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Exploring Horses with Blue Eyes: Myths and Facts Revealed

Last updated: October 23, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

I took my grandson with me to visit our neighbor and check the progress of a young American Paint horse. My grandson noticed the horse’s blue eyes and asked, “Does the sunlight hurt its eyes?”

Some horses with blue eyes might exhibit a tad more sensitivity to sunlight, but this isn’t universally true. Many myths surround horses, especially those with blue eyes. These widespread beliefs, more often than not, are rooted in misconceptions rather than facts, leading to undue concerns.

With myths to debunk and curiosities to satisfy, let’s delve into the enchanting realm of blue-eyed horses. Are you ready to uncover the truths? Come along as we demystify the allure of the blue-eyed horse.

Picture of a horse with blue eyes.

Delving into the Blue-Eyed Mystique of Horses

Blue-eyed horses hold a unique charm in the equine world. Dive with us into the facts and myths surrounding this fascinating trait.

Unraveling the Genetic Puzzle

Ever wondered how some horses end up with those captivating blue eyes while others don’t? It all boils down to genetics. Just as in humans, a horse’s genes determine the color of its eyes. Specifically, the genes linked to eye color can be found on various chromosomes, and their interactions result in the diverse range of eye colors we see in horses.

For horses, the presence of blue eyes can sometimes be linked to particular coat patterns. For instance, horses with white facial markings or those with splashed white or frame overo patterns may have blue eyes. It’s essential to remember, though, that having blue eyes doesn’t mean there’s any compromise in vision. A blue-eyed horse sees the world just as sharply as its brown-eyed counterpart!

Horse Breeds with Blue Eyes

While blue eyes can be seen in many horse breeds, they’re more prevalent in some than others. Let’s trot through a few:

  1. American Paint Horses: Perhaps the most recognized breed for blue eyes, these horses often have a unique combination of colored and white patches. It’s not uncommon to find a Paint Horse with one or even two mesmerizing blue eyes.
  2. Tennessee Walking Horses: Known for their distinctive gait, many of these horses also flaunt blue eyes, especially those with lighter coats.
  3. Quarter Horses: Especially those with certain white patterns, can occasionally be found with blue eyes, making them stand out in their already diverse breed.
  4. Miniature Horses: These little equine wonders can sometimes surprise you with a pair of striking blue eyes.
  5. Thoroughbreds and Arabians: While it’s rarer, even these breeds can occasionally produce a blue-eyed beauty.

However, it’s worth noting that the presence of blue eyes isn’t limited to just these breeds. You might come across blue-eyed horses in breeds or crossbreeds that might surprise you! A registry for them was established to understand these unique animals, the Blue-Eyed Horse Association (BEHA. 

In the world of equines, blue eyes have a charm that often captivates both seasoned equestrians and casual observers. But behind that beauty lies a tale of genetics and breed characteristics. Next time you find yourself enchanted by a blue-eyed horse, you’ll know a bit more about the story behind those mesmerizing eyes.

Caring for Horses with Blue Eyes

Horses, regardless of eye color, require attentive care. However, when it comes to blue-eyed horses, some wonder if there are extra steps to take or more precautions to consider. Generally, the care regimen for blue-eyed horses doesn’t differ significantly from that of other horses.

Their vision is similar to their brown-eyed counterparts, and their eyes don’t necessarily indicate any underlying health issues. But, like all animals with lighter pigmentation, there are a few nuances worth noting.

Best Practices to Protect Their Eyes

  1. Shade and Shelter: On particularly sunny days, ensure that your blue-eyed horse has access to shade. A simple tree shade, barn, or even a lean-to can offer relief from the intense sun.
  2. Fly Masks: A UV-protective fly mask can serve a dual purpose. It can protect the horse’s eyes from harmful UV rays and keep irritating flies away. Some masks are specifically designed to offer more sun protection, which can be a beneficial investment for blue-eyed horses.
  3. Regular Vet Checks: While this is a standard recommendation for all horses, it’s always a good practice to have a veterinarian check your horse’s eyes during regular visits. They can spot any potential issues early on.
  4. Avoid Direct Sunlight Exposure: If possible, avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, especially during peak hours. Consider scheduling activities like riding or training either early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
  5. Cleanliness: Ensure the area around the eyes is kept clean. This will reduce the risk of infections or irritations, which could be more evident against the backdrop of a blue eye.
Picture of a paint horse a breed that has horses with blue eyes.
Piebald colored horse.

Common Myths Surrounding Horses with Blue Eyes

Misconceptions often cloud the truth about blue-eyed horses. Let’s debunk some of the most prevalent myths surrounding these equine beauties.

