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Keeping a Blind HorseBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · October 18, 2011

A horse that becomes blind because of disease or injury can often be kept safe and healthy with a few management changes. Some of the management tips are simple common sense for any property where horses live, while others are related directly to the horse’s condition.

Make sure the area where the blind horse lives is as safe and hazard-free as possible. Check fences and run-in sheds for sturdiness and good condition. Be sure there are no loose wires or splinters of wood to trap or injure the horse. Keep the ground clear of hazards that the horse might trip over or run into. Trim trees in or around the pasture to eliminate branches that are in a position to cause injury.

If the horse will be turned out in an area that is new to him, lead him around to let him get an idea of the size of his enclosure, the contour of the ground, and the location of water, shelter, and a salt block. If these features are close together and near a fence line, the horse will learn to use the fence to find what he’s looking for. Hanging a wind chime near the water trough or run-in shed is a way to give the horse some extra guidance. A radio playing in a nearby barn will also help the horse stay oriented.

Avoid turning the blind horse out in a large group of horses, but don’t isolate him, either. Choose a quiet horse to be a buddy. This horse can act as a guide if it wears a bell on a halter or neck strap.

Leave the long “feeler” whiskers around the blind horse’s ears, eyes, and muzzle. These hairs allow horses to know exactly how far away an object is. If the horse repeatedly bumps his face on objects, try attaching sections of foam “noodles” (swimming pool toys) or sheepskin shadow rolls (some racehorses wear these) to the front and sides of the blind horse’s fly mask.

Use your voice to let the horse know where you are and when you are approaching. Talk to him as you lead him, groom him, and turn him out. Speak or keep a hand on him as you move around him. Watch as you lead the horse through gates and doorways to be sure he doesn’t bang a shoulder or hip.

The choice of whether to ride a visually impaired or blind horse must be made by the person who knows the horse best. Some horses adapt well enough that they can be ridden, while others might never be safe to ride. The rider of a blind horse is responsible for the horse’s safety as well as his own, so riding anywhere outside of an arena might be too challenging to be enjoyable.