Blind Horse Owner's Story
Major is a 17 year old Tennessee Walker who has passed through a lot of hands in his life. He started as a Big Lick show horse, but after the death of his owner, he was unceremoniously sold to a man that started a chain reaction of sales to people who didn’t understand him. Like many TWH, Major is emotional and hates the word and concept “whoa.”
I purchased him May of 2019 as a trail horse. I put him in a boarding facility run by a woman I had done equine therapy with and whom I thought I could trust. As soon as he was on the property, her mother took a dislike to his high strung antics and frequently placed him in situations where he was unhappy. This included letting her own horses bully him away from his feed, chase him into fences, and convincing me to dose him with calming supplements.
After two months, I was unhappy with his body condition; I was spending a fortune on Seminole feed and paying additional money for hay. It really came to a head when I returned from vacation to find him in terrible shape, lame, and a neurotic mess. I was furious. I went hunting for a new boarding facility and ended up moving him two weeks later.
He loved his new barn. He had space to play, his own stall and plenty of food to eat. The day after we moved him, I played with him in the round pen, snuggled him in his stall, and put him to bed. I didn’t know it, but it was the last time he would see me.
The next morning the barn owner called me frantic, asking if he’d even had sight issues. I said no. She told me the vet was on the way, but they think he went completely blind. When I arrived, he was covered in sweat and clearly terrified, backed into the corner of his stall, food untouched, flinching at our touch.
When the vet arrived, she confirmed my nightmare, Major was completely blind, his pupils completely dilated, unable to take in any light. I was utterly crushed. I spent hours researching reasons for horses to go blind: trauma, poisoning, neurological issues, uveitis, you name it, I read a medical paper on it. The vet took my questions in stride but gently pushed me towards putting Major down. I refused and she has not touched him since.
With the barn owners help, we were able to teach Major voice commands for stepping over objects, slowing down for terrain changes and avoiding objects like fences. He learned his new pasture, rolling and cantering around it like he had before. After a few months, we tacked him up to see what would happen.
He seemed excited to have eyes, taking off at a running walk down the driveway. Over the fall and winter, my fiancé and I rode him at least twice a week, going farther each time and testing his ability to change up terrains. The addition of hoof boots made Major invincible (in his mind); he was able to tackle gravel roads, dirt paths and roadways. He does not spook at cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, dogs, children or anything else we’ve exposed him to on our rides. His trust in us is implicit: we will not allow him to be hurt.
I was finally able to get a UGA equine ophthalmologist to see him and she gave me the final diagnosis: Equine Motor Neuron Disease (EMND). In the three months that he was at the other boarding facility, he was deprived of vitamin E and selenium so greatly that it permanently damaged his vision. He also struggles to keep weight on without vitamin E & selenium supplements. I am still bitter that this was all so preventable had the other barn owner simply made sure he was getting his feed, rather than tossing it in the pasture and letting him “fight” for it.
We are moving onto a new chapter in our lives this week: we have purchased a farm for him. A place he can grow old. He is coming home this week with his new companion to live with us and enjoy trails, treats and unlimited love.
There are times where I wish he could see. I feel guilt that his condition is human caused, that I didn’t see the problems sooner and save him faster. But he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He loves to go ride, to play in the pasture, and steal cookies from my pockets. People are shocked when they see me riding him and I inform them he’s blind. The ophthalmologist was even shocked when we told her that we ride him frequently and that he happily gaits down trails. Nothing could have prepared me to own a blind horse, but Major made me see him as a whole horse.
Thank you for everything you do. I wish I had known who you were when Major went blind, I feel like I made a lot of mistakes.
Casey & Major