Have you ever looked into those gorgeous brown eyes and wondered what is going on and how horses see things. Well, not always brown although it is the more common colour. Horses eyes also come in blue, hazel, amber, and green. I spotted a stunning photograph which inspired me to write a little about horses eyes

how horses see things

Animal Eyes by Suren Manvelyan

“The softness of a horses eye is enough to warm even the coldest of hearts”

Apart from being a stunning piece of photography It did make me think a little about horses and their vision. Understanding a little about how horses see things can help with certain problems, but also make you aware of how your horse may react to certain situations. If you can understand how the horse sees its environment and why they react to light changes. It can make things a lot safer.

Light changes

It may seem great cantering along a forest path on a summers day in and out of the shade of the trees, but for a horse, this is a difficult situation. It takes horses a lot longer to adjust to rapidly changing light situations. I was always taught that when you canter out of shade and into light there is a delay in the horses vision while it adjusts to the light. You may notice if you enter the stable at night and turn on the light, the horse will blink for quite a while its eyes adjust to the light. So cantering in and out of tree shades could mean your horse is occasionally running blind while his eyes adjust. This can also explain situations where a horse is not wanting to go into a trailer. A short trip from stable into sunlight and then dark trailer can be a little overwhelming. It is better to let your horse have a few extra seconds in the sunlight while his eyes adjust. As most of our rides around Grandmont are forested, we are very aware of the changing light when out on rides, it makes for safer riding.

Spatial Perception

Naturally horses are prey animals and their vision is set up to cope with their threatening environment. They must be able to see things at a distance, see movement at a distance and be able to escape before a threat arrives. The eyes on the side of the head gives a near 360 degree view. The obvious lack of vision being at the rear of the horse. A sensible reason why we don’t walk behind a horse without talking or touching to let it know we are there. The other lack of vision is directly in front of them. When your horse is negotiating narrow obstacles, I always try to remember they may be doing this blind and using their peripheral vision ( and you) to guide them. If you are negotiating small obstacles it is often instinct to get the horse on the bit and guide forward. In actual fact,I find,  a simple turn of the head from the horse will allow it to focus in on the object. Again we have lots of narrow tracks and bridges, so just being aware of this is again safety conscious. A horses vision will increase or decrease with how he holds his head. A horse “ on the bit” with his head perpendicular to the ground will focus only a few feet ahead and will find it very difficult for focusing on distant objects. This is why when jumping, a rider will let his horse raise its head a few strides before to assess jumps and distances. Jumping Horses will often make a quick turn of the head to allow it to focus better and be aware of its spatial surroundings. Have you ever been on a ride and the horse stops and stares, or spooks at nothing.? Horses ability to see motion is far greater than ours and in the natural environment would be used to spot threats at a distance. I am always keen to learn more about our horses and simple things like understanding how their eyes work is just another way to get to know your horse better and have safer riding.

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So when I look into those beautiful brown eyes, even though I know how they work, I will never know what is going on in their head!!

Caroline

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