Last Updated on January 8, 2022
It would be easy to assume that animals can see the same things as humans, but this is not always true! Some horses seem to spook at brightly colored objects, but what colors do horses see?
Let’s take a look into the fascinating world of horse vision and find out what our equine friends can really see!
Do Horses Have Good Eyesight?
Compared to other types of animals, horses have relatively good vision. How well an animal can see is calculated by the number of cells in the retina. The retina is the back of the eye, that receives and transmits information to the brain.
It is thought that horses have a vision that is not quite as good as human sight, but better than many other mammals. This is gauged by how close to an object an animal needs to be so that it can see it. A horse can see something from 20 meters away that a human would be able to see from 30-60 meters away.
The reason that horses have such good vision is that, in the wild, they were prey animals. They needed to be able to spot predators and other hazards.
It is also very helpful for humans that horses have good vision! We need our horses to be able to see well, as we expect them to navigate safely when we ride them. A horse that could not see well would likely trip and fall on rough ground, or may not clear a fence when asked to jump.
Long-term problems with eyesight are very rare in horses. Unlike humans, who often experience a deterioration in vision as they age, a horse will be able to see well throughout its life. This is very fortunate, as it would be tricky to get a horse to wear glasses!
Are Horses Color Blind?
The retina of the eye contains cells called cones. There are different types of cones, each able to sense different colors. This means that not all species of animals can see the same colors.
Humans have three types of cones in the retina of the eye, which can sense blue, red, and yellow-green light. This is what enables us to see the spectrum of colors in the rainbow, as they are all derived from these colors.
Horses also have color-identifying cone receptors, but only two types compared to the three in the human retina. This means that horses can see color, and they are not color blind. However, this does not mean that horses can necessarily see the same colors as us!
What Colors Can Horse See?
The cones in the retina of the horse’s eye can detect blue light and yellow-green light. This enables them to see all shades of blue, green, and yellow, but not red. A horse will be able to differentiate between these colors and can tell the difference between these colors and gray.
This may explain why a lot of horses are nervous about brightly colored hurdles or clothing!
Learn more about How Do Horses Get Their Color? Horse Color Genetics
Do Horses Have Full-Color Vision?
The retina of the horse’s eye does not contain cones that can identify the color red. This means that red colors, and shades of color close to red, cannot be detected by horses.
This does not mean that they don’t see red objects, but they will not appear red in color to the horse. The eye will identify bright red objects as a shade of grey. Colors close to red, such as orange or purple, will look like a grey-yellow or grey-blue shade to a horse.
Do Horses Have A Blind Spot?
The size, shape, and position of the horse’s eye are designed to enable them to see around their body as much as possible. The eyes are on the side of the head, slightly protruding to maximize vision. This means that the horse sees different things with each eye, and puts the images together to get an almost 360-degree view of the world.
If you think about this in terms of the horse as a prey animal, it makes perfect sense. The horse needs to be able to see a predator approaching from any direction. The most common predators, such as lions and tigers, have both eyes on the front of the face to help them visualize their prey.
However, the horse does have two significant blind spots. The first of these is the area directly behind the hindquarters.
In order to see directly behind, a horse will need to turn his head and neck fully to one side or the other. If approached from the rear, a horse may be startled and kicked out. For this reason, it is always safest to walk towards a horse from the side.
The second blind spot of a horse is directly in front of the head. Horses can see most things in front of them very well, but if something is very near then it will be difficult for the horse to see. The horse will compensate for this by raising or lowering its head, as you will often find if they approach a hazard that they are wary of.
Can Horses See At Night?
Horses have far superior vision than humans in low lighting. This is because of the large size of their eyeball, which allows the maximum amount of light available to reach the retina. The equine eye is also very good at detecting movement in very low light.
A horse cannot see in complete darkness, but only needs a small amount of light to be able to visualize objects and movements. If there is a full moon then a horse will be able to see as well as it can in bright sunlight! This means that a horse can easily navigate a rocky trail by the light of the stars and moon.
Read more about What Kind Of Horses Did Knights Ride?
So, as we have learned, horses can see the colors yellow, green, and blue. They cannot identify the color red, which will appear gray to a horse. Horses have very good vision and are especially good at seeing in low light.
We’d love to hear your thought on what colors horses can see! Is your horse scared of brightly colored objects? Maybe you have taught your horse to identify different colors? Add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE