Eye Injury - What to Watch For:
- Excessive blinking.
- Tears of discharge from eye.
- Swollen eyelid.
- Reddening of the whitish tissues surrounding the eye.
- A whitish or bluish tinge to the cornea (the clear outer layer of the eye).
Eye Injury - What's Happening:
Your horse may be experiencing any one of a number of different types of eye troubles. These are the most common:
- Foreign body: A piece of twig, gravel, dirt, etc., may be lodged somewhere in the eye tissues, causing discomfort.
- Scratched or damaged cornea: Rubbing an irritated eye, or a direct blow, can result in corneal damage, evidenced by a white- or blue-tinged cornea.
- Conjunctivitis: This inflammation of the tissues (conjunctiva ) surrounding the eye is characterized by reddening of the tissues, and blinking or tearing with no obvious corneal damage.
- Bruised eyelid: A blow can cause an eyelid to suddenly swell; the eye itself may or may not be damaged.
Eye Injury - What to do:
- Step 1: Carefully examine your horse's eye, gently grasping and removing any foreign body you can see, or by using Step 2.
- Step 2: Rinse the eye with saline from your first-aid kit, to clean out foreign bodies (such as dust or gravel), or accumulated mucus, and to relieve discomfort.
- Step 3: Apply triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment, which will help to ward off infection if the cornea is damaged. Warning: Be sure the ointment in your first-aid kit doesn't contain a steroid. Not only can theses compounds delay healing of a corneal injury, they also can actually make the injury worse!
- Step 4: If your horse is blinking, tearing, or keeping his eye closed-all signs his eye is painful--administer a dose of Banamine, to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Step 5: If you notice a cloudy or bluish hue to his eye, immediately head for home and summon your vet--your horse may have damaged the cornea. If his cornea is clear, you can head on down the trail.
Eye Injury - Risk Factors:
- Riding amongst low branches, which can result in direct trauma to the eye.
- Windblown dust and gravel, which can cause irritation.
- Flies or other insects, which can congregate around your horse's eyes, causing inflammation or irritation that might stimulate him to rub his face--resulting, in turn, in corneal injury.
Eye Injury - Preventative Measures:
- Avoid trails framed by horse-eye-height branches.
- Affix a made-for-riding fly scrim/strip set to your bridle, to create a physical barrier against insects.
- Apply fly repellent to your horse's face (and body) before you ride. (Tip: Roll-on fly repellents fit handily in a saddle/trail bag, for easy on-the-trail face touch ups.
Click here for more articles on Trail Riding First Aid.
Barb Crabbe, DVM, is a contributing editor at Horse & Rider. She is an Oregon-based equine practitioner.
This article originally appeared in Horse & Rider magazine.