BLIND HORSE CARE, TRAINING, AND RIDING

By Susan M. Straumann

©Copyright Susan M. Straumann 2007



In Loving Memory of TJ
3/11/1984 – 1/30/2014

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce the passing of my beloved blind horse, TJ.
His life stands as a testament that disabled does not mean unable.
This website will live on in loving memory of him.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Since in some cases concepts presented in later sections of this website build upon concepts presented in earlier sections, the material on this website is most effective when all sections are read from start to finish in the order presented, as opposed to reading individual sections out of sequence and out of context.

Section 1.0: TJ, the Little Blind Horse Who Has Helped So Many To See
Section 2.0: Goals of this Website
Section 3.0: Intended Audience
Section 4.0: General Comments
Section 5.0: Bringing A Blind Horse Home to a New Environment
Section 6.0: Minimize Changes to the Horse's Physical Environment
Section 7.0: Regular Routine is Important
Section 8.0: Training a Blind Horse to Find the Location of Water in a Pasture
Section 9.0: Training a Blind Horse Using Long Lining
Section 10.0: Riding a Blind Horse
Section 11.0: Miscellaneous Loose Ends
Section 12.0: Other Related Websites
Section 13.0: Questions or Comments?
Section 14.0: Special Thanks
Section 15.0: Woefully Necessary Legal Disclaimers
Section 16.0: Permitted Use of Copyrighted Material
Section 17.0: MAKE A DONATION


1.0 TJ, THE LITTLE BLIND HORSE WHO HAS HELPED SO MANY TO SEE

This website is dedicated to TJ’s Khan (“TJ”), a retired Standardbred racehorse, now blind from Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU), with whom I have the very great privilege to share my life.




FIGURE 1. My Beloved Blind Horse TJ


Here in the rural southwestern part of New Jersey where I live, horseback riding is part of life’s daily routine, and in that regard, no one gives my horse TJ and me much more than a glance of casual interest, or a wave acknowledging the unspoken brotherhood to which all horse lovers inherently belong.

I am proud of this simple normality that TJ and I share, because at the time I rescued him, I never could have imagined such an end, for TJ will never see the glances and waves of the passersby. TJ is blind.

Prejudices in the horse world tend to classify a blind horse as unrideable by default. Those blind horses that are fortunate enough to find a home, or keep their current home, typically live out their lives as a companion horse, a pasturemate that keeps other horses company.

But homes for companion horses are few, and despite his gentle disposition, no one wanted to adopt an old, blind, unrideable horse. TJ spent five years of his life in rescue on a foster farm, awaiting the loving home he was so deserving of. When I heard his story, I decided I didn't want this special animal to spend another moment without a permanent loving home of his own, and I adopted him as a companion horse for my other rescue horse, Henry.

To my surprise, I saw much of myself in TJ - the same independence, stubborn determination, and plain bull-headedness that wouldn’t allow anyone to say something could not be done. I knew TJ’s heart, because I knew my own. No, this was not a horse that would ever be fully happy just grazing in a pasture all day.

And so it was that I climbed onto TJ’s back for the first time. From the moment of that first ride, our trust in each other has been complete and unconditional. There is no degree of separation between him and me when we ride. We are one animal; he is the legs, I am the eyes.

TJ’s story has appeared in newspapers and on television news programs here in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. He has shown many people that every living thing deserves an opportunity to reach its highest potential, and that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge what the disabled are and are not capable of. He is the little blind horse who has lifted the veil of ignorance and prejudice from the eyes of many.

But in the end, beyond this greater good, in our hearts TJ and I know the simple truth of the matter. We are both too stubborn to have anyone tell us we can’t do something, and perhaps too naive to even let it enter our minds that we can’t do it. He will be my riding partner, my friend, my kindred spirit until such time, a time of his choosing and no one else’s, when he truly wishes to spend his day grazing in that pasture.

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2.0 GOALS OF THIS WEBSITE

It is my sincere hope that the information on this website will:

  • Provide a basic working knowledge of blind horse care, training, and riding so that a horse owner is prepared should his or her seeing horse become blind through disease or injury, or should that owner wish to rescue or adopt a blind horse.

  • Open minds to the potential for continued use of a blind horse, including riding it, and in so doing, help more blind horses keep their current homes and find adoptive homes.

  • Better the plight of blind horses in general by accomplishing both of the above goals.
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    3.0 INTENDED AUDIENCE

    The information on this website is intended for individuals experienced with seeing horses who would like to increase their knowledge of blind horse care, training, and riding. This website provides information and equine techniques that are specific to blind horses. Basic horse care, equine safety, training and riding techniques that are not specific to blind horses are considered to be prerequisites to the information on this website and will not be explicitly discussed. Readers who lack basic fundamental knowledge and experience in seeing horse care, equine safety, training and riding techniques should consult with a qualified equine professional to gain such knowledge and experience and should not attempt any technique discussed on this website prior to doing so. Blind horses are special needs animals that should not, for the safety and general well-being of both you and the horse, be handled by individuals lacking a good foundation of equine knowledge and experience with seeing horses.

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    4.0 GENERAL COMMENTS

    4.1 Since in some cases concepts presented in later sections of this website build upon concepts presented in earlier sections, the material on this website is most effective when all sections are read from start to finish in the order presented, as opposed to reading individual sections out of sequence and out of context.

    4.2 I have included on this website any and all information that I thought might be helpful and useful to an owner of a blind horse. In so doing, given the website’s length, it might appear that caring for a blind horse is a daunting and overwhelming undertaking. Based on my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I can honestly say that caring for and working with my blind horse, TJ, is infinitely easier than caring for and working with my seeing horse, Henry. TJ has a loving, gentle, good-natured, and tolerant disposition which makes working with him a joy in every way at all times. Henry has a much less tolerant nature and a few too many ideas of his own, and while a good horse overall, tends to be much more challenging to handle, whether on the ground or under saddle. Blind or seeing, the general nature of the horse is key to your enjoyment of your equine experience.

    4.3 In my mind, once you and your blind horse have worked out a day-to-day system that works for both of you, owning a blind horse isn’t much different than owning a seeing horse. It is my hope that the information and techniques which I discuss on this website will help you establish a day-to-day system that works for you and your blind horse, although given the differences in people and horses, certainly your day-to-day system may evolve into one quite different from mine. Still, if nothing else, you will hopefully get a few ideas from this website that you can try with your blind horse. Keep what works, change or ignore what doesn’t, and before you know it, you and your blind horse will have a day-to-day system of your own worked out.

    4.4 The information and techniques discussed on this website have been successful when handling and working with my blind horse TJ; however:

  • Each blind horse is different – physically, in its disposition, and in its training - and so each blind horse’s potential, and limitations, needs to be assessed on an individual basis.

  • Just because a technique worked well for my blind horse, doesn’t mean it will necessarily work well for all blind horses, or that a different technique won’t work better for a particular blind horse.

  • Some techniques I use with TJ are specific to my farm facilities, and may need to be adapted to the facilities where your blind horse is kept.
  • 4.5 This website captures my experiences with TJ over approximately a one-year period after I adopted him from the Standardbred Retirement Foundation in Freehold, New Jersey. Do not overwhelm yourself or the blind horse, or risk your safety or that of your blind horse, by attempting all of these techniques in rapid succession all at once. The development of the relationship and daily routine between you and your blind horse requires time, and the amount of time will differ from horse to horse. Allow your blind horse to determine the pace at which your relationship and day-to-day routine develops. Be fair in your expectations of your blind horse; for example:

  • A rescued blind horse will require additional time to adapt to its new surroundings and to form a bond of trust with its new owner that a horse which you owned prior to its going blind will probably not require.

  • The temperament of each blind horse is a consideration. Like some people, some horses simply adapt more quickly to change than others. Attempting to proceed too quickly with your blind horse may at worst case cause you or your blind horse to be injured, and at best case cause you to misjudge your blind horse as being incapable of some task, when really it just wasn’t given sufficient time to progress toward accomplishing that particular task.

  • A horse needs time to adapt to any recent changes in its visual acuity, even small ones. If the horse has been totally blind for a long period of time, chances are it has already adapted to its blindness and thinks of it as second nature. A newly blind horse, like a newly blind person, needs to adjust to the idea of being blind and to learn to compensate for its blindness in the way it interacts with its environment. How quickly the horse went blind (progressively over a period of years due to disease or suddenly due to an injury) may also influence how well it handles its blindness and the period of time it requires to adjust to it.
  • 4.6 I encourage you to give a blind horse every opportunity to live up to its fullest potential, and to help it live the fullest, most normal horse life possible, but FIRST AND FOREMOST, YOUR OWN PERSONAL SAFETY MUST BE YOUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY AT ALL TIMES. Use good common sense and stay within the limits of your equine skills, and work under the supervision of an experienced equine professional for areas where your equine skills may need further development. If you are uncertain whether you have the right equine skills to work with a particular horse, blind or seeing, have an experienced equine professional assess your skills against the skills he or she thinks would reasonably be required to work safely with that particular horse. Because of their size, there is, in my opinion, no such thing as complete safety being around horses. Even so, poor judgment on your part can put yourself needlessly at increased risk of injury.

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    5.0 BRINGING A BLIND HORSE HOME TO A NEW ENVIRONMENT

    This section pertains largely to rescued blind horses that are being brought home to a completely new and unfamiliar environment, but could apply in some respects as well to a horse that is already familiar with its environment but has newly gone blind or has recently undergone a reduction in its visual acuity (for example, horses that are going blind progressively over a long period of time through disease).

    5.1 Remove any stray objects a blind horse could unexpectedly trip over from the blind horse’s corral, run-in shed, and stall (see Figure 2). At worst, colliding with an unexpected object may result in direct injury to the horse, or spook the horse, causing it to injure itself or you. At best, colliding with an unexpected object will cause a blind horse unfair and unnecessary stress.




    FIGURE 2. WRONG! Do not leave stray objects, such as this mounting block, where a blind horse could trip over them.


    5.2 Place day-to-day essentials like the blind horse’s hay, feed bucket, salt lick, and waterer side-by-side along a single wall of the barn, run-in shed, or stall so that when the blind horse finds one, it knows the others are nearby (see Figure 3). In addition, all are off to the side where the blind horse will not inadvertently trip over them.

  • The presence of the wall can be used by the blind horse as an aid to find these essentials. My blind horse, TJ, will sometimes locate the wall with his chin whiskers, and then follow the wall down to find his feed bucket.

  • Upon its initial arrival to its new home, lead the blind horse to the location of these essentials, rustling the hay, gently rapping on the feed bucket and waterer, and swishing the water to introduce the horse to its new environment.

  • Another option to having a standalone salt lick that works well with a blind horse is to purchase a smaller salt brick which can be left in the blind horse’s feed bucket.



  • FIGURE 3. Lining up objects commonly used by a blind horse along a single wall helps the blind horse easily find any of the objects by finding one of them and also prevents it from tripping over them since they are off to the side and out of the blind horse’s way.


    5.3 Check the environment for sharp or protruding objects, holes, etc., that could injure the blind horse.

    5.4 To help ease the blind horse’s transition to its new environment, if the blind horse is new to you, if possible try to spend some time with the horse at its current home prior to transporting it to its new home so the horse can get to know you.

    5.5 If the horse has specific healthcare needs related to its blindness, educate yourself on those care needs, as well as related costs, before you must be responsible for caring for the horse on your own. If a disease caused the horse to lose its eyesight, educate yourself about the disease and any continued effect the disease may have on the horse. For example, painful recurrences of uveitis, though infrequent, could affect your horse’s demeanor until the episode passes and the horse feels better; this could be several weeks or several months.

