Riding in the twilight: How well can your horse see in the dark?

3 min.

At the moment the days are getting longer. And maybe the sun is still kind of up when you are driving to the stable after work. But for how long in the afternoon and evening can you actually keep riding out doors? When is it too dark for you to ride to the nearest indoor arena without worrying if the horse stumbles over holes in the road. How well does your horse see in the dark?

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Horses have a better vision in the dark than humans. We are practically blind in the dark. We would function pretty bad in a field in the evening and night with both electric fences, holes in the ground and water troughs – all which we would probably bump into. At some point we would learn to avoid all the obstacles. But we would be challenged to actually physically see them especially if someone moved it around. It is not quite like this for horses. They have a much better vision in the dark than humans. The reason is that they have more rods than cones in the eye. The rods are responsible for increased night vision, while cones are responsible for color vision. In connection to this, humans have fewer rods than horses. However, people can brag about having a much more advanced color vision, because we have more cones in our eyes than horses.

Be aware of sudden light changes

Eventhough horses have a good night vision they are of course not nocturnal animals as with for example bats. Therefore, horses also have their own limits in terms of seeing objects in the dark. Also distinguishing between shadows and real objects can be a challenge. Horses have a relatively good vision in cloudy or foggy weather and in the late evenings when the sun is starting to set. However, they are much more challenged when it comes to very bright weather.

It is especially a problem if you bring the horse inside the stable from the field. Most stables are fairly dark, and the horse will feel almost blind for a few seconds until it is familiar with the lack of light. This experience can also affect the ability to get your horse into a trailer. If the horse gets scared of the change of light because it feels blind, it might not like the trailer very much. Therefore, this should be taken into account when you are loading your horse.

Horse see in the dark
Horses actually have better night vision than humans and can therefore see in the dark. Photo: Archive.

Is your horse more frighten in windy weather?

An interesting detail is that a horse has a very advanced vision – especially when it comes to movements. In other words, a horse very quickly realizes if a person is walking towards it. Or if a tree sways in the wind. It makes sense, because a horse is designed to reckon any movement from a possible enemy. Therefore, you have probably experienced that your horse is more observant in windy weather. And it is probably a bit less fun to ride out on a good hack. The explanation is that horses are not very good at distinguishing if the movement is coming from the wind or if a lion is going to attack it. All kinds of movements are a potential danger to the horse. 

Colors on jumps are very important

Humans have a much better color vision than horses. For many years science thought that horses were completely color blind. However, this is not the case. Horses are able to see variations of blue and green, and some scientists believe they can also see types of yellow. In the world of showjumping it is therefore important that the poles and the rest of the jumps have different colors and varies significantly from the substrate. Otherwise, the horse can have trouble actually see the jumps in front of them.


Irish Sport Horse MagazineExtension.orgWikipedia

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