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EquiSearch’s Ask the Vet: One-Eyed Horse

How successful and happy can a one-eyed horse be? Dr. Joyce Harman answers a reader's question in EquiSearch's Ask the Vet feature.

Question: I have a one-month-old Quarter Horse filly who injured her left eye at one and a half days of age, and who had to have the eye removed at a very reputable equine clinic. She is doing as well as she can. The vets who treated her said that she will be OK. Are there references or resources that I can contact or speak with who have dealt with this? She is a lovely filly, and I plan to keep her, but I want to know what course to follow with her for her future.

Answer: Actually there are many perfectly fine blind horses out there performing in every sport except polo. Blind horses are not allowed in polo since they cannot see a ball coming on the blind side. Some competitions require the horse to look like it has both eyes, but there is no requirement to see out of both. However, it is a good idea to check with the rules of any competition you may want to enter to be certain, since rules do change.

There are many examples of successful one-eyed horses throughout history. Pollard's Vision and Cassaleria were both flat racehorses with a blind eye; both, at different times in history, ran in the Kentucky Derby. Rey Jay was a famous cutting horse who was injured as a weanling and went on to be a star performer and stallion.

Horses do not require both eyes for judging depth of field as do humans. I personally know and have ridden a few one-eyed horses, and also have many as clients. These horses foxhunt, event (even at higher levels), trail ride, barrel race, rein and show jump. Occasionally a horse appears to become blind in an eye that may be the dominant eye for that horse, and these horses are not as secure or confidant as most other blind horses. Horses blind in one eye from birth or soon after rarely have any problems adjusting.

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An older horse who becomes blind especially from disease, could have visual problems in the "good" eye. If this is the case, the horse may seem to be having trouble adjusting and may panic in strange situations. In all cases of acquired blindness, there will be an adjustment period for the horse. The people handling him/her need to be careful to help the horse understand that no one is going to make sudden sounds on the blind side or approach the horse silently then suddenly touch and frighten her. Horses will develop their senses on that side and become very comfortable with being handled.

It is possible to place various types of prosthetic devices in the eye socket to improve the appearance of the horse's head. These range from just a simple device placed under the skin to fill the empty socket, to a more complex device that resembles an eye. Here is a link to an excellent article about the various devices that are available: Saving Face When a Horse Loses an Eye. It is not rational to place a device until the head is grown to its full size, as the eye socket will become larger and require bigger prostheses until the horse is about three or four years old.

So ride and enjoy your one-eyed horse, she will join the ranks of many others.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.

Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to asktheexperts@equinetwork.com. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.

Do you have a one-eyed horse or have you ever worked with one? Read one reader's reply to this article and chat about your own experiences in the EquiSearch Forum.

Plus, read about a horse and rider with only one eye each in the August 2006 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

Posted in Illnesses & Injuries | Leave a comment

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