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Can Horses See in the Dark? Your Questions Answered!

Dean Eby

March 3, 2021

Horses have excellent vision. After all, we trust them to carry us across rough landscapes, riddled with holes, roots, rocks, logs, and more. Our horses manage to navigate these environments with a deft ease; often, better than most humans could manage on foot. But how good is their eyesight really? Do horses see better than us? They have some of the largest eyes found on any land mammal, but what does that allow them to do? Can they see in the dark? Let’s take a closer look and see if we can find the answers to these questions and more.

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How do Horses See?

We’ll begin by discussing the way that horses see the world since horse vision was long misunderstood. For many years, there were a lot of unproven claims about the way horses see. In the modern-day, science has been able to give us a better glimpse into what the world looks like for our equine friends.

For instance, it was once believed that horses couldn’t see color; only black and white. However, that’s not the case, as we now know. While horses don’t see color in the same way we do, they certainly see color. Humans have three types of cones for sensing color while horses have just two. This means that colors are more muted for horses and they don’t see reds, but they can still see many of the colors that we do.

Horses have an incredibly wide field of view because their eyes are set on the sides of their heads. This is great for an animal that grazes and needs to keep an eye on its surroundings. In fact, horses have 350 degrees of vision, leaving only 10 degrees of their surroundings that they can’t see.

A Horse’s Blind Spots

It might seem strange as a person since your eyes are set in the front of your head, but for a horse, one of their blind spots is directly in front of them. This is why you’re never supposed to approach a horse from the front. They can’t see you until you’re right on top of them.

Horses have another blind spot directly behind them. If you approach in this blind spot, you might end up with a serious injury after a kick to the head or ribs.

Furthermore, horses can’t see the ground around their front feet. They also can’t see their own chest or knees.

horse eyes
Image Credit: Valentin Salja, Unsplash

Do Horses See Better Than Humans?

Humans have 20/20 vision. It’s believed that a horse’s vision falls somewhere between 20/30 and 20/60 vision. This means that at a distance of 20 feet, a horse sees what a human with 20/20 vision sees at a distance of 30-60 feet. So, we can see more detail from farther distances. But remember, horses have an incredibly wide field of view that’s far larger than our own.

Also, horses don’t have the best depth perception. It’s hard for them to tell how far or near something is to them. Due to this, many jumpers have noticed that it’s much harder for a horse to jump a deep fence than a single one.

Can Horses See in the Dark?

That’s not the whole story though. As it turns out, horses have a very high proportion of rods to cones within the eye, as well as more than rods than a human eye. But what does this mean for eyesight?

Horses’ eyes can take in far more light than our eyes can. This allows them to have far superior vision in lower-light environments. During dusk and dawn, your horse’s vision is considerably better than yours.

But this isn’t exactly night vision. Your horse can’t see in the complete dark. It can see well in low-light conditions. If the moon is very bright, your horse can probably navigate at night with no problem. But if the moon is absent and the night is very dark, your horse won’t be able to rely as much on its superior low-light vision.

Of course, there’s a caveat to this. While horses can see better in the dark than humans can, they can’t adjust to different levels of brightness. For instance, if a horse walks from a dark barn into the bright sun, it will take quite a while for its eyes to adjust, whereas a human’s eyes will adapt quite quickly.

horses on snow at night
Image Credit: Anze Furlan, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

So, can horses see in the dark? Well, not if it’s pitch black. But if there’s a little bit of light, the additional rods in a horse’s eye coupled with the high proportion of rods to cones that their eyes contain, they can take in far more light and have superior vision in low-light conditions. While humans have better depth perception and our eyes pick up more detail, horses can see much better at night and have an incredibly wide field of view.

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Featured Image: Naletova Elena, Shutterstock

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.