Myth 1: Blue-eyed horses are more prone to blindness.

Truth: One of the most circulated myths about blue-eyed horses is that they’re more susceptible to blindness. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A horse’s eye color, be it blue, brown, or hazel, does not determine its vision’s quality or longevity.

Blue-eyed horses see the world with the same clarity and depth as their brown-eyed peers. So, if you’re contemplating getting a blue-eyed horse or have heard this myth in passing, rest easy knowing it’s just that—a myth.

Myth 2: Blue eyes are a sign of inbreeding.

Truth: Another widespread misconception is that blue eyes in horses are a result of inbreeding. In reality, the presence of blue eyes is primarily due to genetics associated with certain coat patterns, such as overo or splashed white.

These patterns can emerge in any breed, whether inbred or not. It’s essential to differentiate between inherited traits and the negative consequences of inbreeding. While inbreeding can lead to health issues in horses, blue eyes aren’t one of them!

Myth 3: Horses with blue eyes have a certain temperament.

Truth: Just as you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it’s unfair and inaccurate to judge a horse by its eye color. Some believe that blue-eyed horses are more skittish, unpredictable, or even aggressive. In reality, a horse’s temperament is influenced by its breeding, upbringing, training, and individual personality.

Blue eyes don’t dictate behavior any more than human eye color dictates personality. Always get to know a horse individually rather than making assumptions based on physical attributes.

Myth 4: Blue-eyed horses can’t handle sunlight as well.

Truth: There’s a belief floating around that blue-eyed horses squint more in the sun or are more sensitive to sunlight. While it’s accurate that lighter eyes (in both humans and animals) might feel slightly more discomfort in intense light due to lesser pigmentation, it’s an exaggeration to say blue-eyed horses can’t handle sunlight.

Most horses, regardless of eye color, appreciate a shady spot on sunny days, and blue-eyed horses are no exception. A proper shelter or even a fly mask can offer protection if needed.

Dispelling myths is crucial for understanding and appreciating the true nature of blue-eyed horses. These animals, like all horses, deserve to be seen for their individual merits and not misconceptions. So, the next time someone shares a “fact” about blue-eyed horses, you’ll be armed with the truth!

The Facts About Blue-Eyed Horses Revealed

Misinformation can easily cloud our understanding. Here, we’ll shine a light on the verified truths about blue-eyed horses, separating fact from fiction.

Fact 1: The Genetics Behind Blue Eyes and Health Concerns

The allure of blue eyes in horses is primarily genetic. While certain coat patterns might increase the likelihood of blue eyes, it’s essential to stress that this trait doesn’t inherently link to health problems. Blue-eyed horses are just as robust and hearty as their counterparts with different eye colors.

Fact 2: Blue-Eyed Horse Breeds and Their Lineage

It’s not just one breed that can boast blue-eyed members. From American Paint Horses to some Quarter Horses and even rare Thoroughbreds, blue eyes can be found across various breeds. This trait has been passed down through generations and is a testament to the diverse genetic lineage of these equine beauties.

Fact 3: Temperament and Behavior Studies Related to Eye Color

While myths may claim that blue-eyed horses have a different temperament, scientific studies have shown that there’s no direct correlation between eye color and behavior in horses. Just as with humans, individual experiences, upbringing, and training play a more significant role in determining a horse’s temperament than mere eye color.

Fact 4: Photophobia and Blue Eyes’ Response to Sunlight

While it’s true that lighter eyes might be slightly more sensitive to bright light due to lesser pigmentation, the idea that blue-eyed horses can’t handle sunlight is exaggerated. Blue-eyed horses might squint a bit more on an especially bright day, but with proper care, like offering shade or using a protective fly mask, they can comfortably enjoy sunny days just like any other horse.

Knowledge is empowerment. By understanding these truths, we can appreciate the beauty of blue-eyed horses without the shadow of misconceptions.

Picture of a cremello horse with blue eyes.

Horse Coat Colors and Blue Eyes

There is a relationship between coat color and blue eyes. Horses with blue eyes tend to have light coats or white spots. These are the two most common coat patterns but not the only ones.

Horses in various colors can have blue eyes, including brown, chestnut, and palomino horses, but it’s rare, and they often have white face markings. Let’s turn now to the horses that are more likely to have blue eyes.

Light-colored horses

Light-colored horses with blue eyes typically have a double dilution coat color caused by the creme gene. Horses with two copies of the cream gene are called double-dilutes or blue-eyed creams,

The double dilution creme gene washes out the horse’s base color and reduces the animal’s skin’s pigmentation. The eyes of double-dilute gene horses have pale blue eyes and pink skin.

