Eye injuries are a genuine emergency in horses. Their corneas, the clear outer covering on the eye, are slow to heal and very prone to infections. The sooner the eye is examined and appropriately treated, the better the chances of minimizing scarring that will interfere with vision.
The symptoms of horse eye problems are obvious and include tearing, sometimes swelling, holding the eye shut and if there is damage to the cornea there will eventually be a whitening of the eye from edema. Older corneal injuries may show growth of blood vessels over the surface of the eye.
If your horse is showing any signs at all of an eye problem, contact your veterinarian right away. Corneal injuries are the most serious, but call the vet even if you’re not sure whether the cornea is involved. ”Wait and see” isn’t a good idea.
In the meantime, bring the horse into a darkened stall. Do not use any eye drops or ointments you might happen to have around before the vet sees the horse. Don’t try to open the lids to get a better look. The eye will be painful and if there is something trapped under the lid you could do further damage to the eye.
If the horse will let you do it, an icy cold wet compress (soft cloth soaked in ice water) will help reduce pain and swelling. You can hold this in place with a polo wrap running from above the eye to under the jaw and looping the opposite ear, or you may just be able to secure it under a brow band (add one to your halter) and the cheek strap of the horse’s halter.
Work slowly and gently because the horse will be protective of the eye and won’t be able to see what you are doing. If you are successful in getting the compress in place, ”refresh” it by slowly pouring icy water onto the cloth at frequent intervals, before it has a chance to completely warm up to body temperature.
Some eye irritations can be caused by the horse constantly grazing in overly tall grass or weedy pastures. Mowing the field regularly is your best bet for both your horse’s health and the growth of the grass itself. You may also want to consider using of a fly mask while the horse is turned out. This will help shield the eye from scratches and keep much of the debris out.
You can also help minimize the intensity of the light that gets to the eye by keeping the horse in a darker area. Some medications cause the eye to dilate more than normal, which makes bright light painful.