  • Available resources: Books, websites, your veterinarian, a previous caregiver.

  • Print out information and/or take careful notes for future reference.

  • Purchase and have on-hand any medical supplies needed for the blind horse’s routine care.
  • 5.6 For your safety and the horse’s safety, be prepared to tranquilize the blind horse when it is first introduced to its new environment in the event it becomes necessary to do so. Depending on the nature of the horse and how easily it stresses, it may not be a bad idea to administer a low dose of tranquilizers in advance of moving the horse to its new environment.

  • Standardbred Retirement Foundation (SRF) representatives were very familiar with TJ’s easy-going disposition and didn’t feel he would need to be tranquilized for the move to my farm.

  • Despite the fact that TJ didn’t know me or my farm when he arrived, TJ did not need tranquilizers upon his arrival to his new home. He put his head to the ground and found yummy grass, the first he’d seen in years, and that was all the tranquilizers he needed. However, tranquilizers were on hand in case they had been needed, and the SRF representatives who transported TJ were skilled in how to administer them.
  • 5.7 Give the blind horse time to adjust to his new environment and to you.

  • Since TJ didn’t know me or my farm, TJ was understandably a little skittish around me for the first few days after his arrival to my farm. During this time, TJ received plenty of TLC (treats, petting, and gentle verbal reassurance). I made no attempt to tie TJ, take halters on and off, take blankets on or off, etc., until he’d had an opportunity to settle into his new surroundings and get to know me a little first.
  • 5.8 Allow the horse to explore its new environment by itself at its own pace under your supervision. Ultimately, exploring on its own is the primary way the blind horse will become familiar and comfortable with its normal surroundings.

  • Be kind and leave electric fences off, at least in the beginning, since the blind horse won’t know where fences are. Don’t punish the horse for being blind by shocking it if it accidentally bumps into a fence line.

  • Don’t trim a blind horse’s facial whiskers; it will use them to feel its way around objects in its environment.

  • If the horse is not newly blind and is comfortable with its blindness, it will by nature proceed cautiously, and your supervision may not be needed.

  • Allow the blind horse to have some quiet time so that it can listen to background sounds and get used to what sounds are normal in its new home.

  • As long as no noxious weeds that could endanger the horse are present, let weeds grow up around the outside of the barn walls. The weeds will act as a gentle warning to the horse that it is approaching the barn.
  • 5.9 Don’t try to introduce too much, too fast. Let the observed comfort level of the horse set the pace for introducing anything new. For example, I didn’t attempt to introduce TJ to the pasture until enough time had passed (several months) that I felt he was completely comfortable with his corral first.

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    6.0 MINIMIZE CHANGES TO THE HORSE’S PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT

    6.1 A blind horse will eventually memorize its normal surroundings and will get around quite well as long as its normal surroundings are not changed.

    6.1.1 Unexpected changes cause unfair stress to the blind horse and risk direct injury to it or can spook it, risking injury to the horse or to you.

    6.1.2 Doors and gates which are normally kept open will be expected to be open by the blind horse and must remain open at all times

  • TJ’s run-in shed (barn) doors are never closed, even during the winter and inclement weather.
  • 6.1.3 Gates should be opened outward (away) from corrals and pastures so the blind horse doesn’t stumble into a gate it doesn’t expect to be there (see Figures 4 and 5).

  • If a gate can only open inward into the corral or pasture, the blind horse needs to be restrained or moved to another location while the gate is open.

  • If the gate is normally left in the open position at all times, even if that position is inward into its corral, the blind horse will eventually memorize its location and will not collide with it in the same way it does not collide with other objects normally in its environment.



  • FIGURE 4. WRONG! Opening a gate inward into the blind horse’s corral (foreground) could result in the horse colliding with a gate that it wouldn’t normally expect to be there.




    FIGURE 5. Opening the gate outward (away) from the blind horse’s corral (foreground) will prevent the blind horse from colliding with a gate that it wouldn’t normally expect to be there.


    6.1.4 If cleaning while the blind horse is in its corral, keep wheelbarrows and muck buckets outside of the corral, or behind an object of known location to the blind horse, so that the blind horse doesn’t inadvertently stumble into a wheelbarrow or muck bucket that it wouldn’t expect to be there. See Figures 6 - 8.

  • I leave my wheelbarrow just outside the closed gate so that I can reach it with my manure fork, but my blind horse can’t stumble into it (see Figure 7).

  • Since my seeing horse Henry thinks it’s great fun to tip over wheelbarrows full of manure, when cleaning Henry’s corral, which is next to TJ’s corral, I leave my wheelbarrow behind a tree in TJ’s corral (see Figure 8), so Henry can’t reach the wheelbarrow and tip it over, and TJ can’t stumble into it, since TJ already knows there’s a tree at that location, and so already makes it a point to be careful walking in that particular area of his corral.



  • FIGURE 6. WRONG! If cleaning a blind horse’s corral while the blind horse is in it, do not leave the wheelbarrow or muck bucket where the blind horse won’t expect one to be and could stumble into it.




    FIGURE 7. If cleaning a blind horse’s corral while the blind horse is in it, leave the wheelbarrow or muck bucket just outside the corral where you can reach it, but the blind horse can’t stumble into it.




    FIGURE 8. If cleaning a blind horse’s corral while the blind horse is in it, leave the wheelbarrow or muck bucket inside the corral but behind an object already known to the blind horse, such as a tree in the corral, where the blind horse can’t stumble into it.


    6.1.5 If you ride your blind horse and use a portable mounting block, the portable mounting block should be set up immediately before mounting and moved out of the way of the blind horse immediately after dismounting. See Figure 2.

