The White’s of Their Eyes

It’s a battle cry that has trickled down from history and into group role playing games, common in phrase and easy to make sense of. Where did it come from? When did you first hear it?

It may be that this was among the tactical ideas shared by military commanders across the world so perhaps we cannot attribute it to one person, one culture, one time. The phrase is most popularly associated in American culture with the battle of Bunker Hill in May 1775. For 18th century armies this battle command increased the possibility of a hit when your troops only had access to the inaccurate smooth-bore muskets and risked a shortage of ammunition.

You can track similar statements back through leaders such as General James Wolfe leading his troops on the Plains of Abraham in September 1759; it was used by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Andrew Agnew in the Battle of Detingen in June 1743; by Frederick the Great in 1755; again from Prince Charles of Prussia in 1745; all the way back to General-King Gustavus Adolphus who instructed his musketeers “never to give fire, til they could see their own image in the pupil of their enemy’s eye.”

While these variations have common military recollections, what comes to mind for me is a display of fear from animals. For a time I was around a lot of show horses and got to visit a small barn to see some roadster ponies. Now, I am by no means an equine expert but I am knowledgable to the account of interpreting body language very well. These horses were fearful, something I noted not only by that they jumped and scrambled away from the stall entrances as fast as they could with taunt necks and turned, trembling bodies, but also by the amount of white sclera I could see.


At normal, or resting, position the white sclera is not usually visible all the way around the iris on horses.

2012-04-25 19.14.51


It can be seen most often in appaloosas but its not a trait limited to the breed.

Fargonon/Syd’s cute Orion


Dogs have a similar display. You know the look, the one that makes us all feel pathetic and off-set inside.


Yep. That one. What about you? Are you most familiar with the phrase from a military aspect or from your pets at home?

Equine Tip for the Week: Horses are very aware of their personal space and when you venture into that space I highly recommend you both let the horse know you are there and that you be very respectful of a prey animal whose build is designed to be a weapon. Make sure you can see the horse’s eye when approaching. This guarantees that the horse has you in its field of vision and is much better than if you approach from a blind spot. Why? If the horse cannot immediately identify if you are a friend or foe it will strike out. More of this can be explained in an earlier post:What colors do Horses See.

Go learn something new about a topic that interests you. Share it with me in the comments below!


  1. The Battle of Bunker Hill – Wikipedia
  2. White’s of Their Eyes – Teaching History
  3. Appaloosa

Other Ratified Research Posts:

  1. Glaucus atlanticus: The Blue Dragon
  2. People, Horses, and Halitosis
  3. Beneficial Stress
  4. (another link coming soon)

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