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Research Inspires Changes to Horseracing Fences




Have you ever wondered how horses see the world? Until recently, our understanding of equine vision was comparatively limited. But new research conducted by the University of Exeter has clarified how horses see. Their findings can be used to improve safety at racecourses.




 

How does equine vision compare to our own?


Equine vision is very unlike our own. For instance, horses’ eyes process colour in a different way. This has important safety implications because crossbars and take-off boards for fences and hurdles have generally been painted orange because of the way humans see. However, it turns out that horses see orange as a shade of green!

It isn’t hard to imagine that this could be problematic during a race.

New research quantifies equine vision


Martin Stevens, a professor of sensory and evolutionary ecology at the University of Exeter, led the recent research study. The study has revealed that the orange which is meant to make elements of jumps stand out, simply blends into the grass when horses look at it. Horses also have less efficient distance vision than people and so need to be 50% closer to an object to see it. A horse’s view of a jump will be much hazier than that of the jockey.

Unfortunately, a horse could be galloping towards a fence at 30 feet per second. The researchers undertook an experiment in which they changed the colour of obstacles and those changes did influence the way horses jumped. The study was conducted in collaboration with the British Horseracing Authority and the RSPCA. It should now lead to safer racecourses by reducing the risk of falls and injuries.

Seeing blue and yellow


Horses have two types of cone cells in their eyes whereas humans have three. This means that they can only perceive colours that people see as shades of blue and yellow. Horses can’t tell the difference between greens and reds.

It has been known for some time which colours horses can see but the effect of their vision on their ability to perform safely in the racing environment has never been quantified - until now. The scientists used a special camera to produce images which clearly demonstrated what horses can see on the track.

The (BHA) is now conducting a trial of new fence and hurdle designs which better identify the edges of the obstacles to horses. If it becomes clear during the trial that horses are more respectful of fences and are able to jump more cleanly, the new designs will be rolled out across more racecourses. Fall rates will be compared to historical data to establish if they improve with the new fence colours in place.

Since 2004, the faller rate in British racing has already been reduced by 29%. The improvements have been due to better standards at the courses together with enhanced training techniques. But now jockeys are reporting that there is definitely a difference in the way horses behaved when faced with the new fences. It looks as if fall rates could be reduced even more.

Racing could become much safer for both horses and jockeys in the near future. That has to a be a good thing.

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