Research into equine vision to improve safety in jump racing

October 10th, 2018 | Rebecca's Spotlight

I didn’t plan to write a blog today but my schedule was interrupted by an email from the BHA in connection with some new scientific research. It grabbed my attention as in our office we’ve been talking a lot about horses and the way they learn to jump and then enhance their skill as part of our work for Dark Horse Racing.

The email was informing me of some scientific research that has taken place by the University of Exeter. The research into equine vision was commissioned and funded by the BHA and Racing Foundation. The decision to fund this research was made by the BHA and RSPCA who work in partnership to ensure that everything is being done to make hurdles and fences safer.

It shows that horses are able to see white and yellow obstacles better than orange with the recommendation that a trial of fluorescent yellow be used for hurdles and guard-rails and fluorescent white for take-off boards at fences. This trial has been approved by the Racecourse committee.

It was interesting to read that the orange currently used was chosen based on human vision!

Horses don’t have the same vision as humans so I agree it made perfect sense to research this and have to say I am surprised this hasn’t been done before. I incorrectly assumed that this colour was chosen for horses. Horses see reduced colours in comparison to us. They are unable to distinguish between many of the colours humans see as red, orange and green. I have to admit to being quite shocked when I saw the photo below which clearly shows that for a horse there is hardly any difference in colour currently!

The research was done to ensure that there would be the highest level visibility for both horses and humans.

Professor Martin Stevens, Chair in Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology for the University of Exeter, said:

“Understanding how animals see the world, and using cutting edge tools to investigate this, has a valuable role to play in guiding the safety and welfare of animals and humans in a variety of contexts. This project demonstrates how modern science can look to have widespread positive implications in human society and our interactions with animals.”

This picture is brilliant to see. It clearly shows what a huge difference it makes visually to change the colours:


It will be fascinating to see how phase two of the trial goes. For your interest phase one included working with trainer Richard Phillips and tested the behavioural responses of horses in a controlled environment.

I wonder if it may make some horses nervous especially ones that have been jumping for a long time and suddenly there is a drastic change. If the trial is a success and goes live into the racing environment horses new to jumping will know no difference of course.

Ian Popham, Grade 1 winning former jockey who was involved in the trial, said:

“From riding over the different coloured fences it was clear to me that over some colours the horses reacted differently and showed the obstacle more respect. I’m sure other riders will feel the same and this feels like a great idea and opportunity to make the sport safer for both horses and jockeys.”

The second phase of the trial is going to be run in yards first before going live on a racecourse. The researchers need to have a larger dataset to make informed decisions.

In the behavioural trials that were done the horses did respond differently. In fact, the research stated that the use of white had a tendency for the horse to produce a longer total jump distance!

Like everyone involved in racing I am sure we all agree that anything that can be done to make jump racing safer is a huge benefit to us all. This research is also going to be shared with other equine based sports.

I was also interested to read the latest stats on faller rates within British jump racing. This table shows that faller rates have decreased steadily since 2004 which is great news. I wonder how the table below will continue if the above recommendations go live within the industry as standard.

Thank you for reading my blog!

With thanks to:
The British Horseracing Authority
University of Exeter