We see a scene and then we focus on a specific element and miss some really important stuff. I took my dog to a trainer and at one point, while the dog was barking hysterically, and I was focused on calming her down, the trainer pointed out that the dog was afraid, “Look at the ear position and her eyes are dilated.” Her eyes were dilated! I missed all that; turns out it’s really important.
Same with my horses. I can sense they are getting tense before an explosion comes, but then my focus goes to control and calming and I miss all the other body signals and instigations.
So it made me take an afternoon in thought when I read in the doggy book, Inside Of A Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz, about eyes. (it’s a really interesting book if you’re into your dogs.) It seems, on a cellular level, rods and cones in the retina take up the “picture” of the world and send that to the brain. But then the cell has to get rid of that picture and take up the “new” picture in front of it, otherwise our view would never change. The cell refreshes on routine, not just when something in the picture has changed and this takes time. A miniscule amount of time, but time just the same. Horowitz called this the “Flicker-fusion” rate although I’m betting there is some other super long scientific name we can’t pronounce. The book, after all, was written for real folks, not the scientific community.
Well, the flicker-fusion rate is different for different animals. Humans have a F-F rate of around 60 refreshes or flickers per second. I’m betting the superstar ball catcher may actually have a higher flicker-fusion rate, but now I’m wandering again. Dogs have a F-F rate of about 70-80 refreshes or pictures in a second. That doesn’t mean they will see more detail, but they will see movement faster. Hence, frisbee champions. Apparently, the canine eye also refreshes fast enough to see the individual frames in the TV video instead of a smooth flow and this might explain their disinterest in watching Lassie. If your dog loves Rin-Tin-Tin then you might wonder if Poochie has a slower F-F rate than its litter-mates.
But you’re interested in horses. Well, so am I. And the flicker-fusion rate made me wonder about horses. What is their refresh rate and how does it affect what we do in their environment and what they see?
Turns out, I checked with a nationally known equine ophthalmologist, the horse’s flicker-fusion rate hasn’t been studied. It is assumed it’s probably similar to a dogs. I’m betting it’s even higher because they are prey and susceptible to minute movements.
Doesn’t it make you pause to think about the florescent light flicker? We seem to be aware of it on a subconscious level because it is almost identical to the human flicker-fusion rate. Those office headaches are often attributed to the florescent light flicker. The horse probably sees the light as a real ANNOYING flicker. If we have a stressed animal in a barn, do we ever think about the flicker effect of the lights? How about those fans? Bet fans are like a strobe light to horses. Some adapt, but that one guy who stays in the corner, turns away, etc, could it be to get away from the fan?
How many times do we wonder why the horse acts the way it does and we can’t see any reason. Maybe the reason we can’t see is because we have a slower F-F rate and we don’t see the movement the horse does. Is the trickle of water that looks like a stream to us a series of individual dots to the horse?
I’ll certainly be looking at my horse through a new set of eyes in the future. I wonder if his eyes dilate when he becomes afraid, and would I ever be able to see that?