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Blind horse

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  • Blind horse

    Hi Cothers!

    I would like to know your thoughts and experience with blind horses.

    At the barn I used to ride, one of the mare recently became blind. She is 15yo, got a baby 4 months ago and totally lost her sight about a month ago.

    This started with an eye infection due to flies. The vet came several times and treated the infection with antibiotics and some kind of product to put in her eyes (I do not know the details of the treatment, but the vet said many horses in this area got this kind of infection this year, so apparently he knew what it was). The treatment did not help and surgery was the next step. Unfortunately even after the surgery the mare kept loosing her sight until she became totally blind. Now she walk straight into walls/fences/other horses... She does not react to people gesture, flashy colors (ie. umbrella) or anything else sight related.

    What can you do with a blind horse? If you already trained a blind horse, what did you achieve?

    From my personal experience and thinking:
    - horse confidence into the rider is the most important
    - hard wooded fences instead of electric tape
    - some said to put a buddy with a bell so the blind horse can follow the buddy to the water and hay. I am afraid it will become impossible to separate the blind horse from her buddy
    - flat work, and trail ride on easy trails is fine

    Someone told me he heard that once upon a time a blind horse was able to to jumper show by following a buddy with a bell (basically 2 riders 2 horses) -- obviously they were not part of the main show. Anybody heard of a similar story?

    At this point the barn/mare owner hesitates between retiring the mare and leaving her in a pasture (with all necessary care!) or to ask instructors to work with her. Beginners and intermediary riders will never be allowed to ride her (not to make her loose the confidence she has in people).

    What are your thought? Any brilliant suggestion?
    What would you do?

  • #2
    While I have to say I wouldn't want to ride a blind horse I have a friend that rides her blind mare just about anywhere at all on trails.
    They are totally amazing to watch and nobody would ever guess this mare is blind by watching them on the trails unless you wondered why my friend occasionly tells the mare to step up or down, BIG step or says going down, etc.

    In a group of horses she will lead or follow and rides very well alone.
    It is awesome what you can do with a blind horse.

    My friend has a friend who also has a blind mare that she hadn't ridden in several years because she was blind. The two of them got together and had a trail video made titled "blind leading the blind". It made me cry.
    They did good.
    You know why cowboys don't like Appaloosas?" - Answer: Because to train a horse, you have to be smarter than it is.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Florent View Post
      Someone told me he heard that once upon a time a blind horse was able to to jumper show by following a buddy with a bell (basically 2 riders 2 horses) -- obviously they were not part of the main show. Anybody heard of a similar story?
      I believe that was a blind rider, not a blind horse. I don’t think you could jump a blind horse. Even if you trained them to take off on command, I have no idea how they would know how tall the fence is.

      Hopefully the poster "beentheredonethat" posts, she had a blind appy that could trail ride out on steep terrain.

      I think each horse adjusts differently, but there have been a number of blind dressage horses etc.

      I agree, safe fences are needed. My uncle used to pasture a blind horse, and she had a "buddy" pony to follow around.
      APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


      • #4
        I have a blind foal, and all I can say from everything I've read, and what i've personally seen from him, is they are miraculous, and always give them a chance. They will amaze you, when you see what they can and will try to do you will be amazed. Mind you he is a foal, and was like that from day one.

        You'll need to give her time to adjust to her new surroundings but it shouldn't take her long to figure things out. Be prepared for many bumps and bruises, as they come with the territory. Electrical fencing is not out of the question however you'll want to make sure that she is at the stage where she realizes that she cannot bolt when strange things happen, and instead has realized that she has to turn around and try a different route. My foal currently lives outside in a large paddock with obstacles in the paddock, and electrical fence. He lived in a small field for the first mo of his life, but now he is happy and content outside with his mom, and another mare/foal. I've read many stories of blind horses making excellent trail horses, as well as dressage horses.

        Personally i've seen my foal run towards the electrical to only turn a couple feet away and proceed on another route. I've seen him run around the field mostly in small circles, however in his safe zones, i've seen him find his mom who is on the other side of the paddock, he learned how to nurse almost on his own, and figure out how to continually find the teat with zero issues. He's kind and very well behaved. He actually fights less than most foals i've had because he either trusts us or has learned that fighting leads to him running into things, so now he just submits and lets us do what we need to do.

        She can most definitely still have a full and eventful life if you give her time.

        good luck!


        • #5
          Yes, my horse was blind. How quickly they go blind and temperament will depend on what you can do, but it's certainly not the worst thing that can happen. Sight is not a main sense for horses. My horse went very slowly blind, so he never got upset about it. Once I was aware, I just made adjustments.

          There is no reason why you can't ride a blind horse. My horse was also in pasture, though I don't think I'd start a horse out that way. They really do need a buddy they can follow in pasture otherwise it's not very fair. The other horse acts as a guide. Electric fences are not fair to them, but if she is sensible, she should be able to handle everything else by just feeling and moving slowly. I could turn my horse out with another horse and he wold run at their side in an arena. As with the foal above, you'd be amazed at what they can do. Certainly she should be able to handle being in a stall if that's where she already is.

          Handling and riding involves being aware and teaching verbal cues. It's actually easier to ride than handle on the ground. They can learn how to pick up and walk over something, go down, take shorter steps, etc. I just said a sharp "up" to let him know to pick up his feet and go up a hill. "Over" was stepping over something like a log. "Easy" was to take shorter steps, shift weight back to stay balanced for uneven ground, down hills etc. This is pretty easy to train in the saddle because they are really looking to you to tell them what to do and you have your weight, legs, and reins to give them additional support. You just HAVE to be an aware rider because they have to do everything they tell them. My horse was great with beginners because he did everything they said, so they had to learn very quickly to pay attention to everything or get an immediate wrong reaction. He was fine on the trail, too, because he just listened to what you said, and they have to learn as a defense mechanism that the "safe" thing to do is to stop and shift weight back. It's pretty awesome to gallop a blind horse on a trail with a cliff on one side and know they just assume you'll tell them what is right.

