Many people are skeptical about a horse with blue eyes.
And their worry isn’t unwarranted, given all the bad rap about blue eyes in horses.
If it’s not about their sensitivity to light or higher risk of developing diseases, then it’s a myth about being blind or deaf. But prepare to pick up your jaws as the truth you’re about to read will surprise you.
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Blue Eyes Horses
Yes, blue eyes horses do exist but are not as common as brown eyes horses.
The blue color in the eyes results from low melanin pigment concentration in the iris, and it relates closely to coat color.
However, blue eyes can occur in any breed irrespective of coat color. Even so, they’re more common in horses with white markings or light color coats such as palominos, perlinos, cremellos, and buckskins.
Hence, you’re more likely to find a palomino paint horse with blue eyes than a dark-colored coat horse with blue eyes.
Horse Breeds With Blue Eyes
As mentioned earlier, blue eyes in horses have a close link with the coat color, with dilution genes more likely to create a blue-eyed equine. Therefore, Akhal Teke, Gypsy Vanner, Miniature Horse, Paint Horse, Quarter Horse, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Appaloosa horse breeds frequently have blue eyes.
You can also find blue eyes in Thoroughbreds and Arabians, but infrequently. For more information on these unique animals or to register your blue-eyed pony, check with the Blue-Eyed Horse Association (BEHA).
Common Myths about Blue-Eyed Horses
Cowboys have many hang-ups about things surrounding horses with blue eyes. Some are outright funny, while others are pure superstitions.
The fact is, most of the hang-ups lack reasoning but have led to people sidestepping horses with blue eyes altogether.
But not anymore, as many extensive studies that bust the myths exist. The Blue Eyed Horse Tracking Registry helps to educate, preserve, and promote blue eye beauties. Below are some common myths about blue eye horses:
Horses with Blue Eyes Are More Likely To Have Eye Problems
While humans have many standard iris colors, horses only have two: brown or blue, though some have both or a mix. However, having a blue iris doesn’t make a horse more prone to intraocular problems or equine recurrent uveitis.
But since blue eyes are associated with pink skin, especially around the eyes, they are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) from UV sun rays.
So generally, the color does not make your horse more prone to diseases, but the skin pigmentation does.
A Horse’s Moon Blindness Gets Worse with Moon Cycles
Equine recurrent uveitis (ERU), also called “moon blindness”, causes blindness in horses. It’s not caused by the moon nor worsened by moon phases.
In reality, it’s an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the inside of your horse’s eye. Research is undergoing on what causes ERU, but it’s not the moon, definitely.
Feeding a Horse Nutritional Supplement Prevents Eye Diseases
Vitamin supplements can delay age-related cataracts or macular degeneration in humans, but they don’t work in horses. You ask why? It is because horses do not suffer from those conditions.
Many veterinarians recommend you feed your horse a balanced diet, but not necessarily to prevent eye diseases.
The Truth about Horses with Blue Eyes
- Any horse can have blue eyes, but they are more common in light-color-coated horses.
- Both brown and blue eye horses have the same dichromatic (two-color) vision, and neither sees better or differently than the other does.
- A horse can have mismatched eyes, one blue and the other brown, a condition called heterochromia and very common in Paint Horses.
- Also, a single eye can have two different colors or different color shades, conditions called segmental and central heterochromia.
- Champagne-coat-colored horses are born with greenish-blue eyes, but they darken as the horse grows.
- Cream-colored horses have blue eyes that are paler than those of horses with white markings.
Horse Coat Colors and Blue Eyes
Horse coat color determines the color of the eyes. In fact, an accurate prediction of whether a horse will have blue eyes at birth is possible based on the coat colors.
Blue eyes are most common in horses with light coats or white spots.
These are horses with twice-diluted base colors by two cream genes. They can have lighter chestnut, brown, or bay base colors and often a white face.
Double dilutes have pale blue eyes and pink skin and coat colors ranging from off-white to rust. Good examples of blue-eyed cream horses are cremellos and perlinos.
These horses have darker base colors like bay, black, or chestnut, mostly with white markings. Good examples include palominos and buckskin.
Single dilutes can have blue eyes but less frequently than double dilutes.
Horse with White Marking and Spots
Horses with white markings and spots often have blue eyes, with or without double diluted coat colors. These horses have white faces or white markings spreading to one or both eyes.
