Working with Blind Horses
- Blind horses need adequate time to adapt to their surroundings and to learn a mental map of the area. They have an unusual ability to learn their areas in their minds. You will often be amazed at how well they know exactly how to avoid a tree, shelter or other object. Be sure not to move things around such as wheelbarrows or other moveable equipment in the areas in which they live.
- Many blind horses will circle or buck in place when they are afraid so that they can work out their energy. Give them space to do this while you encourage them with a soothing voice that there is nothing to fear. Often they can seem disobedient when they continue to move, however their lack of sight adds more insecurity when they experience new things. Generally, they will calm down if given enough time and comforting words.
- Watch out for other horses bullying the blind horse. They may think that the blind horse is being aggressive by moving into their space when the blind horse really may not be aware of where they are.
- Always speak to blind horses as you approach them and hold out your hand so that they can smell you. Remember, they now recognize people by voice, smell and touch.
- Do your best to keep the blind horse’s routine the same each day. They will quickly learn where to go for feeding, water, etc.
- If you are approaching an object while walking a blind horse, stop and rap on the object so that they will know where it is. Their hearing will help them gauge where to stop.
- Before trying to ride a blind horse alone, have someone lead you on the horse to see just how it handles blindness.
- Blind horses respond wonderfully to natural horsemanship exercises from the ground. This increases their trust of you as you learn more and more how to work as a team. They can be taught anything that a sighted horse can learn.
- Be sure to talk to your blind horse as you ride him or her. Initially, they may need lots of verbal reassurance to feel safe. Remember that their basic trust is now in the bond that you share.
- Establish a verbal cue with your blind horse to let them know in advance when obstructions are coming. For example, say “Ahh….Step” to give them a verbal warning and then command two or three steps from something in their path (i.e. log, rock, etc).
- Be sure that you teach a verbal stop command such as “Whoa” so that you can alert the horse to danger when you are both on and off the horse. Be aware that many blind horses will respond to others’ verbal cues for their horses as you are riding together. The verbal cue has been their lifeline and they become especially sensitive to this.
- Remember that blind horses have a disability, not an inability. For many of them, their ability to use other senses as well as increase their trust in their human partner, makes them exceptional riding companions in the ring as well as on the trail. You may find that your blind horse is often a more obedient horse than your sighted one.
All About Fly Masks
We put fly masks on all of our blind horses. Of course they regularly take them off, but we try. Here’s why:
- Some of their eyes hurt in the sun, especially if they have equine recurrent uveitis.
- We prefer the horses to be completely blind and fly masks help accomplish this. If horses have any sight at all, they will try to use that and it changes regularly. This can make them jumpy. When horses go completely blind, they give up trying to see altogether and begin depending upon their other senses. Blind horses become very adept at using their hearing, smell, sense of vibration, mental map and other senses we know they must have that we don’t have. They calm down quickly and are amazing to watch as they become increasingly confident in moving around and being ridden.
- Flies are very bothersome and we try to minimize their irritation.