Why is it that... (Vision)

When you are moving towards a horse, everyone tells you that the best way to approach him is forty-five degrees to the shoulder. Why is that? Why are we taught to not pass a horse from behind? Why are some horses head shy? It seems like when you first learn to ride, they give you all of these rules. But they never really tell you why you should follow them.

The main reason why we do certain things around horses is to keep ourselves a little safer since horses can be "unpredictable". Sometimes it can be simply because we forget that their vision is different than ours. Now, of course, that makes sense because we have our eyes in front of our faces and they have them on the sides. What some people tend to forget is that this changes the way they see things drastically.

Yes, it’s true that horses have blind spots like we do.

Unless they are aware of where you are, they might not see you if you’re standing in a blind spot. Most horses will turn their heads to make sure that they keep you in their line of sight. But let’s say that the horse was resting and didn’t see or hear you coming. And let’s say you were standing somewhere where he couldn’t see you. It becomes pretty easy to spook a horse in this situation. Because in their eyes, you just appeared out of nowhere. And depending on the horse, this can put the rider in a dangerous situation.

When someone says that you should approach a horse at a forty-five-degree angle to the shoulder, it's because you’ll always be in the horse’s eyesight. This way, he is less likely to spook or react. He knows that you aren't threatening because he is able to read you body language while you are walking up to him. There are no surprises.

The same reason applies for why you shouldn't pass behind a horse. If the horse becomes uneasy and he can't turn his head to find you, his instincts will tell him that the only way to protect himself is to kick out before he gets hurt. Of course, you don't have the intention to hurt the horse, but we also have to remember that they are prey animals. Their instincts are to fight or flight. Even though they will flee before they will choose to fight, they'll kick out of instinct if that’s the only choice they feel that they have. You can't blame them for this, it's something that they are born with. You just have to remember that and to make sure that your horse knows where you are at all times so that you stay safe.

Head shyness usually has to do with their eyesight as well. Unless they have had a bad experience with someone in the past. The reason why they’ll back away from your hand approaching their face is simply because they can’t see it. They’ll see it approaching them for a little while and then it disappears. All of a sudden, something is touching their head and it startles them. It makes them feel uncomfortable. It can take a lot of time before a horse trusts you enough to pet or brush his head. Just be patient and keep reminding yourself of what he might be seeing in that moment. If you can build up that trust and that partnership, he’ll quickly learn that having his head touched and brushed actually feels nice. Heck, it might even be relaxing! And the more time you put into it, the easier this process becomes.

Where are a horse’s blind spots?

Horses have both monocular and binocular vision.

Their monocular vision range is quite large in comparison to their binocular vision range. Monocular vision is essentially the horse being able to see an object out of one eye only. This is what lets a horse look at what’s happening around him (on either side of his body) without having to turn his head. Binocular vision, is when both eyes work together to produce an image. So when a horse is focused on an object directly ahead of him, he his using his binocular vision.

That being said, the obvious blind spot is directly behind the horse and the other is right put close to his face. Just like I mentioned earlier. So why is it that it’s still best to walk up to the horse’s shoulder if they can pretty much see everything around them? Well, if you’re walking up to a horse from behind them, even if you’re not directly behind them, their vision isn’t perfectly clear. It’s not much different from us when we are using our peripheral vision. If an object is coming up from behind you, you won’t see it until a certain point. At that point, you’ll see movement, but you won’t be able to make out what it is, as it moves closer and closer into your line of vision, the object becomes clearer.

For a horse, this blurry object moving towards them can be scary. Which may put you in danger. For that reason, it’s much better to make it a point to always stay in the horse’s clear line of vision.

The biggest thing when dealing with horses is to remember that they are prey animals. They are much more sensitive to things than what we are. If you can remind yourself about their instincts and how they are naturally, you will be a lot more comfortable around a horse. There is no such thing as a stupid or a dangerous horse. If he is acting out in a way that isn't what you wanted, you gave him the wrong message. Try another approach and see what happens.

I hope that some of this is useful to you and I thank you for reading my blog. I’d encourage you to Google images of a horse’s field of vision. It will help you better understand how to see through a horse’s eyes.

Until next time, happy riding!