Our horses vision is amazing!!
Human beings tend to think that every living being in the universe looks at the world like we do…silly humans!!
Horses “see” the world differently in a number of very interesting ways. For humans, vision is our dominant sense. Not so with horses.
If the horse only sees the prey coming they are too late. Their sense of hearing and sense of smell are their early warning systems alerting them to danger and to get moving away from it…NOW!
But we are talking about vision. Let’s start with the most frequently asked question I get about horses vision and that is do horses see in color? Veterinary researchers are always learning more and disproving myths created over centuries. Through dissection their anatomy tells us that horses have rods and cones (cones detect different colors) in their eyes. Humans have more cones than horses so horses see color but a more muted version or certain colors may be interpreted as a human who is colorblind.
The 2012 The Horse Magazine article shared some great info. Andrew Matthews, BVM&S, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, ACVO (Hon.), FRCVS, an equine practitioner and ophthalmologist from Ayrshire, Scotland, gave an overview on what we know about equine vision. “Additionally, color perception studies have shown that horses have dichromatic vision with a reduced cone density, meaning they’re able to see washed-out versions of colors including green, yellow, blue, and gray. It does not appear that horses can see reds.”
Next question is where can the horses see. We at taught that horses can see almost 360 degrees around themselves. Almost true!
There are three places that horses cannot see. It is extremely important to understand how this effects their perception and thus their behavior.
- Right in front of their face
- Right behind their tail
- Underneath their head and neck
Because the main cause of injury from horses is getting stepped on, lets investigate the “under the head & neck” area first. Horses are always paying attention to their surroundings, particularly if there something on the horizon that may want them for dinner…sorry, it’s true. They are not so worried about what is under them. That is how they end up stepping on our foot if we get too close to them. Keep them at the end of your elbow. That works every time.
Just in from of their nose is another spot where they cannot see us. It is possible to surprise a horse if you come up on them and pop your hand up in front of their face. For them your hand comes out of nowhere! Make sure you have their attention by touching their neck first and by speaking to them.
We have all heard to not stand behind a horse or pony. Most people do not realize it is because they don’t know we are there as they cannot see just behind their tail. Some folks think they don’t like us there. That is MOSTLY untrue. No horse responds well to surprises and their response is to protect themselves. That’s just their natural self-preservation instinct. Just keep your hand on them and speak to them so they don’t forget you are there.
So this is just a little basic info to help you begin to understand how the horses see their world and us in it. We will delve into more medical info down the line.