    6.2 One of my favorite sayings since I adopted a blind horse is, “Walls and fence lines are your friends.” Generally speaking, any object placed along a wall or fence line, once a blind horse has learned its territory, will be safely out of the way of the blind horse, and the blind horse will not trip over or collide with the object. That is because the blind horse will already know that there is a wall or fence line there, and will be proceeding with caution in the vicinity of that expected wall or fence line, regardless of the presence of the unexpected object. This method will not work immediately after bringing a blind horse to its new home, as everything in the blind horse’s new environment will be unexpected until it becomes thoroughly familiar with its new surroundings, but it’s an excellent rule of thumb once your blind horse has gotten settled in.

    6.3 If an object that is not part of the horse’s normal day-to-day environment must be kept temporarily near a blind horse, develop a system for letting the blind horse know something is there.

  • Rap gently a few times on the object to let the blind horse know an object it wouldn’t expect to be there is present. The blind horse’s hearing tends to be above average, so the sound of the gentle rapping helps the horse judge where and how far away the object is. For example, when I place the portable mounting block next to my blind horse immediately before I mount him, I gently rap on it to let him know it’s there on the ground next to him so he doesn’t trip over it and injure himself or me.

  • Even after you have attempted to communicate to the blind horse that a foreign object is present, never leave the blind horse unsupervised around the object.
  • 6.4 Even experienced horse people, such as farriers, may not be used to being around a blind horse. Always supervise anyone working with or around your blind horse and discourage them from making sudden unexpected noises or leaving equipment where the blind horse could trip over it and injure itself.

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    7.0 REGULAR ROUTINE IS IMPORTANT

    7.1 Regular routine has a calming effect on a blind horse. The horse can have an increased comfort level because it knows what you expect from it and what it can expect from you.

    7.2 To minimize the chances of spooking a blind horse while you are working with it, talk to the horse to give it a heads up that it will be touched before you touch it, and then touch the horse gently with a small part of the halter, fly bonnet, blanket, etc., to give the horse an idea that something will be put on it before attempting to put it on (See Figures 9 – 12).

  • Put yourself in the blind horse’s shoes. Close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like if someone were to touch you, even slightly, and you didn’t know beforehand. It would surprise you, perhaps even frighten you, at least momentarily. Now imagine if someone were to put a halter or fly bonnet over your face or throw a blanket or saddle over you without your knowing beforehand. Wouldn’t you considerate it unkind if someone did that to you? Wouldn’t you probably be startled or frightened if you didn’t expect it? Be considerate and do unto your blind horse as you would have done unto you.

  • Use the same tone of voice consistently so that the horse learns to associate that tone of voice with being touched.

  • If the object has a unique smell or sound, you can also allow the horse to smell or hear the object in addition to touching the horse with it and talking to the horse. For example, plastic-coated waterproof horse blankets tend to make a rustling sound which will eventually be uniquely identifiable by the blind horse.



  • FIGURE 9. To avoid surprising and potentially spooking a blind horse when putting on a blanket, talk to the horse, rustle the blanket softly, and gently touch the horse with a corner of the blanket at the withers before putting the blanket entirely over its back.




    FIGURE 10. To avoid surprising and potentially spooking a blind horse when putting on a fly bonnet, talk to the horse and gently touch the horse with the bonnet high on the neck before putting the bonnet over its face.




    FIGURE 11. To avoid surprising and potentially spooking a blind horse when putting on a saddle or bareback pad, talk to the horse and gently touch the horse with a corner of the saddle or bareback pad at the withers before putting the saddle or bareback pad onto its back.




    FIGURE 12. To avoid surprising and potentially spooking a blind horse when performing routine care such as worming or cleaning around its eyes (which needs to be done regularly for a horse with uveitis), talk to the horse and gently touch the horse with the wormer or baby wipe on its face before placing the wormer in its mouth or baby wipe close to its eye.


    7.3 Use the same corral and pasture for the blind horse consistently so that the blind horse is always in familiar surroundings.

    7.4 Help the blind horse maintain its orientation within its surroundings.

    7.4.1 Use the same path between the blind horse’s corral and its pasture consistently (see Figure 13).

  • TJ has the sounds of the path we routinely take between his corral and the pasture memorized, such as the crunching sound of the gravel driveway we cross halfway along the path, which helps him know where he is within his world.
  • 7.4.2 When turning out a blind horse into its pasture, release the blind horse in the pasture always at the same location so it knows where in the pasture it is.

  • This is of critical importance for finding the water in the pasture (discussed in detail in Section 8.0).

  • I always halt and release TJ just inside the pasture gate (see Figure 14).
  • 7.4.3 When bringing the blind horse back in from its pasture into its corral, follow the reverse of the path followed when turning the horse out, and always release the blind horse in its corral at the same location so that it knows where in the corral it is.

  • Since it’s ordinarily feeding time when I bring TJ in from the pasture, I always release TJ in his run-in shed near his feed bucket.
  • 7.4.4 When feeding, rap gently a few times on the feed bucket to guide the blind horse to it.

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    8.0 TRAINING A BLIND HORSE TO FIND THE LOCATION OF WATER IN A PASTURE

    8.1 If a blind horse is brought to a new home during the hottest summer months, you will not be able to turn it out all day unattended in a large open area like a pasture on an immediate basis, because the blind horse, like all horses, must have water to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and it will not be able to find the water consistently within a large open area with which it is not familiar.

    8.2 Training a blind horse to find the water in a large open pasture is CRITICAL if you plan to turn out a blind horse unsupervised during hot weather. Otherwise, it is really hit or miss (mostly miss) whether your horse will be able to find water or not. Not being able to find water during hot weather could jeopardize your horse’s health, and its life. If you do not plan to turn out the blind horse in a large open pasture unsupervised during hot weather, you can probably safely skip this section of the website.

    8.3 You should start the blind horse’s training several months before you actually plan to turn out the horse in a pasture unsupervised during hot weather.

  • Patient repetition of the exercise described in Section 8.6 is required, a few times each day, probably over a period of two to three months. That sounds like a lot of effort, but the exercise is trivial to do, and even when done a few times, takes at most a few minutes a day.

