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“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter,” wrote Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre. “Often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter—in the eye.”

We get “lost in” them; we can just as easily be “haunted by” them as we are “mesmerized by” them; we’ve often described them as “beautiful” in writing, as well as “loco,” a time or two. We’ve bought a horse for his “large, kind eye” as quickly as we’ve turned our back on one with a “small, hard eye.” But what is this romanticized consideration of what the eye does or does not tell us? After all, if the horse is sound and well-conformed in all other respects, should it really matter if his eyes resemble those of a deer, or a fish, or a pig?

“To the experienced horse expert, the eye signals nervousness or physical condition,” writes veterinarian and breeding and horse management expert in SPORT HORSE CONFORMATION. “This perception can neither be described in scientific terms nor illustrated—though it does separate the expert horseman from the ordinary equestrian, however.

“A large, dark eye suggests a certain calmness and equanimity. The reason for this perception has its root in ethology (behavioral science). Large eyes are part of what psychologists call the ‘scheme of childlike characteristics.’ They are associated with peaceableness and can trigger a desire in others of any species to protect and show affection. In contrast, small eyes resemble our squinted eyes and a targeted facial expression, as if geared to attack.

“Eye color—for horse and human alike—is of a rather speculative versus scientific origin and is not significant proof of the expression of various personality traits. A lot of white in the eyes can usually be traced to individual stallion lines….Upon closer examination of the horse’s eye, you can see brown objects in the front area. These are called ‘lacrimal caruncles,’ and they are still a scientific unknown, as far as their origin, effect, and usefulness is concerned. They are assumed to be part of the body’s own sun protection mechanism. Lacrimal caruncles vary in size, from match head to pea size; if they grow bigger and negatively affect the horse in any way, they can easily be removed.

“Lacrimal caruncles do not impede the horse’s eyesight. However, there are currently discussions regarding photosensitivity, which supposedly leads to nervousness when the horse is in the sun. To this day, no scientific proof has been provided. And in the case of gray or white horses, growth of lacrimal caruncles may point toward a melanoma, a tumor that is especially prevalent in white horses. This needs to be considered.

“Moisture is an important factor in the health of the horse’s eye. It serves to flush out particles that the eyelashes do not catch and protects the cornea by serving as a lubricating film between it and the eyelid. Sometimes there can be an excessive production of tears, which then trickle through the corner of the eye to the outside. The underlying cause may be the clogging—by dust or insects—of the little excretory ducts that lead from the nasolacrimal ducts to the eye. These ducts are located inside the nostrils and are visible as small holes with diameters of approximately 5 millimeters.

“When the front corner of the horse’s eye is quite large, not only is there a negative effect on attractiveness but parasites can lay eggs in the area. Eye infections further promote this type of parasitosis.”

For further examination of the horse’s body and conformation, check out SPORT HORSE CONFORMATION, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.