Horizontal head rotation evokes significant responses from trochlear motoneurons of turtle that suggests they have a functional role in abduction of the eyes like that in frontal-eyed mammals. The finding is unexpected given that the turtle is generally considered lateral-eyed and assumed to have eye movements instead like that of lateral-eyed mammals, in which innervation of the superior oblique muscle by the trochlear nerve (nIV) produces intorsion, elevation, and adduction (not abduction). Using an isolated turtle head preparation with the brain removed, glass suction electrodes were used to stimulate nIV with trains of current pulses. Eyes were monitored via an infrared camera with the head placed in a gimble to quantify eye rotations and their directions. Stimulations of nIV evoked intorsion, elevation, and abduction. Dissection of the superior oblique muscle identified lines of action and a location of insertion on the eye, which supported kinematics evoked by nIV stimulation. Eye positions in alert behaving turtles with their head extended were compared with that when their heads were retracted in the carapace. When the head was retracted, there was a reduction in interpupillary distance and an increase in binocular overlap. Occlusion of peripheral fields by the carapace forces the turtle to a more frontal-eyed state, perhaps the reason for the action of abduction by the superior oblique muscle. These findings support why trochlear motoneurons in turtle respond in the same way as abducens motoneurons to horizontal rotations, an unusual characteristic of vestibulo-ocular physiology in comparison with other mammalian lateral-eyed species. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:3464-3477, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.