William Shakespeare once said, “The eyes are the window to your soul.”
Cicero was quoted as saying, “The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter.”
Horses also convey their thoughts and feelings through their eyes. The eyes can give one insight into their inner world.
Like any physical characteristic, you need to see what other positive or negative physical characteristics the horse is displaying. This could be how the horse is (or isn’t) sweating, what their head, ears, or tail is doing and how they are walking. Catching a good look at the horse’s eye can be difficult depending on how you are positioned. If the horse is looking the other way as it passes you — or is named Patch — you’ll need to push your way to the front of Rail Guy so you can catch a glimpse of the horse’s soul while the horses are still in the paddock!
Large, Round Eyes
Horses have a large pupil and iris. If the horse’s eye looks large, round, and dark, this is a good thing! It signals that the horse is comfortable and confident in the current situation.
Our good buddy from Monmouth Park, Rail Guy, has a saying: “Don’t bet if ya see da white of his eyes.”
He is both right and wrong with this one. Every horse is built a little differently, so it may just be a case of a smaller iris. So, it is normal that the horse is showing a little bit of white around the eye, as long as the amount of white showing isn’t increasing or the horse doesn’t show other negative characteristics with other parts of their body, such as pinning the ears back or if the is visibly trembling or snorting.
Larger Eyes That Are Showing White
If the eye continues to show increasing white around the eyes the longer you watch him, this is a negative characteristic. Showing a lot of white is usually a sign of worry or fear. You should also be looking at his ears, tail, and general head positioning at this point to see if he is showing negative characteristics with those body parts as well.
Triangular Eyes With Wrinkles Above
If the horse has an eye that looks almost triangular with a wrinkled upper eyelid, this is not a good sign. This suggests that that horse is nervous, tense, or unsure. It would be similar to your eyes when you are frowning or exhibiting a worried look.
If the horse’s eye appears small or squinted, but not because they are half-closed, this is not a good sign either. Think about when you are mad. Really mad. Fuming mad. You get the point. What do you do with your eyes? Your eyes close a bit and your gaze narrows. This is normally coupled with obvious tensing of the facial muscles. An angry horse is not a good horse in today’s race.
Eyes Darting From Side to Side
If the horse’s eyes are quickly flicking from side to side, this shows that the horse is scared and wants to get out of the situation. If the horse is not calmed and removed from the situation, you can expect that it will bite, kick, or bolt at some point.
Hooded / Half-Closed Eyes
Just like you after you have pulled an all-nighter, it looks like the horse is struggling to keep its eyes open. This is a bad sign. The horse may be slow to respond or totally withdrawn from what is going on around him. It may also be a sign of fatigue.
When assessing the horse’s eyes in the paddock, it is best to think of how your own facial expressions mimic the feelings and emotions you may be going through. Horses are people too. They feel and express emotions similarly to us. I hope that you tried to imitate the facial expressions as you read the conditions above (and captured some photos or videos of yourself trying — we’d love to see them).
Reading a horse by its eyes is just one more way to help you make a living playing the races!