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  • Lauren Fraser, CHBC

Horse Myth #11 – Horses Can’t Transfer Visual Information From One Side Of The Brain To Other

"You have to let the horse see objects with both eyes. The information transmitted from the eyes to the brain isn’t shared from side-to-side."

It is a long-held belief that if you show a horse an object so that he can see it only with one eye, and then show it to him so that he can only see it with the other eye he won’t be able to recognize it as an object he has seen previously. It is stated that the horse lacks the ability to transfer visual information seen with one eye from one side of the brain to the other.

How Horses See
False. Let’s bust this myth once and for all. The horse does have the ability to see an object with only one eye, and then be able to recognize it with the other. In 1999, researchers devised an experiment to disprove this belief. They covered one eye of a number of horses, and then taught the horses to select a certain shape by pushing it with their nose in order to receive a food reward. Once the horses had learned to select the desired shape, the eye covers were switched, and the horses successfully selected the desired shape while viewing it with the previously covered eye only.
The Human Role In The Spread Of Misinformation

As always, learning is a two-way street, and the human’s learning can play a role in perpetuating this myth. Here’s a scenario to help you understand how this myth can be perpetuated:

  • You are trail riding your horse, and you pass a large rock on the right-hand side of the trail. As you pass it, your horse briefly glances at it, and keeps walking. On the return ride, you come back down the same trail, but the boulder is now on your left; your horse snorts and spooks upon seeing it.

It’s easy to see why such a scenario may support the belief that the information between eyes and brain is not shared; the horse didn’t spook when first seeing the rock with one eye, but spooked when seeing it with the other eye. But fear not, there is an explanation for why this occurs: researchers have shown that horses have difficulty recognizing objects they have seen previously when those objects are rotated, and are seen from a different angle. Horses cannot consistently recognize rotated objects they have seen previously, which is essentially what the rock on the trail is when approached from a different direction.

Perhaps this is an evolutionary advantage, as retaining awareness of different looking objects in the environment may increase the horse’s chances for survival. Regardless of the reason, remember to be patient with your horse should he spook at something he has seen previously. From his perspective it may appear to be an entirely new object, and as such, startling is a perfectly normal response when seeing it. PS - If you missed another myth-busting blog in this series, you should know that horses lack the ability to ‘pretend to spook’; if your horse spooks , it is because something genuinely startled or frightened him.

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