Everything You Need to Know About Your Horse’s Eyes
A lot of people think horses are colour blind like a dog. Some people even think horses have magnified vision like an eagle. These things simply are not true! Horses are no more colour blind than they are capable of seeing beyond the horizon. Horses have something called dichromatic vision. In English, this means they see in two different colour wavelengths. In comparison, humans have one extra colour wavelength that we see in; we have trichromatic vision. This missing colour results in horses having something very similar to the red/green colour blindness that people experience. They are able to see the green and blue spectrums and all of their variations but completely miss out on red. Most things that are red, like a juicy red apple, will look greenish to a horse’s eyes.
Some scientists believe horses evolved to have a dichromatic vision because they are primarily active during the early morning and at dusk. In fact, the limited colours available through a horse’s eyes play a big role in what obstacles are implemented during horse competitions and practices. It is important for the horse to recognize the difference in colour between the ground and the obstacle, which is exactly why so many jumps are painted in up to three contrasting shades. It helps the horse see what it’s jumping over, which is critical when it needs to make it over the rail.
Can Horses See in the Dark?
This is the second most popular question people ask about a horse’s vision. Everyone wants to know: can horses see in the dark? And the answer is a screaming yes! Horses can absolutely see in the dark. The truth is that they have superb night vision, though not quite as sharp as a feline predator. When tested inside of areas alongside humans, horses have been found to navigate around pylons, obstacles, and other equipment while the humans stumbled into the walls and even walked straight into the horse.
Because of the very large eyes of the horse, they are able to see more clearly on days that are cloudy rather than on days that are sunny and bright. They also have great vision in low-light conditions, even able to navigate and detect shapes in close to darkness. However, when it is completely dark a horse has no hope of discerning shapes that are different, though they can still navigate better than people can.
What may surprise you is that horses cannot adjust to abrupt shifts in light the same way humans can. An example of this is when the horse moves from a bright yard into a dark and shadowed barn. This is why horses often get spooked when they are loaded inside of a trailer – the sudden shift in light makes them hardly able to see and they don’t like it. This should be kept in mind for riding a horse as well, since if you move from a shaded area into a bright area, or the other way around, the horse may be momentarily blinded and have trouble seeing the path ahead.
Are Horses Near-Sighted or Far-Sighted?
Interestingly enough, most of the domestic horses, about 1/3 of them are near-sighted. Domestic horses are far more likely to have a clearer vision of objects that are up close. This is in stark contrast to wild horses, which are almost always far-sighted. Wild horses are much more likely to have a clear vision with objects much farther afield. This difference is a product of domestication over many years.
What Color Are Horse Eyes?
In the same way, horses come with all different kinds of personalities and characteristics, so too do horses come with different coloured eyes. Much like with humans, each and every horse has a set of unique and soulful eyes. The colour of the iris, though usually a dark brown (the same as the most popular human eye colour), may also be hazel, green, blue, amber, and any variation between. Horse eyes are even known to have white markings, patterns, and unique colourings. For example, many horses have blue eyes with splashes of white. Some may even have one blue eye and one eye that is only half blue. This is another thing that makes horses so unique in the animal kingdom!
Certain horses are more inclined to have certain colours in their eyes. Horses that have creamy coats almost always have eyes that are light blue, buckskins are nearly guaranteed to have eyes that are big and brown. Horses which possess the champagne gene are more likely to have green eyes. However, much of the science behind the eye colour of horses is still not completely understood. Fun fact: horses have some of the biggest eyeballs of any mammal living on the land.
Why are Horse’s Eyes on the Sides of Their Heads?
Horse’s eyes are positioned laterally, meaning that they have one eye on each side of their head. This may seem silly, but it actually gives horses the best possible opportunity to spot incoming predators. Where we can only see straight ahead of us, a horse has an amazing 350 degrees of visions, 65 degrees of binocular vision with 285 degrees of monocular vision. When a horse is grazing in the wild on a hill or in a field, they can see predators coming at them from almost any direction. It gives them adequate time to quit eating and gallop away before they are attacked.
There are only two blind spots in the horse’s vision. Strangely enough, the first blind spot is directly in front of the horse’s face, about three or four feet to be exact. The second blind spot is directly the other way over the horse’s back and beyond its tail. When a horse jumps over an obstacle, the obstacle physically vanishes from the horse’s vision about four feet before the horse jumps. It has to have some seriously good timing to leap with confidence.