The paints, pintos, and appaloosa fall under this category. And the chances of blue eyes are even higher in horses with splashed white, frame overo, or sabino patterns.
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What Problems Are Associated With Blue-Eyed Horses?
A study by the University of Illinois has some good news for owners of horses with blue eyes.
After studying 164 horses with ocular infections and 212 healthy horses, the researchers found no link between eye color and eye problems.
They, therefore, concluded that blue-eyed horses were not more prone to diseases, and in this case, eye infection, than brown-eyed horses.
Further, they found no vision differences among the blue, heterochromatic, and brown horse eyes.
However, the study found that blue-eyed horses were more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) than dark-eyed horses.
But the SCC problem has no connection to the color of the eye but to the skin pigmentation around the eyes and eyelids.
So, blue-eyed horse owners aren’t entirely off the hook, not as long as your horse has pink skin around the eyes.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is a form of skin cancer that develops on the skin surrounding the eyes and eyelids. It’s the second most common cancer in horses and results from exposure to UV rays from the sun.
Its main symptom is tumors in the outer eye skin layer, corneal cells, or conjunctival. Any horse can develop SCC, but the most susceptible are those with unpigmented skin surrounding the eyes.
How to Care For Horses With Blue eyes
Here is the deal, horses are valuable, and they need care irrespective of the color of their eyes. But blue-eyed horses need extra care against UV rays as they are more prone to SCC. This is because a horse with blue eyes tends to have pink skin surrounding them.
Try to avoid riding your horse or exposing it to direct sunlight when the sun is at its peak. If impossible, you can use fly mask to shield the face and sunscreen for an added protective layer. Also, providing shade in the turnout space is essential.
Blue EyeD Horses FAQs
Are Blue-Eyed Horses Sensitive To Light?
Blue-eyed horses are no more sensitive to light than their brown-eyed counterparts are. Besides, there is no scientific evidence linking horses with blue eyes to vision problems related to light sensitivity. Even so, ultra-violet sun rays can affect the light-pigmented skin surrounding the eyes, irrespective of eye color.
What Causes Blue Eyes In Horses?
Blue eyes in horses result from a reduced amount of melanin or color pigments in the iris. The horse genetics determines the amount of the pigment, and the higher the pigment density, the darker the eye color. And, primarily diluted color coats have a link to blue eyes.
Are horses with blue eyes blind/deaf?
Horses with blue eyes can be blind/deaf, just like any other different color-eyed horse. But the ailments are unrelated to the eye color—however, a study was done in 2019 linked deafness with coat-color patterns in paint horses with blue eyes.
How Rare Are Blue Eyes In Horses?
Blue eyes are seen less frequently than brown eyes in a general horse population. So in terms of numbers, blue eyes are rare. Even though you’ll find them in almost all breeds, and more commonly in pintos, cremellos, paints, and perlinos than in Thoroughbreds, Morgans, and Arabians.
Why Do Some Horses Have One Blue Eye?
Complete heterochromia is the trait of having one blue eye and results from benign genetic mutations that affect the iris’ pigment development. You can also find different shades of blue eyes (segmental heterochromia) and even double eye color (central heterochromia) in horses.
Eye color in horses and other animals is a factor of pigment density in the iris. In horses, decreased pigmentation causes the eye color to be blue. However, blue-eyed horses have as good a vision as brown-eyed horses.
They are not more predisposed to eye diseases, but their less pigmented skin around their eyes is more susceptible to UV rays-related diseases.
- “Blue Eyed Horse Association.” Www.diamond-s-Farm.com, www.diamond-s-farm.com/files/Blue_Eyed_Horse_Association.htm. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- “Common Equine Eye Myths | AAEP.” Aaep.org, aaep.org/horsehealth/common-equine-eye-myths. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- magazine, the Editors of EQUUS. “Are Blue Eyes in Horses More Sensitive than Brown?” The Horse Owner’s Resource, equusmagazine.com/horse-care/are-blue-eyes-more-sensitive-than-brown-8605. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- “Page Title.” Naturalamblinghorseregistry.net, naturalamblinghorseregistry.net/BEHTR.html?fbclid=IwAR2WaktU0pRN9Du-OuIxaP3Vt2QOGZXf-mDp6jUFdUktj9OO6NKuVuWe4nU. Accessed 20 July 2021.
What do you think of horses with blue eyes? We’d love to hear your comments below!
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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