What are cheek pieces?

In the equine world, the term ‘cheek pieces’ can be used to describe the two straps that connect the part of a bridle that sits over the top of a horse’s head, a.k.a. the ‘crown piece’, and the bit, which fits into the horse’s mouth. However, in horse racing circles, the term more often refers to a type of headgear that consists of two, equally-sized strips of sheepskin, or similar material, which are attached to the aforementioned straps and thus run down the side of a horse’s face.

Also known as ‘French blinkers’, cheek pieces serve a similar purpose to standard blinkers, insofar as they restrict the horse’s field of vision, particularly to the rear and, in so doing, force the horse to concentrate on what is happening in front of it. Cheek pieces have become popular with British horse racing trainers seeking to improve the racecourse performance of easily distracted, unseasoned or unpredictable horses, so much so that, like certain other forms of headgear, they must be declared overnight. On race cards in the ‘Racing Post’ and elsewhere, a horse wearing cheek pieces can be identified by a small letter ‘p’ following its name.