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The Women & Horses Newsletter - December 2007

Eyesight Issues Can Be Confused with Behavioral Problems
by Mary D. Midkiff

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We often take for granted that behavioral problems in horses can come from physiological distress or dysfunction. For instance, I have found so many horses that have behavioral issues related to the teeth and mouth that I make sure whenever working with a new horse that the owner knows to have a professional equine dentist float, level and balance the horse’s mouth at least once per year. This is not just a filing of the teeth by a vet, this is a thorough exam of the whole mouth structure by a specialized professional dentist.

If only it were that easy with eyesight issues. Many times it will take eliminating everything else to conclude that the problem lies within the horse’s vision or lack of it.

I have had two cases which were reported as behavioral problems that I want to share with you.

My own horse, Redge, is near-sighted causing him to be spooky, difficult, unpredictable and misunderstood. I found this out through an animal communicator. I asked her about his vision because he was frequently lifting his head and pointing his ears during our training sessions and trail rides. When I bought him, I was told he was a young, hot horse and that was just the way he was but once I started working with him I questioned the previous trainer’s assessment and began tuning into what he was demonstrating on a regular basis.

I recently read in a research document on horse’s vision, "As the horse brings its head to view objects in the distance he will also prick his ears forward. The muscles which cause the horse's ears to prick forward are the same ones which bring the horse's eyes together. The opposite occurs with objects close at hand."

Redge demonstrated this behavior often enough for it to be an accurate assessment of his behavior.

Redge’s vision issue became more and more clear to me as I have worked with him over the past three years. Trust in me as his guide in life has shifted his behavior and he uses me as his "seeing-eye person" especially on trail rides. He still on occasion will stop and lift his head, focus his ears forward and try to see something in the distance but I know now how to attribute this behavior and talk him through it. Generally his vision is just fine but if he were a human he would have contact lenses or glasses prescribed so he could see well in the distance.

For a prey animal not to be able to see well in the distance is a profoundly real fear issue. I can understand this as an issue for the horse/human connection now that I have read up on horse vision more closely. Research studies have revealed that they see color differently than we do, many have night vision issues, and near sighted issues are common in domestic horses while far sighted issues are more common in wild horses. Horse’s lenses do not change or move like ours which adjust quickly to light and dark changes. It takes time for the horse to make the adjustment and be able to see when going into darker spaces.

One researcher reported that horses "on the bit" have a hard time seeing because their vision is focused down their nose toward the ground. They literally are going around the dressage arena blind and dependent upon the aids, steering and guidance of the rider. There is “submission” and then there is “submission.” After reading about this I had to respect my horse’s desire to look straight ahead instead of deeply flexing at the poll and having his vision pointed downward. Some horse’s eye placement can handle being “on the bit” better than others. Notice too when jumpers approach a jump they need their head and eyes forward and upward to see the jump, otherwise they are literally jumping blind.

The second case is a horse named Harley. I was called to work with Harley because the owner had tried everything else and nothing was working. Harley is a 20 year old Tennessee Walking Horse that had been through 9 owners in 9 years and had every type of trainer, horse whisperer, and natural horseman work with him with no real meaningful results.

His current owner, Maureen, had stuck with Harley because she felt he was a kind soul and had a big heart despite all of his behavioral issues and he occasionally had good days when she really enjoyed riding him. Harley had good days and bad days. On his bad days he was high strung, nervous, anxious, out of control most of the time but especially on trail rides. He would come home sweating, veins popping on his neck, jigging unable to settle into a walk and wild eyed. His owner reported he was better with other horses but never really settled down even with their company.

I first met Harley in his stall and his mind was not on me but on his buddies out in his turnout pasture. I asked the owner to take him out and just show me what she typically did with him. He barely managed to stay in control with her as she walked him around the barn area. We took him to a round pen and when he was turned loose he bucked and ran and snorted and grew very tall and daunting. I watched him for just a few minutes and suggested that we take him on a short walk. She said she could not get him down the driveway of the farm to the trails without him having an anxiety attack. So I watched her walk him partially down the driveway to a certain point where he began to spin, then freeze, then snort and panic. I had seen enough it was time to intervene.

