Looking Through a Horses Eyes
 By mosquito   •   31st Mar 2010   •   16,006 views   •   3 comments
Looking through a horses eyeThere’s a time for every rider when they wonder why does their horse see monsters behind a jump, a tree, or a puddle? What do they see? Well, we can’t actually look through their eyes to know what the world looks like to them, but we do have a pretty good idea.

First of all, where their eyes are makes a big difference to what they see – and what they can’t see. Unlike us, where our eyes are both in front of our head, a horse’s eyes can’t focus in a small area directly in front of them. They actually have a blind spot right in front of their face. That means they can’t see you, or a jump, or another obstacle very well when they face it directly. That’s why if they see something they aren’t sure about, they’ll usually raise their head or turn it slightly to the side – which makes them look pretty suspicious! When a horse raises its head, it can see more closely in front of it – that’s why you’ll see jumpers approaching fences with their heads high – and why it’s important to let your jumper do that!

The need to raise its head to see clearly where it is going is worth remembering as a rider. A dressage horse ‘on the bit’ can only see clearly the ground beneath its nose – it is relying largely on you to know where to go. A more relaxed outline, where the quarters are engaged but the head is slightly higher, will give a young horse a lot more confidence – and if you ride in drill patterns, and you keep your horse is a tight outline, don’t expect it to see the horse coming the other way!

On the plus side, horses have a much wider ‘panoramic’ vision than we do they can see better to either side and even further to the back than we can, all of which helps them to spot predators that might sneak up on them – even though nowadays those predators are usually garden hoses or fluttering bits of paper!
Just like the blind spot in front, horse’s have a blind spot directly behind them. If you are approaching a horse from the back, can it see you? Well, if you can’t see either of its eyes, then it can’t see you – it will be kinder and safer to approach slightly from the side!

The horse’s eyes are pretty big too – among the largest in the whole animal kingdom. That means they collect more light, and the horse actually sees a lot more than we thought – but what they rely on is detecting motion. Even a tiny leaf twitching in the breeze – something we’d hardly notice – can really jump out at a horse! On windy days, a horse’s senses can be overloaded with all the movement it detects, making it very jumpy and excitable.

Because a horse’s eyes inside are quite similar to ours, they have good distance vision, and they can identify patterns much like we do. In fact, when it comes to distance vision, it may be that horses actually see better than we can. And contrary to common beliefs, they do actually see pretty well up close too until the object is about 50 centimeters from them. Because the horse’s blind spot in front of it is actually very small, there is a good area where the two eyes ‘overlap’ and this means that horses can judge depth and distance. Many riders will have been told by instructors and trainers that a horse can’t tell how deep a puddle is, or judge its own stride to a jump, but we now know that they can. Let your horse have its head so it can make the most of its eyes, and it can see full well how wide the jump is, where to take off, or how deep the water is.

We used to think that horses didn’t remember what they saw from one eye to the other. In other words, if your horse saw the mailbox you passed with its right eye, when you came home it spooked because it didn’t recognize it with its left eye on the way back in the other direction. Tests show us that horses do remember what they saw with one eye. So why does your horse act like it’s never seen that mailbox before? The factor isn’t the transfer of the memory, it’s that they don’t recognize shapes very well. Remember that your horse responds to movement more than the outline of an object. The mailbox simply looks like a different object from the other direction. Plus, your horse may not have satisfied itself the first time past that the mailbox wasn’t dangerous – if your horse spooks, give it plenty of time to investigate and decide that there really isn’t a monster hiding inside!

How well do horses see at night? Their eyes don’t adjust to darkness quickly like ours do – if you watch a ca’s eyes as you dim the lights you can see its pupils getting larger rapidly, to collect more light and see better in the darkness. A horse’s eyes tale a lot longer to do that. As a rider and owner, remember that your horse may need a moment to stand at the trailer or stable door to let its eyesight adjust to the changing light as it goes in or out. And if you are jumping cross country into or out of trees, remember that even though your eyes can adjust quickly and you can see where you’re going, your horse may be literally ‘blinded by the light’ for a few strides, or feel that it is jumping into total darkness! Once their eyes have adjusted, horses can see very well at night – it just takes them a while to get there.

What about color? It used to be a common belief that horses wee color blind. Why then would some horses hate red jumps, or yellow lines on the road? We know now that cats only see in pastel colors, and dogs are red-green colorblind. Horses’ eyes are similar to dogs, but it’s quite tricky to work out what colors they actually see. Research tests showed that horses were more sensitive to the brightness of a color (how much it stands out against the background) than the color itself. So, a horse will see the stripes on a yellow and white jump pole, but they wouldn’t if it were yellow and grey. A horse won’t see the different shades of green in a forest, but they will use the movement of the leaves to see the details. Even with what we do know about how horses see colors, this is one area where researchers are still investigating.

For now though, recognize that the brightness of a color is more significant to you horse than the color itself, that movement really jumps out to them, and to let your horse use its head when you need it to see where it’s going! Understanding what your horse sees will really help you understand what your horse can and can’t do, and how to make its world as clear as you can!
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great article!
  Mar 31, 2010  •  9,398 views
This is true. My horse spooks at white the most! She also likes plain jumps better than striped ones! Thank you.
  Mar 31, 2010  •  9,229 views
Fira Maye  
How strange!
  Mar 31, 2010  •  9,310 views
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