Can Horses see in the Dark?

Majestic and beautiful, horses are amazing animals that can communicate their emotions through their eyes, their ears, as well as snorts and whinnies. One glance from this beautiful animal can help create a loving bond with a human. Of course, their eyes serve other purposes beyond conveying emotion. Their sweet, gentle eyes (the largest found on any land mammal) have developed to aid them as a prey animal active both day and night. Read on to learn more.

Can Horses see in the Dark?

The simple answer to this question is, yes. Because their large eyes they have more rods than humans, which makes them have better night vision. They also have something called the tapetum lucidum, which is a reflective panel that allows greater absorption of light in dark conditions. This is the thing that makes animals eyes seem to glow at night, if they have good night vision. Horses may not be able to identify specific shapes in the dark, but they can maneuver around without stumbling and bumping into things like your average human would.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as that. Understanding how a horse’s eyes function in both light and dark requires a little more explorations. Read on for more specifics. It’s important for any person who wants to interact with these majestic animals to understand how their vision functions, as vision issues can sometimes lead to behavior problems. Understanding how to work with a horse because of their unique vision capabilities will help humans bond with these special animals, and prevent harm to both animal and person.



How Well Do Horses See at Night?

With their excellent night vision, horses can navigate through even the darkest night. If there is a partial moon or bright stars, they can see almost as clearly as if it was daylight. If wandering through familiar territory, a horse is quite capable of picking out a safe path. It can still be dangerous to ride a horse in pitch blackness, as they have a little trouble differentiating between objects. Still, you can usually trust a horse to get you where you need to go at night.

It is important to be aware that it takes at least 15 minutes for a horse’s eyes to adjust from light to dark and dark to light. Human eyes can make this adjustment more quickly. If you were to decide to take a horse out for a ride at night, it would be best to remain in familiar area until their eyes have time to adjust. The same goes for turning the barn light on in the morning. Just like humans, horses will squint the eyes when the light snaps on, and they need some time to adjust.

How do a Horse’s Eyes Work?

The fact that horses are prey animals plays a huge role in how their eyes work. Predators of horses include humans, wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and bears. Their instinct is to run away when a predator approaches, which requires good instincts including the ability to see well, and large areas.

With their eyes on the sides of their heads, they are able to see two distinct visions at the same time (monocular vision).. They can also focus both eyes on distant objects (binocular vison) but, as already mentioned can’t see things close to them with both eyes at once. Because the anatomy of their eyes is slightly different from humans, they cannot focus their eyes in the same way. They move their heads up and down while looking at an object in order to be able to bring that object into clear view.

The location of their eyes at the side of their heads gives horses the ability to see almost 360 degrees. However, they also have blind spots immediately in front of them and directly behind them. The blind spot in front of them is cone-shaped and reaches about 3 to 4 feet in front of them. This is an amazing fact when it means that a jump disappears for a horse before they soar over it. The blind spot behind them starts at the back of their head and extends beyond their tail if their head is facing forward. Approaching a horse from behind could lead to a kick or a horse bolting away out of fear.

Do Horses Have Good or Bad Eyesight?

In spite of the different ways their eyes work (as compared to humans) their eyesight is actually very good. When using binocular vision on an object straight ahead (both eyes focused on the same object) they can see between 55 to 65 degrees. When using monocular vision, looking at things sideways, they see about 350 degrees. Humans must move their heads if they want to see 180 degrees. Basically, horses have amazing peripheral vision, which helps keep them safe from predators. Of course, a sneaky predator coming in from one of their blind spots may still be able to attack. A human, approaching from behind, should speak to the horse if they don’t want to be kicked, as nobody enjoys being snuck up on from behind. although hard to prove, horses have between 20/30 to 20/60 vision (a human with perfect vision has 20/20 vision).

About one-third of domestic horses are near-sighted. This means they have better vision for objects that are near. Distant objects become blurred. In contrast, wild horse tend to be far-sighted. While this may seem like merely an interesting fact, it is actually somewhat disturbing. It could be a little scary for a prey animal to be unable to see distances. How will they know if a predator is coming? One theory behind this vision difference comes from the fact that a horse on a bit is often looking down or at areas close to them.

Do Horses See In Color?

Cones are the formations in the eye that allow us to see color (as opposed to rods which are all about light sensitivity). Humans have three types of cones, which allows them to see red, yellow-green, and blue spectrums of light. Horses only have two types of cones. They are unable to see the red spectrum of light. So they see color, but like a human with red-green color-blindness, horses have some difficulty differentiating between colors like yellow and green. This is important information if someone wants to encourage a horse to jump. They are more successful, and less likely to knock off a railing, if the jump is painted in two or more contrasting colors.