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Eyesight and spooking

From: Donna

Dear Jessica, You've done us all such a favor by creating Horse-sense! Thank you! You've put my mind to rest on a lot of subjects such as blanketing or not and head rubbing (them rubbing against us, not us scratching them!) Here's a little background for you. I just got my very first horse at the age of 40, and love him dearly. Sinbad is 6 yr. olds, possibly QH/Arab mix. I have no way of knowing his history as he was purchased at auction by a friend. He is boarded at a farm where there are seven horses. Most of our riding is around the property and up and down the driveway. We do a little ring work as well. He is turned out all day with five other geldings and a mare, and he's king of the hill as far as they are concerned.

From the day I bought him, I've had a problem with him shying. He trots along, and suddenly slams on the breaks and leaps ten feet to the left. It happens at differnt places at different times. The only consistant thing that spooks him is fluttering plastic bags, which he doesn't see often.

When I feel him tensing up I tell him "no!", try to keep looking where I want him to go, and drive him straigh ahead with my legs. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I haven't come off yet, but there's a first time for everything.

Here's my question. The other day I had a friend riding him, and was watching him carefully, adn suddenly it all came together. He carries his head slightly to the right all the time, especially when cantering. He always shys to the left, away from something on his right. Could it all be becasue he has a problem with the sight in his right eye????? Are sight problems common in horses? I don't plan on showing so I'm not concerned about the head tipping, just his safety - and mine. Do they make blinders for bridles? Would something like this help, or just make things worse ? We have the vet coming in June to give the horses their shots, and I'll have him check his eyes then, but I'd really value your imput now. My kids( 17, 14, and 3) and I would be devistaed if anything happened to sinbad!

Thanks! Donna

Hi Donna! You may have already figured out Sinbad's problem; when your veterinarian comes out to do spring shots, ask him to do what he can to confirm your suspicions. It's not always easy to diagnose eye problems without special equipment and lights, though, so warn him in advance that you'll want him to look at your horse's eye. You might also want to talk to him about this BEFORE he comes out, in case he wants to come a little earlier than June. Eye problems are best dealt with immediately, although I agree with you that this problem is probably a long-standing one, and it's just the diagnosis that will be new. Don't count on your own ability to "tell" whether Sinbad can see -- someone will probably tell you to brush your hand past his eye several times and see whether he blinks. But this is NOT conclusive, because horses will often blink from feeling the air movement caused by your hand... you definitely need a vet's help on this one. ;-)

Many horses have vision problems of one type or another, and many horses have only ONE eye and manage to get along very well indeed. Some competitions even allow one-eyed horses!

Blinders won't help Sinbad if he's losing his sight; what will help is you doing everything you can to make his life easier. If you know that he can't see things coming up behind him from the right, and you know he can't see things on his right side, you can be careful to present him to anything new or potentially scary by showing it to him on his other side and letting him sniff it.

Most horses will spook at fluttering plastic bags -- that's nothing strange. I suggest that when you feel that he is about to spook -- when he become tense, you try this: instead of becoming tense yourself and telling him "NO!" (which only convinces him that there IS something scary there and that YOU are scared of it too), take a deep breath and let it out slowly while you bend Sinbad and ride him forward on a curve or in a circle. Practice will teach you whether it will work better to the right or to the left, but it will almost certainly work better than trying to make him go straight ahead. It's harder for horses to become tense and stiff if they are bent and moving on a curved line.

Since Sinbad is "King of the Hill", his vision problem, if that's what it is, doesn't seem to be affecting his social standing. ;-) If you are aware that he doesn't see well (or at all!) especially on the right, you can ride him and handle him in ways that make it easier for him to cope. Always let him know where he is in relation to the rail on the right side; always warn him if someone or something is coming from that direction. He'll learn to understand you -- horses are really amazingly adaptable. I once knew a blind dressage horse whose owner could ride him anywhere: she had taught him voice commands ("right", "left", "step up", "step down", etc.) and could even ride him over curbs, just by telling him when to step up and down. He was a lovely horse, but he isn't unique -- there are others who cope every bit as well. The secret seems to be having a sensible, understanding rider -- and I would say that Sinbad is in luck!


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