Monday, June 20, 2011

Harvey concerns: Part 1

I'm worried about the Harvster. For some months now, different people who work with Harv have said they think he has eye/vision problems. I frankly laughed it off. Harv has always been the horse who spooks at nothing, or who spooks at goofy things. But a few things have happened lately make me wonder...

  • He came in last Sunday from the pasture with a swollen eyelid. When I put in the eye ointment, he didn't move, didn't flinch, didn't object in any way.  Every single application, same lack of reaction. Very unusual for him, but I thought it was mellowing in old age. He does seem to see my hand coming
  • Last week he went out in a new pasture, one with undulating hills. He came in with a "giant leg" and swelling on his chest. I think he must have fallen or twisted something. 
  • Recently a barn worker told me he "freaked out" in his stall, for no reason she could see. She was afraid he was going to jump out his dutch door or hurt himself.
  • Not too long ago Harv was being led to the top barn for the farrier. For no reason anyone could see, he freaked out--blowing, scrambling, sending sparks on the brick floor. The barn manager had to ace him, and stand with him, so the farrier could work on him. 
Okay. Now Sunday, at the show (which was on our property) I decide to hand-walk Harv near the dressage ring, which has great grass. I've done this in past years and it's a chance for folks I've known/boarded with, anyone who who knows Harv, to say hello.  He is popular ;-).

He was okay for about 5 minutes, although he seemed a little restless. There were perhaps 4-5 unfamiliar horses and trailers nearby. I very seldom walk Harv up this way except when I'm going to ride.

And then he freaked out. Now Harv has his "moments" but nothing like this--you would have thought he saw a lion. He started bellowing, which is my sign to take him back to his stall. Then he tried to bolt. Think horse out of a starting gate, hindquarters bunched and pushing off, and you have the picture. He was really scrambling. If I had not had the chain over his nose, and had not been paying attention, he would have been loose. And he didn't let up.  He wanted to be GONE. As I dragged him back to the barn I really thought he would get away from me, and I was very concerned about all the kids around.  A number of people offered to help.

The instant we got back to the barn "courtyard" area, he calmed down. I put him in his stall and patted him for a few minutes, then I went to fill his water bucket. when I came back his lower lip was hanging, and he looked tired.

I have read about horses with moon blindness but don't know about how you diagnose eye issues with the older horse, aside from the blink test. Harv, you're supposed to MELLOW with age. He's returning to his youth.


  1. Poor Harv. No way to give him an eye test either, but I should think the vet would be able to evaluate his eyes to some degree.

    Fellow blogger had a young horse with eye issues and he was really dangerous. I don't know how horses adapt when they lose their vision, but some certainly can. You may have to confine him to his "safe" places for a while until he gains some confidence.

    In the meantime, just be careful. Until you can sort out what's going on you will have to handle with extreme care. Lots of talking should help so he knows where his handler is at all times.

  2. This blogger has a horse with moon blindness:
    Perhaps she can give you some insight.

  3. I've dealt with animals who slowly loose their vision, in addition to a horse who had an eye removed, and they didn't have random freak out sessions. You couldn't always tell what days they could see or not unless you really watched their body language. Maybe his issues are sudden?

    I hope you are able to get him situation quickly, living that panicked of a life would be no fun.

  4. Hey Stacy,

    I have read your blog for a long time and commented a few times. I managed my Appaloosa gelding through losing all his vision because of moon blindness. He is 26 now and still turned out and ridden. If Harvey does turn out to have vision problems, feel free to drop me a line and we can talk about some things you can try as the two of you adjust to his new situation. Best of luck to both of you.

  5. I knew of one horse with the beginnings of moonblindness. She had visible puffiness around both eyes, like allergies, but she was not spooky at all. Maybe it is less a physical thing and more a "set in his ways" thing, kind of like uninitiated people adjusting to cell phones, computers, the internet, and tweets. Not another tech device! ;)

  6. Have you looked closely at the area right around the pupil? The horse should have a small fuzzy looking thing along the top of the pupil (which I totally forget the name of it, but it's like a sunshade for the pupil). It should be small, if it's enlarged and covering the pupil, or if there are other "cyst" looking little balloons around the pupil, that could be causing sight impairment.

    I leased a gelding that had a few little balloons around one eye and his vision was limited on his right side directly in front of him, he'd always spook at things on the ground right there, cuz he couldn't really see it. He was quiet enough though that it wasn't a huge deal, just small spooks, but enough to be noticable.

    Supposedly there is a way to laser those little cysts away, but I never looked into it seriously.

  7. I am not an expert but there are ways to diagnose vision issues with horses, he could have glacoma , . . . I leased a horse with glacoma, he was sun sensitive and was spooky about shadows.

  8. Poor guy.... hope you are able to sort it all out soon. Or maybe he's just having a hard time adjusting to being an old man!

  9. What about cataracts? (I didn't see it mentioned, but I may have missed it).
    Our Retta had them but did pretty darn well as long as no one moved anything around in the pasture (Max helped us keep her straight). She even knew exactly how many steps it was to her stall once she hit that small dip in the ground when coming in for meals. She also got to the point where we could do "voice guidance" and tell her when to turn in if she was coming from the opposite direction or if she got turned around by the other horses when they all came down together.
    It is possible that the reason you didn't notice any problems initially was because he was on familiar turf; you could not tell Retta was blind either unless she didn't hear your approach (then she might spook slightly). Sure hope it turns out okay!

  10. I wouldn't speculate with something so the vet!!

  11. I have to say this behaviour sounds exactly the same as in a friend's horse. Her blindness was missed on initial examination and very sadly she ended up having a fatal accident when over-faced with a new situation which frightened her.

    I would definitely get the vet to check as much as is possible and probably restrict Harv to situations he knows and is comfortable with. Our thirteen year-old dog is much the same and happy as larry when she knows where she is but quite panicky when she doesn't.

    Best of luck.

  12. Oh Stacey, I am so sorry to hear about this new trouble. That is unsettling. Without too much speculation, which could render you more panicky, I will definitely recommend the vet out. It could be something completely different than you expect. Maybe something more easily managed ... I hope.

    Watching a beloved friend grow older is not easy. Love to you and Harv!!!

  13. Hmm..well, I have never heard of horses going blind that just went ballistic for no reason. Get more spooky, yes, but not have a freakout with no trigger.
    But I have heard of horses with brain tumors who have acted exactly like this. Also some horses with neurological issue from Lymes, EPM, etc that starting exhibiting symptoms like this. The vet likened it to a person with Alzheimer, who suddenly doesn't know where they are, or who you are and panic.
    I think it's time for the vet's advice.

  14. Hi all, thanks for the observations. The vet is coming on July 1, to look at a number of things. My concern is that she's going to see the same Harv that he's been for the last 14 years -- this doesn't happen all the time, not by a long shot. But it does happen. Thanks!

  15. Stacy, I'm so sorry to hear your old guy's having problems. Whether or not it turns out to be his eyes there is definitely something that's not the same. Poor guy!

  16. I am really sorry to hear about your problems with Harvey. Do you think he is losing his sight due to his age? I definately agree that you should get a vet to check it out in case it is something treatable. I hope you can sort it soon, and please keep us posted


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