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7 Reasons Horses Show the White of Their Eyes

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Horses can’t speak to humans so we must rely on their body language to determine if they are happy, sad, scared or in pain. The eyes of a horse can tell you a lot about how a horse is feeling.

Why Do Horses Show Eye White? Horses can show eye white for a variety of different reasons. If the horse’s eye is normally solid colored, white showing can be a sign of fear. Some horses, though, naturally have white around their eyes.

Let’s look in more detail at seven reasons horses might have white showing in their eye.

1. The Horse Is Afraid

A horse who’s eyes are normally fully pigmented may show the white of his eye when he is afraid. A very high fear response can result in a higher amount of white showing in the eye.

If your horse normally has some white showing when he is relaxed, you might have to be observant to see the white area of his eye increase when he is afraid.

Keep in mind that a horse showing eye white is one of many symptoms of fear. If you want to learn more about fear in horses and what to look for, check out my article “Are Horses Afraid of Spiders?“.

2. The Horse Normally Has Eye White Showing

Some horses just normally have more eye white showing than others. They can be relaxed and happy but showing eye white. This trait is most commonly associated with horses that have spotted lineages like appaloosas and POA’s but can happen in any horse.

My first horse was a chestnut Arabian and she always had the white of her eye showing in one eye (and not the other). As long as the white area doesn’t grow and isn’t in the middle of the pigmented area of the eye, this is pretty normal.

As always though, if you think there is something abnormal with your horse, snap a quick picture and send to your vet to double check.

In the picture below you can see the horses eyebrow is relaxed and the horse is looking forward. He just normally has white on both sides.

white horse eye
Up close of a white horse with normal eye white showing.
horse eye closup
An Applaoosa horse with normal eye white.

3. The Horse Is Excited

When horses are excited they can also show the whites of their eyes. You would notice this most frequently when horses play together. As they “play fight” they may show the whites of their eyes.

Here are two ponies playing. The first picture might look like the horses are terrified and fighting. As you can see in the next picture, they are just playing!

ponies playing in the snow
Two ponies showing eye white while playing
girl feeding horse with carrot

Also, when you go to feed your horse, she may look up at you and show a little bit of white in her eye. This could be a result of excitement and anticipation of getting food or grain.

hand feeding brown horse

4. The Horse Has Blue Eyes

Horses with blue eyes sometimes look like there is a lot of white. This is especially true if they have light blue eyes. This typically isn’t an issue although. like blue-eyed humans, blue-eyed horses can be more susceptible to light sensitivity than brown-eyed horses.

Here are some up close shots of horses with blue eyes so you can see how the pigment is so light on the outer edge it looks white.

blue eyed horse
icy cold horse eye
Ice Blue Horse Eye Close Up

5. The Horse Is Just Looking Far To One Direction

This happens to humans too. If you ask your friend to look all the way one direction or another, the eye white starts to show on the opposite side. There is only so much pigment in a horse’s eye. When he looks really far up, down or behind him, you are more likely to see eye white.

In this picture of a horse making the flehmen response, you can see his eye white is showing because his eyes probably stayed focused on something when he lifted his head. It’s like if you tried to stay focused on your phone then lifted your head. You can probably feel how that causes your eyes to look down.

horse shaking head

6. The Horse Has A Cataract Or Other Eye Injury

When you see white or milky color in the pigmented area of a horses eye, you have to be worried about cataracts or other eye injuries. Just as with humans, there are a variety of eye anomalies that horses can get that may cause discoloration in their eye.

If you notice your horses eyes are turning white you should definitely call your vet to find out what is going on.

This is a picture of a dog with severe cataracts so you get an idea but keep in mind they can start out small. Some breeds are more disposed to eye issues than others but any horse, at any age can have them.

If you want to see a horse eye with a cataract, check out this site.

blind horse

7. The Horse Has Eye Irritation or Infection

This is my mare, Malibu who got this eye infection the first year I had her. It was pretty nasty. She had an eye infection with white discharge in the corner of her eye.

If you see something like this, it is definitely something you want the vet to take a look at this. In her case, my vet had me flush her eye routinely with saline and use an eye-specific antibiotic ointment to help it heal.

He also had me make sure she wore a fly mask so the flies would not bother her.

Malibu Horse Eye Infection
Malibu horse with flymask

How Do I Know If I Should Call The Vet for My Horse’s Eye?

It’s always a good idea to ask your vet anytime you think there might be an issue with your horses’ eyes. Some things, if caught early, can be completely corrected with treatment.

I think you would agree that eyes are very important! Your horse’s vision is definitely something you don’t want to take chances with.

Signs that something may be wrong with your horses eye include:

  • Redness
  • Swollen Eyelids
  • Discharge (Clear, Yellow, etc)
  • Horse appears to be in pain or discomfort
  • Horse is itching eyes
  • Eyes or the area under eyes are crusty

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons a horse might have white in his eyes. This article lists seven common ones. Your horse could be expressing emotion like fear or excitement or he could just have normally white or light eyes. Sometimes, though, there is cause for concern and a veterinarian needs to be called to make an assessment.