Thursday, August 25, 2011

Effect of blinkers


How do horses respond to partial loss of vision?

In a study at Texas A & M University, eight driving horses were assessed to see if they responded differently to stimuli when wearing blinkers or not. A racing hood with half cup blinkers was used to restrict the field of view behind the horse. A similar racing hood without blinkers was used as a control.

One experimenter administered one of four stimuli while standing about nine strides behind the horse:

  • a length of steel chain was dropped onto an aluminium sheet
  • a children's toy gun was fired
  • an aluminium can containing coins was shaken
  • an umbrella was rapidly opened

The horse's heart rate was recorded after each stimulus.

They found that wearing blinkers was significantly associated with an increase in heart rate when worn by horses experiencing a noise for the first time. On the other hand, blinkers were significantly associated with a decrease in heart rate when worn by horses exposed to a primarily visual stimulus (the umbrella opening).

"It would seem logical that wearing blinkers would be advantageous when a visual distraction is hidden by the blinkers. Because the horses cannot see the object, he has no reaction to this object which is potentially frightening" they comment.

However, sounds are different. "This paper shows that horses wearing blinkers react more when they are exposed to unexpected noises." They point out that this reaction is not necessarily seen by an observer - most of the horses in the study showed little visible reaction to the noise stimuli. There was, however, a dramatic increase in heart rate.

The researchers suggest that this model of restricted vision could be used to investigate how horses react to other visual deficits such as total blindness, or the changes that occur after cataract surgery.

More details at

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