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Can Horses See in the Dark?

By Anne Forsberg


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We all know by now that all horses have excellent vision which is why we do have to ask ourselves, can they actually see in the dark?

They need extremely good eyesight simply because they gallop very fast, and they need their eyes to be able to see across rough landscapes to make sure that they don’t stumble and fall, and this definitely should extend into the night time as well, right?

Well keep on reading because we’ve got that answer and more coming your way in just a second now, right after we answer the following:

How do Horses See?

How do Horses See
Photo by Ri Butov / pixabay.com

Because of how good they are at avoiding random bumps and holes on the road, many experts believed over the years that horses have unnaturally good eyesight, to the point where they could easily see a small pebble a couple of feet before they get to it.

There were a lot of other different rumors about their eyesight, going as far as to say that horses can only see the world in black and white, and that they can’t discern between certain colors, because they don’t have the capacity to separate them from one another.

Sure, horses do see things differently, but this doesn’t actually mean that they can’t tell colors apart, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that they only see the world in black and white hues.

What is true about them though is the fact that they can see the world’s colors slightly more muted than we do, and that they can’t really tell red apart from any of the other colors that we normally see with our own eyes.

In fact, horses have a much wider field of vision simply because they don’t have their eyes in front of their face but more so on the side of their head.

This is due to the fact that horses have evolved to see their surroundings better in case of a potential predator coming to attack them from the sides.

Not only that but horses do actually have the ability to see all around them in an almost 350-degree angle, with the only 10 degrees left being the surroundings right in front of them.

Can Horses See in the Dark?

Horses See in the Dark
Photo by Jon Tyson / unsplash.com

So, here’s the real meat of the article, the crème de la crop, the cherry at the very top of this delicious cake, can horses actually see in the dark? The answer is yes, a hundred and one percent YES.

While humans can also slightly see in the dark, horses have way better night vision to the point where they can easily see you clear as day even in dimly lit or moonlit conditions.

This is all due to the fact that the horse’s eye contains more rods than cones at a total ratio of 20:1. In simpler terms, the more rods they have in their eyes, the better their night vision is and as you can tell, they are far superior to humans to say the least.

This means that even if you are in the pitch dark you can still ride your horse around, because they will be able to tell if something’s right in front of them, or if they’re about to hit something even before you can.

On top of that, horses’ night vision is also far improved thanks to their tapetum lucidum. which can be seen at the back of their retinas. Again, in simple terms, this actually reflects the light back, even when there isn’t a lot of light there to begin with.

This makes them be able to see a lot better than humans in general, and yes, it does increase their night vision tenfold as well.

Not only that but it also makes their eyes better at seeing through cloudy or dull days, than they do during bright and sunny days, which is when we see everything better.

Horse Night Vision

Horse Night Vision
Photo by Equine FX / facebook.com

As far as dimly lit places are concerned though, there’s no way that any human could ever rival a horse, simply because their eyes adjust to the dark a lot better.

Funny enough though, our eyes are slightly faster at adjusting to sudden changes in light conditions. So, for example if you were to turn off the light in a room then the horse would be practically blind for way longer than any human.

After they get adjusted to the dark though they will be able to see around them a lot better, and in turn they will be able to navigate the room without a problem, no matter how dimly lit it may be.

This is why it is actually recommended that you train your horse to trust you, as you lead them on through the wilderness.

Horse Trust at Night
Photo by Squire Sport Horses / facebook.com

Since they see so much better than any of us do, they can get scared very easily, which is why you need them to trust you so they can take a risk and trot through treacherous situations at your command.

Overall though, just to reiterate, horses can easily see through the darkness, and even more so they can see a lot better than humans can because of their 350 field of vision.

As such they can easily spot you from a distance, while you may not be able to even see farther than twenty meters ahead of you clearly.

This is yet another reason why horses can end up not wanting to take certain routes, that you don’t see any problem with until you get close to them.

And that’s also one of the main reasons why some of the most skilled riders out there trust their horse’s eyesight more than they trust their own. So, instead of controlling the horse when they ride, they actually work together to make sure that they can get to their destination properly.

The Horse’s Blind Spots

Horse’s Blind Spots
Photo by Elke / pixabay.com

We mentioned previously how horses have a 350-degree field of vision, so how about we explain how that works a bit better for now.

The reason why it’s not a perfect 360 is because their eyes are placed on the sides of their head, which leads them to not be able to see right in front of them.

This is why you will be able to walk in front of a horse and they won’t be able to see you, since their actual heads don’t allow them to see within that small window.

On top of that though, horses also fail to see right behind them. This is why you will most often than not find yourself getting kicked right in your head or in your ribs, if you try and sneak up on them.

Last but not least, horses also can’t see directly around their front feet or anywhere around that area. These are their blind spots and while it may sound like a lot, remember the fact that you can see a lot less with your own eyes.

We as humans have 20/20 vision which is great for us, but horses on the other hand have a 20/30 or 20/60 vision depending on the horse itself.

In simpler terms, the horse can see at a distance of 20 feet exactly what a human can see from 30-60 feet. That field of vision is just expanded beyond what any of us would ever even see as normal, which is why they are better at spotting danger than humans will ever be.

A fun fact about horses’ eyesight though is the fact that while they can see quite far they don’t have the best depth perception out there which means that while they can see danger from a lot farther away, they can’t tell if that danger is around 50 feet or 10 feet away from them so they are very afraid of everything that comes their way.

Imagine this, a creature, potentially a predator, is heading your way very fast and you can’t tell if they are small and right in your face or if they are a few dozen meters away and they’re just going to get bigger and bigger the closer they get to you.

Do Horses See Us Bigger?

Do Horses See Us Bigger
Photo by Violaine Puzin / pixabay.com

Last but not least we would like to bring about the rumor that horses see us a lot bigger than we actually are and tell you that it is actually true.

Your horse’s eyeball is the largest orb that can be found on any land mammal whatsoever, and because of this they also have a very large retina to match it.

The retina basically magnifies the objects in front of it to make them more visible to them, which is why it is said that they see us 50 percent larger than we really are. This explains why they are so afraid of us to begin with.


Can horses See in the Dark
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / unsplash.com

So, can horses actually see in the dark? Yes, they can, and not only that but their eyesight is actually a lot better than ours.

The only real downside to it is the fact that they can’t adjust to sudden light changes all that quickly, but they more than make up for it with their incredible field of vision.

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About Anne Forsberg

Anne has been riding since she was only 5 years old and she's been obsessed with horses ever since. An avid horsewoman now, she loves horses and this sport more than anything else, sharing stories and info that she hopes will be helpful and meaningful to anyone who's on their path to become a better horse owner, a better rider and why not, a better person. Learn more about Seriously Equestrian's Editorial Process.

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