  • It was approximately 6 weeks of very brief periods of daily training before I observed TJ finding the horse waterer on his own for the first time. I then monitored him for several additional weeks thereafter to ensure that it wasn’t a quirk that he’d found the waterer and that he could consistently find the water in the pasture. Then and only then did I leave him turned out all day unsupervised during warm weather months.
  • 8.4 The horse waterer should be placed along a fence line, not in open pasture. The blind horse can use the fence line to help it locate the waterer, and the possibility of the horse tripping over the waterer is essentially eliminated.

    8.5 Before you can begin this training, the blind horse must already be comfortable with always being released at one specific point in the pasture when it is turned out (see Section 7.4.2). You are essentially teaching the blind horse to find its way from Point A (the normal turnout point in the pasture) to Point B (the location of the waterer). The blind horse must know where Point A is within the pasture before you can attempt to teach it to find Point B.

    8.6 Steps of the training exercise, to be repeated several times daily are:

  • Always start at the point in the pasture where you would normally release the blind horse when turning it out. Although you won’t be releasing the horse, come to a full stop at the normal point of release (See Figures 13 and 14).

  • Walk the most direct straight path from the normal point of release to the horse waterer (See Figures 15 – 17).

  • Stop/Rap/Swish. Stop at the horse waterer, rap gently on the horse waterer several times with your hand to let the horse know something is physically there, and then swish the water with your hand so the horse can hear that it is water that is there. See Figure 18. The horse need not drink during this exercise. The goal is simply to teach it how to locate the waterer relative to its normal turnout point in the pasture.

  • Walk the horse back to the normal pasture turnout point, using the exact reverse of the route just used to walk the horse from the turnout point to the horse waterer. Come to a full stop at the normal turnout point.

  • Lead the horse between its normal turnout point and the horse waterer a few times each day until the horse consistently demonstrates its ability to find the waterer on its own. Remember to stop/rap/swish each time the horse is brought to the waterer.



  • FIGURE 13. Lead the blind horse from its corral to the pasture, always following the same path so that the horse can keep its orientation within its world.




    FIGURE 14. Come to a full halt just inside the pasture gate so that the horse’s training is always started from the same known point in the pasture.




    FIGURE 15. Lead the blind horse on the most direct path from the normal point of release to the horse waterer.




    FIGURE 16. Lead the blind horse on the most direct path from the normal point of release to the horse waterer.




    FIGURE 17. Lead the blind horse on the most direct path from the normal point of release to the horse waterer.




    FIGURE 18. Stop/Rap/Swish. Come to a full halt at the horse waterer, rap gently on the waterer to let the horse know something is there, and swish the water with your hand so that the horse knows that something is water. The horse need not drink during this exercise. The goal is simply for the horse to learn how to get to the waterer when the time comes in the future when it is in the pasture and thirsty.


    8.7 Be aware that more dominant pasturemates can bully a blind horse and may cause the blind horse to lose its orientation within the pasture, making the blind horse unable to find water, even after trained. A blind horse cannot see the body language instructions of more dominant horses, so a more dominant horse will sometimes physically herd the blind horse and cause the blind horse to lose its known location within the pasture. A blind horse can typically only find the water relative to its known position. If its position within the pasture becomes unknown, the blind horse will be unlikely to find the water. It may be necessary for the blind horse and more dominant pasturemates to be turned out separately during warm weather months.

    8.8 When in the pasture on hot days, as a security blanket TJ usually grazes in the immediate vicinity of where he knows the waterer to be.

    [Return to Table of Contents]

    9.0 TRAINING A BLIND HORSE USING LONG LINING

    Seeing horses are often trained using a single lunge line, particularly here in the United States. The difficulty with lunging a blind horse on a single line comes in primarily with regard to the inability of the trainer to give direction to the horse through the trainer’s body language. In a herd, horses are used to being given direction such as to speed up or to move away through the body language of other horses, particularly that of the most dominant horse in the herd. Knowledge and use of such body language is a great boon to the horse trainer, and the lack of this training tool is a disadvantage that needs to be compensated for.

    The greatest difficulty to manage is when the blind horse turns inward (toward the trainer) more than is desired, making a single lunge line in use slacken. Body language can typically be used with a seeing horse to direct the horse outward again, but this same method cannot be used with a blind horse. Light touches with a lunge whip can be used to give a blind horse direction to move outward, but I have found this not to be the most effective approach, and has the unfair side effect of potentially startling the blind horse with unseen and thus unexpected touches of the whip.

    I have found that a lunging method used commonly in Europe, long lining, can be used successfully to train a blind horse and gives greater confidence to the blind horse during training and greater control to the trainer, despite the inability of the trainer to use body language to give direction to the blind horse in training.

    9.1 Long lining is similar to lunging with a single lunge line in that the trainer uses one single line. However, for long lining, the lunge line is considerably longer than a typical single lunge line (hence the name of the training technique). The trainer holds the line such that effectively the single line acts as two independent lunge lines, one shorter on the near side of the horse to the trainer (the “inside rein”), and one longer on the far side of the horse away from the trainer (the “outside rein”). The single long line works so much like two independent reins that it can in fact be replaced with two separate lunge lines. I did so out of necessity, because it is nearly impossible to find a true long line for purchase in the United States, so little is the technique used here. I purchased two lunge lines, and cut a good portion of one of the lunge lines off for use as the shorter inside rein. The Swedish horse trainer who works with me and my horses, Annelie Beck, kindly brought along her long line that she’d purchased overseas for use in the photographs in this section.

    9.2 The inside and outside rein of the long line can be used to closely mimic reining of the horse by a rider, enabling the trainer to give effective direction to a blind horse in training.

    9.2.1 Figures 19 and 20 show the position of the inside rein, outside rein, and trainer relative to the horse. Of course, all this would be reversed if one wanted to have the horse’s direction of motion be opposite of that shown.

