How do horses see?

By Simon Palmer

This news has caught my eye today for many reasons. As a professional photographer, a person interested in horses, and their welfare. It ticks all the boxes! In about four weeks a study closes from Exeter University that has been focusing on “How horses see?” It has been a racing funded research project that hopes to improve the welfare of horses by providing more informed guidance on how to colour fences in racing. Needless to say this will have an effect on all forms of obstacles jumping in the equine world, from Show Jumping to eventing.


A little background. Humans are what is known as trichromatic. This means we have three types of cones the can determine Red, Green or, Blue. For the computer, photography, and TV geeks among us, this is why we use the RGB palette. However horses are dichromatic. They have receptors that support a more limited palette of colours than humans can see.


For many in the equine world, it’s been acknowledged that horses see things differently. But to what extent has always been the follow-up question that then leads to discussions about what causes a horse to spook, or to stumble, or to refuse a jump.


Needless to say it isn’t just the colour of something that plays into how a horse determines a suitable action, after all they are a flight animal. Smell, shape, and texture among other things also are key.


But we now know that horses colour receptors show a reduce and almost flatten series of colours. Orange for example (the carrot colour) is washed out almost grey. But as previously mentioned horses are more than happy to mug someone holding a carrot, as the smell, texture and shape also act as indicators.


This research is incredibly important in the competition world as it will help make the jumping competitions a little safe for horses. If jumps are designed using a certain colour palette that a horse can determine, then they will be able to make a more effective decision, keeping horse and rider safe.


The research will be published through Exeter University, and is led by Dr Sarah Paul, of  the“Exeter Equine” unit.


Links worth reading:


Wiki Horses Eye summary:


Human Eye, Cones:


Exeter University Link:

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