They See Differently

I love it when I learn something new when reading about equines, then my ponies do something to make the learning real.  I was walking Torrin and Joe through the log yard, moving them from one paddock to another.  My husband had reorganized the yard since the boys had last walked through it, so they were looking around as we walked.  Suddenly Torrin shied toward me but then resumed walking normally.

I had just been reading the chapter on eyesight in Wendy Williams’ The Horse:  The Epic History of Our Noble Companion.  One of the illustrations showed the same scene in two ways:  first how humans view it and then how equines are likely to view it with their different perception of color.  Williams then explained, “When [horses] look at a red object, they see color – but not the distinct red that we perceive.  Most likely, researchers believe, our ‘red’ is a yellowish-greenish hue to them.  If we look at a red ball lying on green grass, the ball will stand out because of its color.  If a horse looks at the same ball, the ball will not stand out.  That’s one reason why you may notice the ball at a distance, but your horse may only notice that ball when he is much nearer.  And when he does notice it, it may startle him.” (1)

I had this story in mind when Torrin shied.  In the direction of his gaze was the orange cement mixer which had not been in that location when Torrin last walked through the log yard.  With its bright red-orange color and large bulbous shape, it was very obvious to me as we approached.  Now that I understand that Torrin’s perception of color and therefore objects is different than mine, though, I suspect that Torrin didn’t see the cement mixer as we approached until when he did, it surprised him.

Williams’ book is full of observations about how horses and humans are similar yet different, as in eyesight and perception.  She suggests that a better understanding of horses on behalf of humans makes us better partners for them.  I know I’ll never look at a red object in their presence the same way again!

  1. Williams, Wendy. The Horse:  The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. New York:  Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015, p. 205

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More stories like this one can be found in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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