  • The trainer stands slightly behind the horse’s mid-section in order to achieve a slight backward angle on the inside rein.

  • The trainer’s hands are roughly waist high – that is, not overly high, in similar fashion to one not wanting one’s hands to be overly high when holding the reins of a horse while riding.

  • Reins used for riding should be removed from the bridle during long lining.
  • 9.2.2 Figure 20 shows the position of the outside rein as seen from the far side of the horse (the side away from the trainer which is not visible in Figure 19).

  • The outside rein attaches to the horse’s bridle at the same location as reins used during riding, is then passed through the stirrup of the saddle (or bareback pad as in Figure 20), and then passes behind the horse, just above the point of the hock joint, to the trainer’s side of the horse. Refer back to Figure 19 and notice that the inside rein does not pass through the stirrup, but rather is a direct line from the blind horse’s bridle on the near side to the hands of the trainer.

  • It is critical that the outside rein where it wraps behind the horse is at all times kept above the level of the point of the hock joint to ensure the horse does not inadvertently trip on the line.

  • Since this training method is not in typical use here in the U.S., it is unlikely the blind horse will have experienced the sensation of the outside rein passing behind its rear legs during past training. It may take several training sessions before the horse is used to the feel of the presence of the outside rein behind its rear legs and accepts it as natural.
  • 9.2.3 Tension applied by the trainer to the outside rein can be used to direct a blind horse that is turning too much toward the inside (toward the trainer) outward again.

    9.2.4 Tension applied by the trainer to the inside rein can be used to direct a blind horse that is turning too much toward the outside (away from the trainer) inward again.

    9.2.5 Talking to the blind horse during training both reassures the horse and, since lunging involves the horse moving in circles around the trainer, helps the blind horse maintain its position relative to the trainer since the horse can use the trainer’s voice to estimate the trainer’s location and adjust its own location relative to it.




    FIGURE 19. Proper position of the trainer and inside and outside reins during long lining.




    FIGURE 20. Position of the outside rein as seen on the far side of the horse (the side away from the trainer not visible in Figure 19) during long lining.

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    10.0 RIDING A BLIND HORSE




    FIGURE 21. TJ’s First Blind Ride, November 20, 2005.


    I am not going to say that every blind horse can or should be ridden, as not every seeing horse can or should be ridden. What I would say is to keep an open mind, and not immediately assume that a horse cannot be ridden simply because it’s blind, assuming it is healthy enough for riding in all other physical respects.

    10.1 The importance of a horse’s eyesight in riding

    It seems reasonable to me that the ability of a horse to see is not wholly necessary to the riding process. It is, after all, our seat, balance, weight distribution, legs, and reining which give direction to a horse when riding. Why must the horse see? Why is it then that in the horse world blind horses are almost always universally considered unrideable? It just doesn’t make good logical sense to me. A horse, seeing or blind, that is obedient to its rider is inherently safer to ride than a horse that challenges the will of its rider, and in my opinion, it is the disposition of the horse and the respect it has for its rider, and not its visual acuity, that determine that obedience.

    10.2 How well the horse is handling its blindness matters

    I do think with regard to riding a blind horse that it matters how well the horse is handling its blindness. Typically, a horse that has been blind for a long time largely considers its blindness second nature. I don’t recommend riding a blind horse while it’s going through a transition period with its blindness. For example, a horse that has suddenly lost its vision through injury will need time to adjust to its blindness before anyone should attempt to ride it. When my blind horse TJ arrived at my farm, he had the slightest bit of shadow vision in his right eye. I knew in time he would lose that bit of shadow vision to the uveitis which had taken the rest of his vision, and so when TJ started walking into objects he’d previously avoided, and was much more agitated than was normal for him, I knew he’d lost that last bit of shadow vision, and was going to need some time to adjust to the idea of total blindness. During that transition period, I didn’t ride him. During that time, I was just his mom, and I gave him all the emotional support he needed to get through the changes he was going through. Once he’d adjusted, I went back to riding him again, and he was ecstatic to do so.

    Also, whenever TJ is enduring a painful episode of the uveitis that had caused him to lose his sight, I don’t ride TJ. These episodes are relatively infrequent, but can last from a period of weeks to several months, and during that time TJ is just not feeling like himself. Even with treatment (a combination of eye drops), uveitis can cause internal eye pain, headaches, and general inflammation and soreness of the eyes. When any of us are not feeling well, we don’t conduct our day-to-day business nearly as well as we do when we are feeling well. The same is true of horses, and to ride a horse during such a time is both unfair and unwise.

    To be able to assess how well the blind horse is handling its blindness, one has to know one’s horse very well. Someone who owned their horse prior to its going blind has an infinite advantage over someone who rescues a blind horse, although it all evens out over time as the new owner of a rescued blind horse gets to know their horse. To be able to detect transition periods in a horse’s blindness if and when they occur, one must have been around the horse a sufficient time to know what’s normal for that particular horse. As such, I would never recommend rescuing a blind horse and immediately jumping on its back for a ride. It might work out, but I think more so it’s largely a recipe for disaster.

    The bottom line is that if the horse is not handling its blindness well without a rider, it would probably be foolhardy to try to ride the horse at that particular point in time. I would recommend giving the horse some time, and perhaps doing ground work with the horse until such time that you observe improvement in the manner in which the horse is handling its blindness.

    10.3 A firm bond of trust between a blind horse and its owner is a must

    Before ever attempting to ride a blind horse, one needs to have established a firm bond of trust with the horse, and trust takes time. How much time will vary from horse to horse. I trust my blind horse TJ 100% under saddle and on the ground, and I know he trusts me 100%. By the time I even thought about riding TJ, I knew him as well as I knew myself. I knew he would never do anything to endanger me, and TJ knew that I would never put him in any situation that would endanger him. If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your blind horse, don’t get on its back.

