and this is where the second part of the hood comes in. They’re also designed to try and block things out from the horse and keep them calm, despite being in a busy environment.

The Pressure Of A Big Race

horse wearing a red hood to block out soundIt is fair to say that in some circumstances, some horses will lose a race before they even set foot onto the racecourse, and this will happen in the parade ring. At smaller midweek race meetings, where the crowds are small, this is not as likely to happen, and if it does, then it is usually because of the hot weather.

However, when bigger crowds are around, and the atmosphere around the course is a lot louder, then this has the potential to cause more problems for more horses than normal. Therefore, some horses may not wear a hood at other races but then opt to wear one for the Grand National because of the occasion.

The race is like a handful of others we have on the calendar, but for the majority of horses, it will be a one-off experience, something they’ve not faced before. On top of the parade ring, for selected races, which includes the Grand National, horses also have to perform a parade on the way to the start.

This involves walking in a line on the track before the grandstand, which at this point, will be full of thousands of people, with more in position to see the runners there than in the parade ring. Just when horses may think they have got past the crowds and can get down to running in a horse race as normal, they have this final hurdle to get over, and this could be another reason for a horse opting to wear a hood on the day.

Why The Grand National Is A Unique Challenge For Horses

horse face close up wearing blinker hoodRemembering that the Grand National is a unique challenge for horses is probably also important. There will be busy parade rings throughout the year, some other races have a parade on track on the way to the start, but few have both, and then no other race has the complications that the start of the Grand National often brings.

It is very rare that we get off to a good start in the race, a false start is always a possibility, just to add something else into the mix. As we saw in 2023, there’s also the chance for disruption from outside influences too, things can go wrong at the Grand National, perhaps more so than in other races, and these are the things that trainers need to think about when declaring their runners for the race.

There’s also the prestige and prize money on offer at this race, which makes it stand out. It’s the one everyone wants to win and one of the few races where horses are not just trained for weeks with the race in mind but often for the entire season with a trip to Aintree in mind, such is the nature of the contest.

With all of that work put into it, trainers will want to give their horses the best possible preparation for victory and leave nothing to chance. Adding a hood to a horse may not seem like a huge deal for many races, but it could have a big impact in something such as the Grand National, with everything that horses have to face in the build-up to the race actually starting, which is just after runners take off the hood.