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Trail Riding First Aid Part 3: Eye Injury

Barb Crabbe discusses eye injuries: How to recognize them, how to prevent them, and how to treat them if your horse is injured out on the trail.

Eye Injury - What to Watch For:

Eye Injury
  • 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.