However, a double-dilute horse’s pink skin is different from unpigmented pink skin under white hair, and these horses range in color from off-white to rust. Cremellos and perlinos are examples of horses with double-diluted creme genes and commonly have blue eyes.

A cremello has a cream-colored coat with an almost white tail. The base color for cremello horses is chestnut. If, instead, the horse had only one creme dilution gene, it would be a palomino.

Perlinos have a bay base coat color with double dilution creme genes. This combination produces a horse with a cream coat with points with a red tinge. A single dilution on a bay base produces a buckskin.

Picture of a paint horse with a blaze face and blue eyes.

Horse with white markings and spots

Paints, pintos, and horses with white faces often have blue eyes even without the double diluted coat gene. Paints and pinto with bald faces, such as overos, commonly have blue eyes. Overo’s can be further categorized as frame, sabino, or splash.

There are distinct differences between these overo horses’ coat patterns, but they all have some white on their heads, and many are blue-eyed. The cause of their blue eyes is decreased pigmentation in their iris.

Why do Some Horses Have Blue Eyes?

Horses’ eye color is determined by genetics. If a horse has a double-dilute coat color caused by the creme gene, it will have two light-colored eyes that look blue. The color of the eyes is exhibited in their iris.

In equines and most mammals, the iris controls the amount of light that reaches the retina. It is the circular form surrounding the pupil. The color of a horse’s iris is dependent on the amount of the pigment melanin.

The denser the pigment in their iris, the darker their eye color. Light-colored eyes, blue, green, and grey, have less melanin in their iris. There are some horses with different amounts of pigment in each eye.

When this happens, an animal may have one blue eye and one brown eye, called complete heterochromia. Horses can also have different parts of the same eye in various colors, called segmental heterochromia, when this happens.

That brings us back to the double-diluted coat color. This gene applies two dilution genes to a horse’s coat color and affects pigment density in the iris. Most of this is conjecture because there is no complete understanding of why some horses have blue eyes. However, the double dilution color coat genes are commonly found in horses with two blue eyes.

Picture of a blue-eyed horse.

What Problems Do Horses with Blue Eyes Have?

Horses with blue eyes are no more susceptible to most eye diseases than horses with dark eyes. A 2014 study looked at the prevalence of eye-related diseases in blue-eyed horses.

The study compared their finding to a similar study of brown-eyed horses. The researchers determined that horses with blue eyes have a higher chance of developing ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) than horses with brown eyes but not any other eye diseases.

Ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Ocular squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a form of cancer that affects horses’ eyes and eyelids and is the second most common cancer in horses. UV exposure is a risk factor in the development of SCC.

SCC often displays tumors in the outer layer of skin, conjunctival, or corneal cells. The horses at most risk are without pigment in the skin surrounding their eyes. Blue-eyed horses often have pink skin around their eyes, making them susceptible to UV exposure and ocular squamous cell carcinoma damage.

In a nutshell, blue-eyed horses are not more likely to develop diseases that affect their vision than those with brown, hazel, or green eyes. To reduce the risks associated with SCC, put UV-protective fly masks on your horse and stabled them during peak sunlight hours.

Sensitivity to light

Blue-eyed horses’ vision is not any different than their brown-eyed counterparts. Ultra-violet sun rays affect the skin surrounding their eyes if the skin is pink. But not all horses with blue eyes have pink skin surrounding their eyes. So, their iris’s blue color is not more sensitive to light, but the skin around the eyes is.

Picture of yearlings in a pasture.

Are Blue Eyes Rare in Horses?

Rare is a subjective term; if you’re asking if they are listed as endangered, the answer is no, they aren’t rare. However, most horses have brown eyes; blue eyes are rare in the general horse population.

You won’t find many blue eyes in popular horse breeds like Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Morgans, or many others. And even though you do see some blue-eyed quarter horses, they aren’t common. However, blue eyes are frequently found in pinto, paints, cremellos, and perlinos.

Why do some horses have one blue eye?

Horses have one blue eye because of a benign genetic mutation affecting pigments’ development in the animal’s iris. This trait is called complete heterochromia. Complete heterochromia is most often seen in paints and pinto horses.

There are also other types of heterochromia, segmental and central. Segmental displays as an off-colored patch in the animals’ iris. Central heterochromia is the most common. It is an iris of two colors. The primary color of the iris is different than a thin ring surrounding the pupil of the eye.

Below is a YouTube video of a blue-eyed Quarter horse.

YouTube video

Conclusion

Blue-eyed horses are frequently found in horses with a double dilution creme gene and white spotting. They aren’t prone to eye disease any more than a brown horse. However, the skin around their eyes has less pigment and is susceptible to skin cancer from UV rays.