Horse Racing Gear Changes Explained

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Horse Racing Gear Changes

Once you have understood the basics of betting, you now need to know what gear changes are and how they impact a horses’ performance.

A gear change is when a trainer declares that his runner will be wearing different gear. We’re not talking saddles, we’re meaning things like blinkers, nose rolls, and bar plates. They can dramatically affect a horses’ ability to run well and it pays to know what they mean.


The most common gear chance is the application of blinkers. Blinkers restrict the vision of a thoroughbred; meaning that it can’t see in its blind spots. They help the horse focus on what’s in front, as opposed to any runner making a run from behind. Blinkers don’t work for every runner, but a key punting guide is to look at first starters wearing blinkers. It’s usually a sign of good things to come.

jungle edge racehorse
Jungle Edge wearing blinkers.


A noseband or a nose roll is a sheepskin roll placed on the nose of a horse. The noseband helps the horse to lower its head during the run, as a horse running with its head in a higher position negatively affects its performance. You often here a commentator describing a runner as “overracing” and a noseband can help with that.

race horse noseband
Fox Tal wearing a noseband.

Tongue Tie

The most unattractive piece of gear a horse wears is a tongue tie. A tongue tie is a piece of nylon that is used to prevent horses from getting their tongue over the bit (the metal piece in the horse’s mouth). It can help horses breathe better in the run, so a tongue tie is a common gear change.

horse racing tongue tie
Horse wearing a tongue tie. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Bar Plates

There is a lot of discussion as to whether bar plates help a horses’ chances of winning. A bar plate is used to stop the hoof shifting during the run. It’s often applied to horses that have had foot issues, which is something to avoid backing.

horse racing bar plate
A bar plate (left) next to a standard racing plate (right). | Photo: Punters

Ear Muffs

Just like the ones we wear when we’re cold, except horses wear them to block out the noise. It can get loud during the big carnivals and some horses don’t handle it so well. Front runners wearing ear muffs can be run down, as they don’t hear the horses coming from behind it. However, it’s a minor gear change.

Verry Elleegant wearing ear muffs.


Winkers are a budget version of blinkers. They stop a horse from looking back, as horses have 360-degree vision. However, they are less intrusive compared to blinkers but have the ability to sharpen a horse up just enough to get the win.

Right You Are wearing winkers.

Lugging Bit

Having a horse lug throughout the run isn’t ideal, so the lugging bit is applied to keep the horse on the straight and narrow. Remember how British athlete Paula Radcliffe used to run? It’s to stop horses from having that ungainly head action.


A gelding is a male horse that has had the snip. In other words, he’s no longer distracted by the fillies and mares running around the track. It usually works a treat for newly-gelded runners and connections will only geld their horse if they lack concentration on the track. Of course, a gelded thoroughbred can’t head off to stud following his career, so they tend to race much longer than colts.

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About Daryl Curnow

After graduating from the University of Auckland (BA - English), Daryl was thrown into the world of sports and horse racing journalism. Having worked as a racing journalist for two years, he decided to move into the online world of horse racing and sports writing. Coupled with his love of US sport, Daryl's picks have been featured on various websites around the world and viewed by millions of readers. After years of honing his craft, Daryl became a professional punter in 2009 - with a focus on horse racing, NBA, NFL, and college sports. When he's not working, Daryl tries to avoid making bogeys on the golf course.