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Mare lost eye while unloading from trailer

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Dear Jessica, My question has to do with a horse we just purchased. To give you some background, we are novices. I was raised, at least for a few years around horses, had one in my junior year of high school, but other than that, my experience has been sporadic at best for the past 26 years. My husband has had much less exposure than myself and my daughter has been taking lessons for about a year. We bought her a horse for her 13th birthday as this has been her dream since she was very little. Well, one thing led to another and we decided we wanted to really do this as a family thing.

We are planning to move to another state come spring, but for the time being we put some fencing up and put the horse on our property. We saw he was lonely and with all that we have heard or read thought the best thing, even in light of having to trailer horses, would be to get at least one more so he would have a buddy to go through the move with as well as keeeping him company while he's here. We found an Appaloosa mare that has had training in the past, but was left for 2+ years at a horse facility where her owners never bothered to show up, let alone pay the bill. She was basically pastured for that time with very little human contact other than what she had as the owners of the facility went through the legal process of gaining ownership. She had always trailered very well according to the sellers (who are now the facility owners) as they have had to evacuate because of fires a couple times last summer so were forced to trailer her. Anyway, I rode her a couple of times before buying her and it was decided that she had more training than I so we set up to take some lessons here, at our home, once she arrived.

We were so excited to get her home, but something went terribly wrong while she was being unloaded. For whatever reasons, she had the elastic tie down stretched out as far as it would go and the ring on the side of the trailer let go. Needless to say, it ricocheted back and hit her smack in the eye and ruptured the eye. She came out of the trailer so fast backwards that she skidded down our gravel driveway on her butt and hit the ditch and rolled over. She got up and walked a bit and we all gave a little sigh that she wasn't limping until we saw her eye. (It still makes me cry, but then it's been less than a week.) We have had the vet out a couple of times and we opted to have the eye cleaned and stitched shut as it seemed the least tramatic thing to do for her as she had already gone through so much.

My question is where do I go from here? I have so little experience with horses let alone horses that have lost an eye. To me, this seems like a tramatic thing for a horse to have to go through. Does it affect them psychologically in any way? My heart goes out to her and we want to do what's best for her and hopefully that will work in conjunction with keeping my children safe as well. I know my husband has had and is having second, third and fourth thoughts about having horses at all anymore, but ideally, I want to help


Hi Kim - your letter was cut off at the word "help", but I thought I should try to answer it anyway.

I'm so sorry that your poor mare - and you - had to suffer such trauma. I'm sure that you have cried over this and banged your head against the wall - or felt like doing it - so please don't think that the next few paragraphs are meant to make you feel worse than you do now. I just want to be certain that your letter achieves something very important: By telling your story, you may be helping any number of HORSE-SENSE subscribers avoid putting themselves and their horses into similarly risky situations.

You learned all of this the hard way. Thank you for sharing the information - and now, for future reference, and for the benefit of other HORSE-SENSE readers who may be wondering "Why is this wrong?", here is the correct sequence of events when loading a horse into a trailer:

1. horse enters trailer
2. butt bar and door/tailgate/ramp are secured
3. horse's halter is attached to (non-bungee) trailer tie

and the correct UNLOADING sequence is this: 1. trailer tie is unfastened so that horse is loose in trailer
2. tailgate/door is opened
3. butt bar is removed
4. horse is invited to back off the trailer

Accidents like the one you've described usually happen when unsafe loading/unloading practices are combined with unsafe equipment. The combination of an open trailer and a horse tied with a bungee cord is a burning formula for disaster. If it's someone else's trailer and tie, ask that person to wait whilst you find a safe trailer tie. If there isn't one available, you can use the horse's leadrope (run it through the ring on the trailer and tie it with a quick-release knot) or, if it's a stock trailer or a fully-enclosed trailer, you can leave the horse loose in the trailer. But don't let anyone talk you into using a bungee cord, under any circumstances.

In the same vein, even if the trailer belongs to someone else, even if the someone else is your own trainer, it's still, ultimately, YOUR responsibility to be certain that the horse is untied BEFORE anyone opens the back of the trailer.

Right. Now you know how to avoid creating that set of circumstances in the future - and thanks to your honesty, many other people will be able to avoid simillar accidents. Right now, though, you have an injured mare to look after.

I'm sure you made the right decision about having the eye cleaned and the lid stitched. If your mare is no longer in pain, you may be surprised to find out how well and how quickly she can adjust to life with one eye. Yes, it's going to affect her, but not in the same way that it would affect a human. She won't be tramatized as a human would be, she won't be worried about how she looks, as a human would be, and once the initial wound has healed cleanly, she won't be in pain.Many horses adjust very quickly, and it's entirely possible that she will continue to be a good riding horse for many years to come.

Horses don't see the way humans do - they actually have very little binocular vision. When horses look to the side (right eye = right side, left eye = left side), what they see is one-dimensional - there's no depth perception involved. So what your mare has lost is her ability to see on ONE side - it won't affect what she sees on the other side.

You'll need to be careful to speak to her when approaching from her blind side, and you'll need to teach the other people who handle her to do the same thing. Horses can become startled when they suddenly sense someone nearby, and startled horses may kick out, so exercise even more caution than you would with a sighted horse.

Under saddle, you may need to think ahead about how you'll approach various obstacles and items such as open gates, and position your mare so that she can see the object or the opening. If she is highly trained, trusts her riders, and works off weight and leg aids most of the time, you may find that the transition from sighted horse to half-blind horse is much less of an event than you would expect it to be. Horses are very adaptable, and many reliable riding horses continue to be reliable after losing the sight in one eye - or even in both eyes. Your mare may well be one of these. I hope she is.

This would be a good time to make your facilities - the current ones and, next spring, your new ones - as safe as possible. Use flexible, horse-safe fencing, and keep it in good repair. Don't leave anything out - buckets, manure forks, hoes, or hoses - where a blind horse could trip or become injured. Be very careful to open gates and stall doors all the way, and position your mare carefully before leading her through, so that she won't catch a hip and sustain more damage. None of this is complicated, and really, all of these precautions should be routine even if your horses are sighted and fully healthy. In the horse world, prevention is not only better than cure, it's usually a good deal less expensive. If you make it a policy to handle every horse and every piece of equipment with great care and respect and forethought, then you will do well whether you happen to be handling a foal, a stallion, or a horse that has lost an eye. ;-)

Good luck with your mare and your move - please let me know how she does.

Jessica

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