Limitations, Not Condemnations

…gentle, sound, blind in right eye.

…healthy, sound, sane, blind in right eye.

…gentle for anyone, babysitter-type, blind in left eye.

These are the seller remarks from 3 horses currently sitting in US kill pens awaiting shipment. 

Sound, well-trained, gentle horses with little wrong with them other than a vision issue. On one kill pen page last night, almost half the horses listed were on there with vision loss or impairment in one eye. 

I’m here to get on my soap box and tell you to quit ignoring these horses, quit avoiding these horses when buying and if you own a horse newly diagnosed with vision problems, to quit giving up on these horses.

When we brought Angel home last week, we did it with full knowledge of her vision problems. She has a fully atrophied right eye and zero vision on that side. This atrophy is likely a result of long-term uveitis (aka moon blindness) and that same condition has also stolen some vision from her left eye. We don’t know exactly what she has left (a vet will help us with that Friday), but it’s safe to say she lives in a different world from a “normal” sighted horse.

But this pony, who is missing large portions of one of the major senses that keeps her safe as a prey animal, is not in the least bothered by her “limitations”. She has perfect ground manners and trailers, ties and does everything on the ground without worry, she navigates the pasture (trees and all!) perfectly, she absolutely loves being ridden…really, the only time you really notice her having to compensate is during her rush to stick her face in a bucket of feed, her depth perception for where the edge of the bucket is a bit skewed and she sometimes misses by an inch in her hurry!

Evie’s other horse, Jake, came to us with a “bad eye” as well. He was the result of trauma, likely a stick or branch nicked his eye and ulcerated the cornea. He has 80% vision loss in that eye and since it happened right before we got him, we were there to watch and help him figure out his new world. It took him only about 90 days to go from being a little bit scared of the fact he couldn’t see to his left until it became an absolutely non-issue for him. Today, he is still the fun, safe trail horse he was before the injury.

As Evie pointed out when we unloaded Angel in the yard, she fits right in here. Our farm is full of “misfit” toys—Raven, the ancient donkey with advancing old-age blindness, Gus, the 3-legged dog, Glenn, the wobbly sheep, Grandma Duck who is both missing an eye and incredibly ancient for a duck. We counted and realized that over the years, we have owned blind or half-blind animals of almost every species. And, importantly, there is not one of those “vision-impaired” animals that ended up with an “impaired” quality of life.

Animals are, in so many ways, much more resilent than humans. They don’t dwell on their losses, they always find ways to forge ahead and once adjusted to their “new normal”, they are perfectly happy to live in it. Our animals with sight issues quickly learn to let their other senses take the lead and in almost every case, their adjustment is so well done that it takes a practiced eye to pick out the “semi-blind” from the others. We provide support as needed—easy to navigate pens, easy to find food and water sources, kind and respectful flock and herdmates—but they do the rest.

“You don’t throw a whole life away, just cause it’s banged up a little.”

The quote from the movie Seabiscuit is completely true when it comes to sight impaired horses. Do they have certain limitations? Yes, but they are limitations, not condemnations.  

Will we ever jump Angel? Probably not (though there are those who have blind horses who do!).  

Will we take her on a mountain trail ride with difficult to navigate trails? Also, no. 😉

Our responsibility is in figuring out what is safe and possible for her and us. We will respect her limitations and work within them. She is a beautiful, kind and incredibly well-trained pony that has a wealth of knowledge to pass on. As long as she feels safe, happy and confident in her work, we will let that guide us. And someday, when she is ready to full retire, she will be given the tools she needs to live out her retirement in full.

While none of us can “save them all”, I want the world to realize that sight issues should not prevent you from considering a horse. The safe, the sane, the well-trained but partially blind all have a lot yet to give and yet are so often over-looked. Don’t let a bad eye scare you from what might be a wonderful partner! 

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