          My horse actually became a better dressage horse (he was about I-1) because he had to listen more. I'm sure I could have figured out a way to jump him, but even I'm not that brave. You couldn't do it with a bell, but it would have to be weight, rein and verbal cues. I don't think I would do that.

          I think it just depends on how well trained the horse is already, her temperament, and the owner. Blindness is not really a huge factor for horses. I've been in touch with a lot of people over the years who've had horses go blind at lots of different rates for various reasons, and they were always quite rideable. When you think about it, you really do want to ride them because they can't do as much on their own now, and riding gives them more options. My guy loved to go for a good run, but the only way he could do it once he went blind was when I rode him.


          • #6
            Like Beentheredonethat I had an AppyX gelding that went blind. I did eventually retire him from trail riding because our trails were so uneven etc, but I continued to ride and competed him through 2nd level dressage. Unless I told them, no body had a clue he was blind.

            You do have to make certain changes in handling or riding a blind horse than a normal sighted horse, but it's not impossible and eventually becomes a matter of routine with that particular horse. I also found my AppyX to become a better dressage horse because he paid more attention to me. Quite simply, he trusted me to tell him where to go, and I trusted him to take me there.

            My horse was in pasture, although we eventually moved him to an individual turn out with a buddy in the turnout beside him. The others knew he was handicapped and began beating up on him. It didn't take him long to learn where all the "borders" were in his new turnout and I never had any problems with him running into the fence etc.

            When I went to a show, his water bucket, hay, feed etc were always put in the same place, and when I put him in the new stall, I'd make a point of "showing" him where the walls were, the door, water etc. He adapted quite well and I never had an issue. He learned "up" "down" "watch your step" etc.

            Of course, there are some horses that don't adapt, but many do if you just give them the chance and time. Oh, and for the record, I was an Advance Beginner/Intermediate rider at best at the time, and Casper's lost of vision vastly improved my seat and legs, because he depended on me to use them properly.

            Would I voluntarily buy a blind horse? No, but if another horse I own goes blind again, I'll deal with it.
            A poorly fitted saddle hampers both horse and rider.


            • #7
              You can also put crushed gravel/limestone along the fenceline, going about 6 feet into the paddock, so they will feel/hear the difference in footing and know the fence is coming up. You'll need to walk up to the fenceline with them a few times, so they will figure it out. Wind chimes near the water trough will help them hear where it is, once they learn to associate that sound with its location.


              • #8
                They sort of stop spooking at things is so nice . Trail rode my blind guy for ever and learned all sorts of hand signals and voice ones to tell him what was coming up on the trail. He figured if I was on his back we could go any where.
                It was quite upsetting at first then thought well, we galloped down the trail last week when I did not know so now will just be more careful with him. They do adjust, just try and not put up road blocks for them. Rode a lot at night when he was younger that gave us a lot of help for later. Stepping up and jumping were out.


                • #9
                  I have a blind horse, I've posted about him may times. He has a slight bit of sight, maybe 15% in one eye, but he also has a detached retina so the vet says he can only see the ground maybe 5 feet in front of him AND he has peripheral vestibular disorder which causes him to have no depth perception and balance issues. And he's amazing. We trail ride alone, though I've stopped doing large hills after he bowed a tendon because he panics now going downhill, but he knows "up" and "down" to step up or down. He knows MANY words, and honestly if you didn't know he was blind watching him in pasture or under saddle you wouldn't tell. I use electric fencing because he can "hear" the fence, plus once he knows his environment he doesn't run into much. He jumps, though I no longer allow that either. Two weeks before we found out he was nearly 100% blind in his left eye (we knew about the right eye) he won a hunter hack class with a 15 year old girl. It was a show that had "do over" tickets (fun show) and all the horses were having trouble, so Anna rode it smart, she trotted him the first time to show him where the jumps where and what height (2') and then in the actual class since he knew the distance and height he had no problems. Because our riding is entirely based on trust between me and him, I can trail ride him alone anywhere, he'll go anywhere I tell him. And he has the freedom to go all out, knowing that I'm his eyes so it's safe to run, etc. There's something really amazing about galloping a blind horse through a field.

                  I was inspired to continue riding him by a fully blind mare I met a few years ago and how well adjusted she was. She's the one who taught me to use words, and be more vocal.

                  Because of Pirate, our rescue has taken in a 5 year old gelding that is as blid as Pi, if not fully blind. He was started under saddle before he went blind, and ridden once since, so I feel strongly that he's a good candidate for adoption since he's so well adjusted. Some don't adjust. That's the tragedy.

                  Here is one of my favorite videos of Pirate: http://youtu.be/luiW2xokMww
                  If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                  ~ Maya Angelou


                  • #10
                    I was a groom to a half (yes only half, so only take half of my advice, haha) blind racehorse once. I didn't even know until the owner told me (although it did explain a lot...). The main thing is lots of talking, so they know where you are, what is going on, etc.

                    I have heard of putting screenings (small gravel) around the outside edges of their stalls and paddocks, so they learn when they feel that surface that a fence or wall is coming up.
                    "The best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die!"
                    ----> Pre


                    • #11
                      Lots of good information on this site:

                      There are friends and faces that may be forgotten, but there are horses that never will be. - Andy Adams