Once we were back in the stall, I lowered my blood pressure and began to sink very deeply inside myself to create an empty space around me and the horse. There was no agenda, no expectations, nothing there but Harley and me. I waited for him to tell me he was ready to meet me and find out who I was. I noticed as I watched him that one of his eyes was cloudy and asked the owner about it. She said the vet had looked at his eyes and said it was the beginning of moon blindness or Uveitis but that his vision was just fine. The vet had tested Harley by tossing cotton balls near his head and Harley had responded by blinking. The vet then declared that Harley had good vision.= Knowing about my own horse’s vision issue I began to wonder if Harley too was near sighted and now the moon blindness was making it even worse and diminishing his vision almost completely in that one eye.

I started working with Harley by rubbing my essential oil blend “The InBalance Horse” into his nostrils. He immediately responded by lowering his head and blinking his eyes. I continued with mouth massage, jaw muscle massage, energy tapping on the face and acupressure releases. Within 15 minutes we had a completely different horse in our midst. He became smaller, compact, quiet and manageable in his stall. The owner remarked that his stall always feels too small because he is so big and nervous all the time. Now his stall seemed bigger and Harley fit in it comfortably.

I worked throughout Harley’s entire body for a few hours giving him time in between each release to think and process what was going through his mind. By the time I had finished, Harley was totally agreeable and happy to munch hay in his stall and just hang out. Nothing outside of his stall was calling to him anymore. His owner and I took this opportunity to go to lunch and let Harley simmer in his endorphin state.

I started up again in the afternoon with connecting ground work and Harley was the same agreeable, quiet horse. He was a bit confused with my directions because of all of the hundreds of communications from trainers over the years. But he was so willing to try to please me and be with me. There were other horses being ridden around us, a farrier who was yelling at a horse in the aisle beside us, construction of a new arena going on outside the door and he stayed with me in a quiet partnership mode. It was tremendously rewarding and moving for me to be with Harley in this place.

Our last challenge was to take Harley to the driveway and see what was going on there. I walked him partially down the driveway and he began to get agitated and worried. I stopped there and talked to him and encouraged him to eat grass. He did take a few bites and I rewarded him for being brave. I practiced the S-ing pattern connecting work him up and down the driveway and he did go all the way out the driveway with me but was very scared the further we got away from his home. I mentioned to the owner that I really thought his vision was an issue but couldn’t know for sure until we reached an animal communicator.

We ended on a positive note telling Harley that he had tried very hard for us that day. Since then the owner has continued with “The InBalance Horse” oils and Rescue Remedy in his water and on his tongue until she was able to speak with the animal communicator. Lydia Hiby, the communicator, said he has really changed and become a quiet horse but still has his moments of fearfulness and stress.

The animal communicator relayed that Harley had been near sighted his whole life and now the moon blindness was complicating his vision even more. He was afraid to go out the driveway because he could not see beyond the driveway and was afraid dogs or coyotes could be waiting. Harley said that his trail mate was not a smart horse and would not respond even if a bear was about to jump out and get him. So he did not feel he could rely on other horses either. The communicator said that Harley had bonded with his owner and trusts her but the vision issue scares him too much. It is not her confidence level but his sight and sensitivity that he can’t control.

Now we know about Harley. His owner is committed to giving him a great life of love and happiness within the boundaries of places he feels comfortable in. He loves his massages, his aromatherapy, his home, his owner. He couldn’t tell us about his vision but he has now given us education we can use for other horses.

If you do come across a horse with behavioral issues consider his eyesight as a possible source. Have your vet do an eye exam and that will give you at least an idea about the eye’s physical state of health. Otherwise it will be up to you to observe your horse’s behavior and determine that he has eyesight issues. Creating a deep bond of trust will make the difference with these horses. They will always look to you to help them out when their vision is challenged.

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I am enjoying being in Louisville and getting to know more and more horse people everyday. I continue to be committed to honor, trust and respect between humans and horses and look forward to the New Year of bringing awareness, comfort and empowerment between people and their horses.

Watch for my clinics and presentations on the website. I would love to create clinics with any of you at your barns. I also have a grand new project I am creating and shaping and will share it with you in 2008.

Call or write me anytime.

Have a very happy holiday and give your horses some peppermint for me!!

Mary D. Midkiff

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