QUESTION: We just received a horse that a customer wants broke. She is 5 and has just started to show signs of moon blindness in her left eye. I have researched this and called the vet to look at it. Do we need to approach training this horse differently? What would be a reasonable expectation for this horse?
ANSWER: That is a great question. The definition of moon blindness, which is actually called Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU) is: a recurrent eye inflammation in horses; sometimes resulting in blindness. Just because the mare is showing signs now, does not mean that she will lose sight in the eye, be sure to follow your vets instruction on treating the eye to the letter. Eye injuries in horses can deteriorate very quickly.
I have had the opportunity and challenge to start a colt that only had one eye and I approached getting him started under saddle in the same manner as I did all of the other colts that where in my program. I would just treat her like any other horse that you were starting. If I were going to modify anything, I would be sure to use voice commands as well as your body position when asking her to walk, trot, lope and to stop in the round pen. This will allow her to stay focused and gain confidence in what you are asking her to do. Horses that have a lose of vision will tend to have a greater sense of hearing, so be sure to use that to you advantage. The main goal is that you need to keep her trusting you on the ground as well as in the saddle. If you were to treat her differently than your other colts, it makes it hard to consistent in your training and we begin to make excuses for bad behavior or problems.
Also, be sure to teach her to mount from the right side as well. This is so that in case he loses all of her sight in her left eye, there won’t be an issue when mounting later. Your seat, legs and hands are what are going to be giving her direction in the saddle so usually a slight lose of vision will be less of an issue. A horse should always be willfully guided at all times. It is his job to obey your requests and your job to be the driver and not just a passenger.
I would expect this mare to be able to do just about anything that is ask of her, although she might be limited is performance events where she needs both eyes like cutting, jumping or polo. I have seen horses and riders overcome obstacles if both are willing to trust and work hard.
Remember every horse is an individual and you will have to slightly modify your training to fit the needs of each individual horse. Keep all of your training aids consistent.
As Always; Ride Hard, Be Safe and Have Fun - Steve Kutie