Horses are well documented as being colour blind, although research shows that the horse can perceive colours in a similar way to human dichromats. This means that they confuse reds and greens, and can’t detect dot patterns comprising of these colours. Research also indicates that the horse confuses other colours including lime green and orange, and blue and purple.
Understand how your horse sees can also help with performance. For example, a horse that throws its head up and down when approaching a fence may well be struggling to see the obstacle, rather than trying to go faster or “misbehaving” or exhibiting other forms of conflict behaviour.
When competing it is easy to be concerned by a particularly ‘bright’ fence or banner but actually the colour red for example, will appear less noticeable to the horse. Small movements (that may be imperceptible to humans) are much more likely than other visual features, such as colour, to elicit an avoidance response in the horse.
Which fence is more ‘scary’ for the horse?
One study which assessed behaviour of horses when jumping found that fences with only a single colour (in particular, white) also caused more difficulties for jumping horses than those fences displaying two contrasting colours. Horses also appear to demonstrate more problems when negotiating fences of contrasting colours where green is paired with yellow or blue, which are two of the colours that have been reported as most easily visible to the horse. However it is impossible to separate rider influences from these visual limitations, a rider that is concerned by a fence, thinking it is ‘spooky’ will be riding very differently and no doubt transmitting some rather mixed messages to their horse.
So the take home message is that it is useful to understand how the horse does see, as this can have a real impact on training and competing and how we ride our horses. Most interesting is that ‘rider scarer’ banners and jumps aren’t as noticeable to the horse as we think.
Eye conditions should always be taken as seriously as a case of colic, and you can learn more about common eye conditions on our online Horse First Aid Course.
You can register for more details of this course at the link HERE