    10.4 To the extent possible, try to determine from rescue organization records and prior owners the training received by the blind horse and how the horse was used throughout its lifetime. Attempt to verify this training and to assess the horse’s response to human direction FROM THE GROUND FIRST before attempting to ride the horse. If any training information you received about the horse was inadvertently inaccurate, or the horse no longer responds well to human direction for any reason whatsoever, it is best to find this out BEFORE you are under saddle. It’s a much shorter fall from the ground to the ground than from the saddle to the ground.

    10.4.1 Tack up the horse, remembering to be considerate and give the horse a heads up that it is going to be touched as described in Section 7.2. What is the horse’s response to being tacked up? If the horse becomes unusually agitated when tacked up, then it’s probably best not to ride it at that particular point in time, and do more ground work with the horse until the horse reacts normally to being tacked up.

  • When I tacked up TJ for the first time, I was even more convinced than ever that he wanted to be ridden, because when I placed a bareback pad on his back, he immediately started mouthing for a bit. He was happy about the prospect of being ridden again.
  • 10.4.2 Give direction to the horse using gentle reining (in accordance with whatever training history you have been able to ascertain) while walking beside the horse (see Figure 22). Request various combinations of left turns, right turns, and halts. Is the horse responding properly to the reining commands being given? If the horse is unusually nervous or is not responding correctly to the commands being given from the ground, then it’s probably best not to ride the horse at that particular point in time, and do more ground work with the horse until the horse reacts normally to reining commands being given from the ground.




    FIGURE 22. Reining from the ground while walking beside the blind horse can be a useful tool for evaluating the blind horse’s response to reining commands before attempting to ride it.


    10.4.3 Work the horse on a long line as described in Section 9.0 as yet another way of evaluating from the ground, before getting under saddle, the horse’s demeanor and responsiveness to human direction.

    10.4.4 Always reassure the blind horse with positive verbal reinforcement each time it responds correctly to your reining requests from the ground, whether when walking beside the horse or working the horse on a long line.

    10.4.5 If the blind horse is not responding correctly to your reining requests from the ground, or if the blind horse is unduly nervous in response to your requests, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RIDE IT, and continue working with the horse on the ground until such time that it responds normally and correctly to your requests.

    10.4.6 In my opinion, a blind horse that has a history of proper training and that currently responds calmly and correctly to reining requests from the ground has excellent potential to be successfully ridden.

  • Even so, during initial rides, have someone standing by in case needed in an emergency.
  • 10.5 As discussed in Section 5.1, if you use a portable mounting block, the portable mounting block should be set up immediately before mounting and moved out of the way of the blind horse immediately after dismounting.

  • Immediately after setting up the mounting block, rap gently a few times on the mounting block to let the blind horse know it’s there.

  • Once under saddle, direct the horse away from the mounting block immediately to keep the horse from colliding with it and possibly injuring itself or spooking and injuring itself or you.
  • 10.6 While riding, always provide positive verbal reassurance to the horse that it is safe and responding the way you want it to. This verbal reassurance may become unnecessary the longer you ride your blind horse, but initially the blind horse will need it for its own self-confidence if it has never been ridden since it went blind.

    10.7 I ride TJ with a bareback pad and no stirrups purely as my own preference and for no reason relevant to his blindness (see Figure 21).

    10.8 Blind horses compete successfully in dressage (see http://www.valianttrust.org/quest.html) and barrel racing competitions, so keep your mind open to the potential within your blind horse. I ride TJ for purely recreational purposes, mostly because of his age, not because of his blindness.

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    11.0 MISCELLANEOUS LOOSE ENDS

    11.1 Echolocation, similar to that used by dolphins, whales, and bats, is sometimes used by the blind to navigate their surroundings. For example, Ben Underwood, a blind teenager, makes clicking noises and uses the resulting sound reflections to determine the exact location of objects in his environment and successfully navigate around them with accuracy approaching that of a seeing person (see People Magazine, July 24, 2006, “The Boy Who Sees with Sound”, pages 80-84, by Alex Tresniowski and Ron Arias). It is my sincere belief that TJ also navigates his surroundings using echolocation to at least some degree. My theory is supported by the fact that TJ seems to only collide with objects in his surroundings if I am speaking or the wind is blowing exceptionally strongly across his ears, both of which can mask sound reflections in his environment.

    11.2 TJ is easily spooked by wind and storms, so I check three local weather forecasts every morning, and if any one of them forecasts any kind of inclement weather, I do not turn out TJ in the pasture that day. I leave him in his corral, where he has the greatest familiarity and the maximum comfort level, and access to his run-in shed.

    11.3 TJ is also spooked by the sound of gunshots, so I do not turn out TJ in the pasture during firearm hunting season here in New Jersey. I leave him in his corral, where he has the greatest familiarity and the maximum comfort level when he inevitably hears the gunfire of nearby hunters in the area.

    11.4 Leading a blind horse using the underside of its halter (as opposed to a lead rope) provides stiffer, more direct guidance to the horse and allows it to be led more confidently (see Figure 15). Since there is a more frequent need to lead a blind horse as compared to a seeing horse, I typically leave the halter on my blind horse at all times, and leave it off of my seeing horse. I always use breakaway halters on all my horses, seeing or blind, for their safety.

    11.5 To minimize stress to the blind horse when hauling it, use a horse trailer that has a ramp (as opposed to the step-down type) and is enclosed to reduce the horse’s exposure to wind and road noise. The trailer should be in good condition and not make excessive rattling noises.

    11.6 The nature of pasture companions is important to the safety of a blind horse (as well as to the blind horse’s ability to find water as mentioned in Section 8.7). Blind horses tend to be submissive to other horses by default. Blind horses are typically the so-called “low man on the totem pole” in the herd. This pretty much means most, if not all, other horses with which the blind horse has contact will be dominant to the blind horse. If the dominant horse is good-natured and polite to the blind horse, this does not pose a problem. A seeing horse that is a bully may seriously injure your blind horse. For its safety, a blind horse should never be turned out with a bully seeing horse.

