Neu Perspectives

The Eyes Have It

From color to shape, a horse's windows to the soul can be a real dealbreaker. A horse's eye plays a large part in how people think of him.

From color to shape, a horse’s windows to the soul can make or break a deal.

He seems to have it all by the video — he moves beautifully, he seems confident and bright, he’s got the pedigree, the nominations paid and he’s even that bay roan color you’ve been wanting. You walk up to see him on sale day, peer in his stall and quickly say “nope.” What the heck was it? That colt was Mr. Right on the internet, (unlike the last three dates you had via Farmers Only!). What changed your mind? 

“He didn’t have a good eye.” 

If you’re involved in the equine industry, it’s a “say no more” situation. That statement makes total sense to a horseman’s ear, but if you’re an outsider, what the heck does that mean? 

A bad eye (at least in this context) does not mean one that’s been injured, blind or compromised. A horseman might consider an eye to be a secret glance into what’s happening inside a horse’s mind. A “bad eye” might describe a horse that looks at the world as though it’s bothered, irritated, unhappy, stupid or dangerous. Sometimes, it merely means that a horse is “pig-eyed” (small, unattractive sunken eyes), and it’s purely genetics fault. Sometimes a horse has a blue eye and certain folks don’t want to feed that type of horse in their barn. But a true “bad eye” is basically a horse that you look at and don’t think you can trust. 

On the flip side, a “good eye” can sometimes make all the difference on the appeal of a horse. A good eye is soft, liquid, large and kind. It’s a look on a horse that hints at intelligence, confidence, sensibility, calmness and an inquisitive, friendly personality. It doesn’t always mean that he can go out and win $100,000, though it doesn’t mean he can’t, and he may not have the most comfortable lope you’ve ever sat, but a horse with a good eye rarely lies about his personality. 

I believe we can often influence a horse’s “eye” with our own training and handling. A lot of the colts we get in are wild, untrusting and ready to flee or protect themselves should the opportunity arise. But after time with people, riders, chickens, turkeys, flags, cattle and other stimuli, their minds and eyes usually soften and their thoughts wisen. They become a little more seasoned and a lot more comfortable with things that may have scared them in the first place. 

That’s not to take away from a horse that is just born with a good look. If a person walks through a pen of weanlings, it’s easy to see that they all have different mannerisms, expressions and faces. There’s usually something in there with a big, soft eye, and something else in there with a look that might make most men keep walking. 

Some breeds boast eyes that have “sclera,” or white (third eyelid) around the eye as a trait. This can make a horse look wary or surprised without them truly feeling that way. I once had a Pony of the Americas gelding that sported this on both eyes, and his expression made me laugh when I would go out to catch him. Despite his wiley look, he was one of the softest, gentlest and kindest ponies I’d known. 

The internet has taken away a lot of the personal connection we have when purchasing a horse. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge what’s going inside their minds on a one-dimensional photo on a lighted newsfeed. You’ve just got to see them in person for yourself sometimes and peer into their eyes to get a true feel for the decision on whether to go forward with “Mr. Right,” which, I’m guessing, is probably not much different than internet dating.

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