Our strong and beautiful equine friends should be treated with a mixture of awe, respect and loving affection. Although horse owners may feel inextricably close with their pets, they would do well to remember that horses are animals of prey. This means they are easily startled, sometimes by tiny movements in their peripheral vision.
Due to their sheer size and power, this can have catastrophic effects for the inexperienced rider or handler.
The Equine Eye
The horse’s eye is the biggest of any land mammal. Equine eyes are set at either side of the head, allowing for around 350 degrees of monocular vision and 65 degrees of binocular vision. This is an evolutionary adaptation, that allowed horses to flee from predators. As much as horse handlers have tried to breed out this skittish instinct over the centuries, it cannot be changed.
His Blind Spot
In order for a horse to clear fence at a steady gallop, he needs to raise his head before the jump so that he can see it with his binocular vision. When he moves closer to the object, it hits the blind spot in his binocular vision. This explains why sometimes horses fail to clear fences and jumps. Therefore riders should always allow the horse to raise his head before the jump.
If a horse detects movement or a predator close to the ground like a snake, he will look downwards with his neck arched towards the ground to gain binocular vision. Without even turning his head, your horse can see everything and detect movement in his rump or flank. If he detects something suddenly happening, you may not even be aware, but he will become frightened and potentially dangerous to you. It’s paramount that you are cautious and quiet in your approach to him, especially in unfamilar surroundings.
Another horse blind spot is around the tail. Common handler methods for calming horses include talking to him and keeping your hand on him when walking behind at his rump, so that he can hear you and won’t be startled. It’s a definite no-no to approach him directly from behind as he will most certainly get a fright.
When feeding a horse, remember that he has a small blind spot around the tip of his nose.
He will firstly see the food, then use his sense of smell to detect what he wants to eat from your hand. If your hand isn’t held flat, he may unwittingly nibble at your fingers, mistaking them for grass. So always use an open palm when feeding him.
The best way of getting your horse to relax is by exposing him to a variety of objects and environments. In this way he will develop trust in you and where you take him, keeping you both safe.