Riding down a trail, the sky is blue, the air is fresh and the trees are starting to bloom. It’s very quiet and you are enjoying the solitude and peace. Suddenly your horse tenses beneath you.
Horse Vision – MONOCULAR
Before you know it, with his wide panoramic monocular vision, he has detect some movement somewhere behind your right shoulder that you cannot see. Because he cannot calculate distance with the monocular vision, he jumps to the left to avoid the perceived danger.
He is a young horse and is just starting his training and therefore is not yet aware of your body language telling him that everything is ok. With his body language he is telling you that his instincts as an animal of prey are kicking in and he is trying to decide whether to flee from this perceived danger or not.
Calmly you allow him to turn his head and body to put the object into his binocular vision and then raise or lower his head to bring the object into focus and depth perception. Remember horses are animals of prey and all this is done very quickly to decide whether their instinct to flee needs to kick in.
As it relates to horse behavior, the horse’s vision can account for our perception of the horse spooking or shying. When we understand why he is behaving in this agitated fashion we can control our own body language to remain calm.
The next time a horse perceives much the same type of movement in his angle of vision, and feels our seat and body relaxing he will trust us and not react to his instincts to flee. Likewise if the horse is with an older more experienced horse who does not react to the stimuli he will also take his que from this horse not to shy or spook.
Horse Vision – BINOCULAR
It is a windy day and you are exercising your horse in the same arena you always ride in. The trees are swaying in the breeze.
At a free walk your horse seems agitated and jumpy.With his monocular vision he is picking up all the movement around the arena that the wind is creating. Calmly you pick up the reins.
Your horse has been taught the aids to stretch his neck down. This stretching position also puts his nose in a more verticle position, so that now his binocular vision has kicked in and he is focused on what is right in front of him and relatively close. There is no strange movement of things going on in this view and he relaxes his back, starts to ignore his surroundings and focuses on the familiar, which are the aides you are giving him to perform his routine work.
Horse Vision – NIGHT
You’ve been out trail riding all day and evening is setting in. You know that it is a moonless night and worry a bit about getting back to camp on this narrow, rugged trail. As the light fades you are aware that there is no difference in your horses walk and that he picks up his feet effortlessly to step over branches and holes.
You start to relax and remember that horses have excellent night vision and that if you just leave him alone he will get you back to camp safely.
Horse Vision – FACTS
Some basic facts about the vision of the horse can impact our riding, training and handling of the horse.
- The horse has both monocular vision (seeing with one eye) and binocular vision. (seeing with 2 eyes).
- The horse has a range of vision of about 350 degrees.
- 65 degrees of this 350 degrees is binocular vision or what he sees with both eyes at once and is directly in front of him.
- Within this pie shape of 65 degrees the horse has the best possibility of distinguishing depth and of bringing the object into focus.
- In the monocular vision (with one eye at a time) the horse can see everything in a radius of 285 degrees around him.
- Most of what he sees in monocular vision is movement even if almost inperceptible.
- The 285 degrees leaves only a small blind spot directly behind him if his head is up and less if his head is down as for grazing.
- The clarity and depth perception( how far away things are) are much less accurate with his monocular vision.
- Horses have dichromatic vision which means they see color but not the same range as humans and the spectrum is more true in the shades of yellows and greens than it is in the reds .
- The horse’s eye is oval rather than round giving it a wide but shallow panoramic view which means that the horse can see much less if an object is above him. But typically as an animal of prey this is not where the danger would come from.
- The central part of the retina in a horses eye gives the clearest picture. The horse must move its head to direct the rays from the eye lens on to the retina.
Horse Vision – COMMUNICATION
Understanding how horses see can help us to stay calm and unperturbed when a horse reacts naturally to something in his sight of vision. Remember that this may not be in our sight of vision.
By staying calm and nonplussed about the reaction our body language is indicating to the horse that what he is seeing is of no consequence and not of danger to him.