WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #133
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - SEPTEMBER 2011
Faced with caring for a blind horse?
Follow these real world management tips.
Your vet says your horse is losing his eyesight and will
eventually be blind or nearly so. Alternatively, you may have
rescued a blind horse and want to know how best to care for him.
In either case, you're wondering what modifications in your
horsekeeping routine will be needed to keep your sightless horse
safe and comfortable.
To find answers, we talked to Jill Curtis of the Shiloh Horse
Rescue in Henderson, Nevada. Jill has rescued several blind
horses and is currently caring for four of them. She says that,
contrary to how it might seem to you, it's definitely not the end
of the world when a horse loses his sight.
"Most horses adjust amazingly well - they simply rely on their
other senses," she explains. "Some adapt so well you can hardly
tell they're blind. And with retraining, some are even capable of
She says vision-challenged horses simply require a little extra
thoughtfulness and attention.
"The key is to be practical and think of how the horse is dealing
with his situation - rather than fretting over how you would
react to being blind," she says. "A horse doesn't regard it the
way we would. To him, it's just'the way things are now.'"
Accordingly, Jill suggests that you follow these do's and don'ts
to provide a safe, comfortable existence for your blind horse.
DO provide as safe and hazard-free a living area as possible. The
area should be large enough to minimize crowding and bumping into
things. Check to be sure fences are sturdy and wellmaintained.
Clear the pen or pasture of sharp tree branches or other features
that could poke and injure. To the extent possible, clear the
ground of any obvious tripping hazards.
DO centralize daily needs as much as possible, so the horse can
find his feed, water, salt, and shelter all in one area. Ideally,
position the shelter/feeding area along a fence line so he can
always use the fence as a guide back to that location. A wind
chime hung at this spot can also help acclimate the blind horse
to this key area.
DO introduce the horse to his living area by leading it quietly
around the perimeter and allowing it to sniff each feature.
DO use your voice constantly to avoid startling the horse. Talk
to him whenever you approach, and keep up a stream of
conversation to keep him apprised of where you are as you work
DON'T trim any part of the whiskers around the blind horse's eyes
or on his muzzle, as he needs these feelers to help him "see" his
DO pair the blind horse, if possible, with a quiet, friendly
"buddy horse." Place a small bell on a safe leather strap high
around the buddy horse's neck to make it easy for the blind horse
to be aware of his buddy's location at all times.
DON'T place the blind horse into a large group of horses, where
the natural push-and-shove of herd dynamics can cause anxiety or
even result in injury. Obviously, keep the blind horse from
coming into contact with aggressive equines of any sort.
DO provide as much consistency for the blind horse as possible.
Once he's become accustomed to his environment, try not to move
him elsewhere or change his living area (by, for example, leaving
open a pasture gate that's normally closed). Try also to feed and
perform other tasks on as regular a schedule as possible; being
able to anticipate the daily routine provides a feeling of
security for a blind animal.
USE YOUR NOODLE
Jill Curtis of Nevada's Shiloh Horse Rescue says caring for blind
horses often takes creativity.
"We've used those flexible pool 'noodles' to line corral panels,"
she explains. "We slice them down the middle, wrap them around
the corral pipe, then duct tape them in place. It works great.
She adds that although some blind horses adapt quickie to their
surroundings and need few accommodations, others prove more
"We had one gelding that just kept running into things, getting
bumps on his nose or around his eves.
We solved that problem by cutting a section of pool noodle to
create a bumper over his face. It ran down the middle of his
face, from top to bottom, secured to his fly mask. It protected
him from more bumps while he adjusted to his surroundings."
FOR MORE INSPIRATION...
...on the topic of caring for-and even riding--a blind horse...
search blind horse competers at HorseandRider.com.