Horsin’ Around 11-2-09 | TheFencePost.com

Horsin’ Around 11-2-09

Roger Thompson
Fort Collins, Colo.

The horse, in general or in their natural environment, are sensitive animals. Even though they have tremendous strength, for the most part they are not aggressive in nature. In nature they depend on hiding and running for survival. All you have to do is watch a horse out on pasture or, if your lucky enough, in the wild state. Survival depended on sight, reflex action for flight, memory, and ability to feel ground vibrations, hearing, and smells as well as skin sensitivity.

If your horse is neurotic, it may have a “people problem.” This is usually caused by some one punishing with spurs or jerking on the reins when the animal does not understand what to do. This usually causes a reaction of bucking, rearing, or becoming neurotic. A gentle hand goes a long way in controlling a horse. Now there are some instances where these disciplines are used, but not often.

• Sight: There are areas, both in front and behind, that a horse does not see without moving his head or body. Therefore we should speak to them when approaching from any direction, especially from directly behind.

The eyes have a “ramped retina,” meaning it does not form a true arc. Parts of it are closer to the lens than other parts. This causes the horse to adjust the range of vision by raising and lowering his head. I have also learned to do this because I wear bifocal glasses.

Frontal vision varies slightly with different horses depending on width of the forehead and where the eyes are set. My old roping horse, “John,” has had this problem all his life and has been afraid of things he has not seen before, or doesn’t remember having seen. This problem for a long time, aggravated me until reading this in the book by Melvin Bradley. Now I have a little more patience with him since understanding the physiological problem. But it still aggravates me when we are out in the hills.

With this in mind, I understand that horses do not see objects nearer than 3 feet directly in front of their faces without moving their heads. With their heads in normal position they do not see the feed they are eating or where the forefeet are landing. This design is very convenient for grazing and watching for predators at the same time. However in the human world it can cause a problem when it comes to judging height and distance at a close range. For instance when approaching a strange jump, the horse lowers his head searching for a ground line, and then raises his head to determine the height and breadth of the jump.

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Horses see different images with each eye. The input from these images may be processed either separately and alternately or independently. A horse has accurate perception at about 10 feet beyond its nose when looking straight ahead. He can see and function in the dark, but his eyes accustom more slowly to changes of light than ours. When taken from a brightly lighted area into a dark trailer, he may lower his nose to the floor of the trailer then raise his head rather high for loading. Aside from smelling the trailer for identification, he may be trying to find the head position that gives the best possible vision.

Still objects convey very little information to the horse’s brain. A sitting rabbit or bird may be seen by the rider, but may remain obscure to the horse until it moves. Horses see movement instantly and react according to their temperament or confidence in the rider. Because he does not see the ground, your horse should be allowed to concentrate while covering rough terrain. Because of this some stumbling may occur when a horse does not watch the area he travels and does not remember where the obstacles are.

The lining of the retina of the horse’s eye are two different kinds of light sensitive bodies, rods and cones. The rods used primarily for night vision, the coned generate neutral impulses when stimulated by daylight and color. Cones in the retina does not prove the horse perceives color, but the cones may be an indication that his visual world is not totally drab as suspected. Some ability to differentiate colors may have been a positive survival trait, useful when senses such as hearing and smell were at a disadvantage because of wind direction. In relation to this, I have noticed that my horses become very nervous in a wind storm.

The information in this educational article is based on information form the text book, “Horses: A Practical and Scientific Approach” By Melvin Bradley.

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Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.