    My seeing horse Henry was so dominant with TJ that when TJ was not responding to Henry’s body language commands, which of course TJ could not see, Henry unintentionally physically herded TJ right into the pasture fence on one occasion. After I witnessed that, I decided for TJ’s safety it was best not to turn the two horses out together. Instead I turn them out in side-by-side corrals, so they can socialize, but Henry can’t inadvertently injure TJ.

    11.7 Always be mindful of avoiding sudden, unexpected sounds of any kind, as innocent as the sounds may seem, to avoid startling a blind horse.

  • On one occasion I was in a hurry, took TJ’s halter off, and tossed it off to one side nearby. The sound of the halter hitting the ground where I’d thrown it startled TJ.

  • On another occasion TJ was eating his feed, and I was running late for work, so I thought I would save a few minutes and take his horse blanket off while he was eating. Since TJ was distracted eating, when I ripped apart the Velcro strip on the horse blanket, which ordinarily would not have startled him, he was surprised, whipped his head around, and effectively clubbed me with his neck. Not a good feeling.
  • 11.8 A blind horse’s ability to respond to a verbal “whoa” without any physical intervention by its owner is extremely helpful in preventing bad experiences for it colliding into walls and objects. On the rare occasions when I observe TJ about to bump into something, a firm verbal “whoa” from me typically stops him dead in his tracks and avoids the collision.

    11.9 Generally speaking, blind horses are smart enough to proceed cautiously when navigating their environment and are quite successful avoiding known objects in their environment. Even so, despite all the very best of intentions on your part, a blind horse will from time to time bump into things and acquire a few minor scrapes. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Do what you can to minimize the severity and frequency of such incidents, but beyond that, give yourself credit for doing the best you can for your blind horse and accept that it is the nature of horse ownership, seeing or blind.

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    12.0 OTHER RELATED WEBSITES:

  • http://www.blindhorses.org

  • http://www.equusite.com/articles/safety/safetyBlindEquines.shtml

  • http://www.valianttrust.org

  • http://www.shambhalafarm.org

  • http://www.clgoatcare.org
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    13.0 QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS?

    Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have about anything discussed on this website:

    sstrauma@voicenet.com

    If it is not done for you automatically, please set the subject of your email to “Blind Horse Care, Training, and Riding” to ensure your email will not get caught in my spam blocking software.

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    14.0 SPECIAL THANKS

    I would like to express my sincere thanks to the following individuals, who directly or indirectly had a role in the existence of this website:

  • Patricia Roberts, who brought to my attention the Standardbred Retirement Foundation website (www.adoptahorse.org) and the existence of blind horses. Thank you, Pat, for introducing me to my beloved TJ, who I first met on the SRF website.

  • Ali Woodside, who inspired me to document everything I know about blind horse care, training, and riding and make it available to others on this website. Thank you, Ali, for making me realize that others may have interest in my day-to-day experiences with TJ, and that those experiences may be of benefit to the plight of other blind horses.

  • Annelie Beck, the professional riding instructor and horse trainer who has worked with me, my seeing horse Henry, and my blind horse, TJ, for the past two years. Thank you, Annelie, for all the patient training you gave me which has enabled me to accomplish so much with my blind horse TJ, and for always keeping an open mind and being willing to apply your extensive knowledge to help me accomplish those things.

  • Roger Fujii, for taking his time and energy to drive to my farm from out of state to spend his weekend photographing TJ and me so I would have pictures I needed for this website. Thank you, Rog, for all your patience and for working with TJ and me in the cold so uncomplainingly.
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    15.0 WOEFULLY NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS

  • I, Susan M. Straumann, the author, have taken great care in the preparation of the information on this website; however, the information represents my opinions only based on my personal experience owning my blind horse TJ, and is not intended to be a substitute for the expertise and judgment of equine professionals such as veterinarians, trainers, and riding instructors; rather, the information is meant to be used in conjunction with working directly with such equine professionals. You should consult with an appropriate, well-qualified equine professional about all equine-related questions, issues, and concerns you may have. The advice and recommendations made to you by such equine professionals should be considered to supersede any advice or recommendations made on this website.

  • This website provides information and equine techniques that are specific to blind horses. Basic horse care, equine safety, training and riding techniques that are not specific to blind horses are considered to be prerequisites to the information on this website and are not be explicitly discussed. Readers who lack basic fundamental knowledge and experience in seeing horse care, equine safety, training and riding techniques should consult with a qualified equine professional to gain such knowledge and experience and should not attempt any technique discussed on this website prior to doing so. Blind horses are special needs animals that should not, for the safety and general well-being of both you and the horse, be handled by individuals lacking a good foundation of equine knowledge and experience with seeing horses.

  • The information on this website is being provided free of charge as a public service intended for the betterment of the plight of blind horses. Use of the information is at your own risk, and no warranty is implied nor liability assumed on the part of the author in any way through your voluntary use of the material provided.
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    16.0 PERMITTED USE OF COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

    All text and photographs on this website are copyrighted by the author, but may be freely reproduced for strictly non-profit purposes. Any intended for-profit use of the material on this website must be expressly approved in advance of use in writing by the author.

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    17.0 MAKE A DONATION

    Donations to help offset the cost of the care, feeding, and housing of the animals here at Shambhala Farm, and to maintain this website, are greatly appreciated. Please note that Shambhala Farm is not a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. As such, your donations are not tax deductible. I am simply one person who is trying to make the world a better place for hard-to-place animals whom no one wanted because of their special needs, but who deserve a loving, permanent home (and have found one here). I also try to disseminate through this website and the Shambhala Farm website any valuable information which I have learned through the care and treatment of these special needs animals, so that other people and animals can benefit.

    Please help as little or as much as you can. All contributions are appreciated.

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    Last Updated: February 1, 2014