Do Horses See In Color?

Have you ever looked at a horse and wondered if they can see colors or do they see everything in black and white?  

 Some feel that horses see as we do but there is no way to exactly know how horses see because we cannot see with their brain and eyes.  All we can do is study a horse to see if we can find out the answer.

Do Horses See In Color?

Scientists can gain an understanding of what and how a horse is capable of seeing by studying the components of their eyes.  One thing that is known is that the position and structure of their eyes are a bit different than ours.  The position and structure of their eyes are what makes a difference in how a horse experiences distance, visual field, vividness, and color.

Color Perception

Most think that all animals, including horses, only see in shades of gray because they are colorblind but this is not true.  Horses do see color although they may not see it as vividly as we might.  The reason they do not see it as vividly is they only see two of the three visible wavelengths in the light spectrum.  This is similar to the way a colorblind person would see.  

Your horse can see blues and greens but not the color red.  For example, to a horse that orange carrot or red apple that you offer as a treat may look greenish or brownish to the horse.

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Night Vision

Many times you may find yourself calling your horse from the pasture in the dark and they come to you at a wild gallop without stumbling over the rough ground.  Although they do not see color as well as we do, their ability to see in the dark is much better than humans.  The reason is that their eyeballs have more of the structures that pick up light.

If you have ever taken a picture of a horse with a flash, you might see that the horse has ghostly white eyes.  This happens due to the tapetum lucidum, which is a membrane at the back of their eye that reflects light.  It also aids in a horse’s night vision.  Conditions that would leave us searching for a flashlight or the light switch are not as worrisome for your horse.

If you have ever gone into the barn or stable and flipped on a light, you probably have noticed that a horse will blink for a long time after the light comes on.  It takes a horse longer time for them to adjust to rapidly changing levels of light.  This may also explain why a horse might be hesitant to go into a dark trailer when they have to go from bright sunlight to a dark trailer.  The sudden changes in light levels give a horse’s eyes less time for their eyes to adjust.

horse blue eyes

Spatial Perception

Horses are prey animals so their vision has always played an important role in being able to see predators and run away before they are attacked.  Their eyes are set on the side of their heads rather than on the front like humans.  This enables the horse to almost have 360-degree vision.  A horse is not able to see directly behind then or a short distance directly in front either.  This is why it is important when working with horses that you speak to them when you are moving being them.

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This is a safety rule you always need to follow to prevent them from kicking you.  Because a horse has difficulty seeing things that are directly in front of them, when they are navigating a narrow bridge or other obstacles, or negotiating jumps, they may be doing it effectively blind.  Horses do have a very good peripheral vision because the retinas of their eyes are very big.  Just a subtle turn of a horse’s head will allow them to focus in on an object.

A horse may also be able to see into the distance and see motion with greater sensitivity than a human can.  This is very important for a horse because they can spot a predator before it becomes a threat to them.  A horse also seems to be able to see things in more detail than other animals.

Does Eye Color Matter

Horses may have blue or brown eyes.  Brown eyes seem to be more common in Paints, Pintos, and Appaloosas.  Many horses with a lot of white on their faces will have blue eyes.  There is no difference in the visions of horses no matter what their eye color is.

red eyed horse e1590595106192

Why It Is Important To Remember How a Horse Sees

When a horse owner does things like designing stables, riding on the trail, using horses to lasso cattle, loading them into the horse trailer, etc it is important to understand how they perceive the world.  We also need to realize why they react to changes in light and shadows along with their long-distance and close-up vision.  Understanding all of this will help us to make a horse’s life better and how better to work with a horse and how to teach them.  It will make you a better horseperson.

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Conclusion

  • Humans have trichromatic color vision and horses have dichromatic vision.  This means that humans have three types of cone cells and horses only have two.
  • Humans can see four elementary colors; red, yellow, green, and blue.  Horses only can see blues and yellows so they are like people who are red-green color blind.
  • It will take a horse longer to adjust to rapidly changing light levels.
  • Knowing what a horse can and cannot see will help you in riding and training your horse.
  • When you design obstacles or a running track for your horse, take in their limited ability with regards to color identification into perspective.
  • The normal horse has 20/30 vision, which means that a horse can see objects 20 feet away in the same detail a human can at 30 feet
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