Pet owners often think about what their pets can see or hear, and this is equally true for horse owners. Whenever I spend time with horses, I like to believe that they understand what I say and see all the beauty of nature that I do. But is that true? Can horses see color? What does the horse see when he walks around the farm or gallops through the lovely countryside? I needed to know the answers to these questions in order to be a better horse person and understand horses better.
Can Horses See Color?
My exploration revealed that horse vision has been researched scientifically by medical experts and it has been established that horses have the ability to see some colors. They are however, unable to see what the human eye does. This is because people have trichromatic color vision as their eyes have three kinds of cone cells, whereas horses and most other mammals have dichromatic color vision as their eyes have two kinds of cone cells.
Humans can usually see four elementary colors; namely green, red, yellow and blue. Additionally, they can see several intermediate shades that lie between the primary colors. Horses have the ability to see yellows and blues and are thus quite similar to people who are green-red color blind. Most probably, they cannot see the intermediary shades either. Thus the object you see as bright red would appear as some shade of gray to your horse.
Can Horses See in the Dark?
Horses may not see color as well as we do, but they are better at picking up light and they see better at night than humans do. However, it takes longer for horses to adjust to rapidly changing light levels.
How to Be a Better Trainer for Your Horse?
Although this limitation in identifying colors seems to be a disability, it actually isn’t, as that is what a horse is used to seeing. This knowledge about what your horse can and cannot see is very important for you as it will aid you in riding and training your horse. Due to the differences in what he sees versus what you see, your horse may react in a different manner than you may expect him to.
While designing a running track or obstacles for your horse, you should take his limited ability with regard to color identification into perspective. If the obstacle and the ground are of similar shades, the horse may have difficulty in distinguishing these from each other.
This is the reason why most trainers paint the jump rails in colors completely different from the surrounding landscape, particularly the ground beneath the obstacle. This helps the horse in judging the obstacle in a better manner when he approaches it. This fact is supported by research studies which show that horses often jump clear over obstacles that are painted in two or more colors with sharp contrast. You must remember that green and yellow are two colors that horses cannot distinguish very easily between.
Why do Horses get Spooked?
Horses have a tendency to get spooked and I wondered if this had something to do with their sight and their ability to see limited colors. The answer was contrary to my expectations as horses are somewhat flighty only due to being a species that is often preyed on in the wild. Horses have suitably good vision in comparison to several other animals and their sense of sight does not cause their flightiness.
Quite often, horses seem to get startled when they see an unfamiliar object at a distance. This is not because they are unable to see that far, because they can see things suitably well even at a distance. The image may become a bit grainier at a distance but is not likely to become blurred.
The usual horse has 20/30 vision, while the average person has 20/20 vision. This means that a horse can see an object 20 feet away in the same detail that a person can see at 30 feet distance.
Being at risk in his natural environment, the horse’s eyes are designed in a manner that it continually scans the horizon for potential predators at substantial distances. The more than usual state of awareness makes the horse consider all unidentified objects as probable threats until it gets proven differently. The spooking is thus merely a survival instinct, with no reflection on the horse’s ability to see color or clarity.
To come back to the initial question that we started with, can horses see color? The answer is yes! Not all colors, but most. They can identify blue and yellow clearly, while they cannot identify red, orange or green. Horses can see the objects that are of these colors, but they appear to them as various shades of white and gray. Despite the inability to see colors as you and I do, horses have sufficient color identification abilities to fulfill their requirements and needs.