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Vision of dogs and horses

From: Evan

Dear Jessica, I am eleven years old and I read HORSE-SENSE every week and really like it. I don't always understand the things you talk about, but my Mom and my Aunt read it too, they are horse experts and they say you are great, so I know I can trust what you write. Now I have a question for you! I want to know what animal sees better, horses or dogs. My vet says that dogs see better, but all the horses at our place always seem like they can see things before we do, like in the distance, so I think horses see better than dogs. Also dogs have to smell things to know what they are, and horses don't, so I still think horses see better. And I also think that dogs are smarter than horses because the horses usually get scared of the dogs even though the horses are a lot bigger than the dogs. So, who is right?

Yours Sincerely, Evan

Hi Evan! What a great question - I'm not sure I can tell you which one sees better, but maybe I can help you understand how they both see, and you can decide for yourself.

If you look at dogs and horses, you'll notice that dogs have their eyes on the front of their heads, like people. Horses have their eyes more on the sides of their heads, which is why you can look into your dog's eyes much more easily, and why you have to look into your horse's eyes one eye at a time.

Dogs are predators. Their eyes are in front, because they don't have to worry about anything coming up behind them, but they do need to see what they're chasing, so that they can catch it and bite it - whether it's dinner-on-the-hoof or a tennis ball. Horses are prey, so they need a different kind of vision. Horses need to see all around them, and know what's coming up behind them - because whatever is coming up is likely to have sharper teeth, and it may be thinking about having horse for dinner. A horse's field of vision is almost a full 360 degrees. There are only two places a horse can't see - directly in front of its forehead (which, by the way, is why real horsemen don't try to pet horses on the forehead), and directly behind its tail. But by moving around a little, a horse can get a very good view of everything around it, and be ready to run if anything seems to be sneaking up.

This is also why sudden movement will make a horse flinch, jump, or run away - and make a dog very attentive and eager. For a dog, sudden movement means "Something to chase!" For a horse, sudden movement means "Something is chasing me!" In nature, a dog that doesn't pay attention to movement may miss dinner; a horse that doesn't pay attention to movement may BE dinner.

Horses have a very good sense of smell - like dogs - but again, they use them for different purposes. Horses want to know "Do I smell something that wants to chase or eat me?" and dogs want to know "Do I smell something that I want to chase or eat?" Dogs can afford to try to put their nose on something unfamiliar - horses can't (imagine a horse putting its nose on a wolf - and what would happen next).

Horses run away from predators - their main defense is their speed. Horse predators are always smaller than the horses. It's not a matter of size, it's a matter of teeth, claws, intentions, and numbers! Predators rarely travel alone. A horse or a deer that sees a wolf or a coyote is not usually going to hang around to count how many are in the pack; prey animals have a much higher survival rate if they simply assume the worst and start running.

Think about the creatures that humans generally prefer not to find sharing their chairs or car seats or sleeping bags - perhaps certain snakes, perhaps certain spiders, perhaps scorpions, leeches, ticks, wasps... All of these are much smaller ll much smaller than you. Anyone who has ever been bitten by a fire ant is going to do anything possible to avoid such bites in future - and yet, consider the relative sizes of a human being and a fire ant! It's not about size, it's all about the possible consequences of interaction.

I think that I would have to say that since their eyes are different and their vision and their needs are different, that horses see best for horses - dogs see best for dogs.


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