Last week a BTB reader asked me to write about moon blindness because her horse was diagnosed with it. My emotional response was to feel sympathy and the slight discomfort of wondering-what-to-say. Having no familiarity with the disease, it struck me as a pretty depressing topic. What I have read about it since has been anything but a downer. So many owners have helped their horses rise to the challenge of lost eyesight to lead productive, happy lives. Amazing lives, really.
Disclaimer: I don't own a blind horse and don't have experience with blind horses. The content below is a summary/compilation from the excellent resources at the end of this article.
Advice from experts, relayed by a mere blogger
If you are the owner of horse going blind, or newly blind, the first order of business is to find a good vet to advise you. Well-meaning friends may not have the knowledge or experience to give you good information.
Horses going blind are in crisis, according to experts, and their behavior may be upsetting or even dangerous. Most horses do become more cautious in their movements, so they are not likely to run full tilt -- but they may collide with things. Circling, calling, panic-responses, spooking, loss of ground manners, and aggression are common behaviors of horses going blind. About 10% never adapt, but others go on to be just fine. Some horses will not adapt until they are completely blind (seeing shadowy movement is scarier than seeing nothing). It is also important to remember that temperament may determine whether a horse can or cannot ultimately adapt to blindness. Owners can play a vital role in helping a horse adapt. Here is a compilation of advice from the resources below...
- Expect the adjustment period to last a few weeks to a few months. Partial vision loss may be harder on the animal than full vision loss.
- Provide a safe, confined environment during the crisis period.
- Talk to the horse so s/he knows where you are.
- Contact a vet to assess whether the horse is in pain
- Blind horses are in the bottom of a social hierarchy and they cannot read threatening cues from herd mates. Turn a blind horse out with a non-agressive buddy.
- Some herd members will choose a social role of guide horse. Make use of this rare talent and put a bell on this horse for the benefit of the blind horse.
- Remove obstacles from pastures or put gravel or tires around it to cue them
- Help the horse make a mental map of the pasture by leading them around the pasture and tapping the fence -- demonstrate the boundaries to the horse. Horses are remarkably good at spatial memory.
- Get safe fencing -- not barbed wire or electric (horses can't "sense" it as some have claimed)
- Horses will make use of sounds, touch, and smell to orient themselves. Do not clip whiskers, and try to control the environment so that all senses provide reliable information.
- Tie flags to the fence so they can hear it.
The biggest factor that determines the success of adapting a formerly sighted horse to a life of blindness is the dedication of the owner.... The best human partners create a new handling, and sometimes a new riding, vocabulary."RESOURCES Caring for a newly blind horse from The Horse Magazine Blind horses: top five tips and myths BlindHorses.org Leading the blind from Equus Magazine Practical management of blind horses by Ann Dwyer Blind equines: Information and support Navigating the dark world of horse blindness from myhorse.com Top five myths about blind horses (from Rolling Dog Ranch)