Taking care of your horse is a constant process, but when it comes to a horse’s eyes, they might require a bit more maintenance than you might expect. A horse’s eyes represent one of its most vulnerable body parts, and I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples of equine eye irritations or buildup of flies.
In order to care for your horse’s eyes properly, you need to be aware of the most common equine eye problems, and you also need to know how to prevent them or even treat them at home. Some of the most common problems are related to pollen and dust, as well as swollen conjunctiva and cataracts.
Most of these issues can be prevented with regular checkups and proper care, but if your horse seems to have more serious eye issues, it’s always a good idea to call a vet.
In this article, I’m going to run you through the most common horse eye problems, so that you might be better prepared to identify them and make the right decisions for your equine friend.
Vision loss in horses and how to deal with it.
Most horses will live out their entire lives without experiencing any serious vision problems. However, it’s worth checking out your horse’s eyes at least two times a week in order to make sure that everything is ok. Vision issues in horses tend to progress relatively quickly once they set in, which is why it is imperative to diagnose the issue early and follow up with a proper treatment routine.
Naturally, since you’re most likely not a veterinarian, you’ll have to call one over if you notice anything wrong. Here’s what you need to know about horse vision loss: one of the most common issues involves cataracts, which cause partial impairment or even blindness. The good news is that horses can adapt relatively well to losing vision in one eye, particularly if the vision loss occurs in stages.
The horse will mentally prepare for vision loss and will memorize its surroundings in order to be able to navigate them once it loses its sight. Even a horse that has gone completely blind will be able to function with relative ease for short trips in and out of the barn, provided the owner hasn’t changed its surroundings too much. But this is a worst-case scenario. Ideally, you should be able to identify any potential eyesight issues with time to spare. Point of fact, most cataracts can be corrected via surgery.
How to spot eye irritations in horses.
Ideally, a horse’s eye should be bright and clear, with no visible fogging or discharge. If you’ve been checking your horse’s eyes regularly, then you already know what they’re supposed to look like and any irregularities will become apparent to you with ease. One good way to check if the eye is in good shape is to pay close attention if the horse is squinting or holding the eye closed.
There should be no visible cloudiness and no film over the cornea. As for red eyes or swollen conjunctiva, these are generally easier to spot, and they do represent more serious issues. If you notice any of these, please get in touch with a vet as soon as possible.
How does dust affect a horse’s eyes?
Dust is one of the main eye irritants for horses, but fortunately, it is relatively easy to spot if it causes problems. Horses that live in dusty environments, that train in the dust, or who are fed off the ground are the most likely to get dust in their eyes. A little bit of dust won’t cause them any harm, but frequent exposure can lead to buildups. If your horse’s eyes look normal except for a bit of discharge in the corners, chances are that you can fix the issue yourself with some flushing and rinsing.
If the horse squints or attempts to pull away whenever you go near its eye, chances are it might have a scratch on its cornea. Dust can cause this, and a corneal scratch can become serious if not treated. The best thing you can do in this case is to call your local vet, who will examine the eye closely and apply any necessary treatments.
Most corneal injuries require oral medications, and only in some rare cases, you might need to apply some antibiotic ointment. You will need to apply drops, though, which are a bit easier to work with. For best results, ask a friend to pet the horse or to distract it as you lower the bottom eyelid and apply the drops carefully. As the horse blinks, it will distribute the drops evenly across the eye without any discomfort.
Pollen buildup in the horse’s eyes.
Dust might not always be the culprit when it comes to horse eye problems. Pollen can build up in the eye and cause a discharge. The good news is that this discharge is often white or yellow, which means that it is relatively easy to spot. You can use artificial tears, saline solution, or a dedicated product designed to flush the horse’s eyes. Do this a couple of times per day and the discharge should go away within a couple of days.
If your horse spends a lot of time on the pasture, or if it is around flowers on a daily basis, make sure to check for these discharges often during the warm season. Naturally, the cold months will pose less of a risk when it comes to pollen buildup.
Keeping flies away from a horse’s eyes.
Have you ever noticed how flies are attracted to a horse’s eyes for some reason? They do this because they feed on the secretions produced by the eyes. Disgusting, right? But that’s what flies are: carriers of germs and dust, which is why it is always a good idea to keep them away from your horses. There are products designed specifically for the task such as fly masks. However, some horses just can’t stand them, and others just lose them all the time as they go out and about.
Another solution would be to apply some fly repellent around the horse’s eyes. This comes with its own set of risks, however. If you’re not careful, you might get some repellent into the eye itself, and this could cause irritations. If you notice flies gathering up on your horse’s face, make sure to try a fly mask first and move to the repellent if all else fails.
Things you might not know about horse vision.
- Horses don’t perceive colors in the same way humans do, but they’re not exactly colorblind either.
- Sudden high contrast images might startle a horse or cause it to worry, but its vision will adapt quickly to any changes in brightness and shadow.
- A horse that can move its head freely while running and jumping will be able to perceive distances and depth better than a constricted horse. Hence, it will perform better.
- Horses can see different things through each eye. This is called monocular vision.
- Horses can also focus on objects with both eyes at the same time thanks to binocular vision.
- They can switch between monocular and binocular vision at will. This ability proved very useful over the centuries, as it helped them survive and thrive.
- When the head and neck are straight, a horse has two blind spots directly in front and behind their eyes.
- Because the horse’s eyes are placed on the sides of the head, they see the world through a panoramic image.
- Horse blinders are not harmful to a horse’s eyes as long as they are fitted properly. They have more to do with stress management and overall safety.
Just like our eyes, the eyes of horses are precious and delicate. Given the outdoorsy nature of horses and their proclivity to spend time around plants and dirt, it’s always a good idea to perform regular checkups. Most equine ocular issues are mild and don’t need more than a few flushing sessions to solve.
Serious problems require professional attention, so never hesitate to call a vet over if you notice anything out of the ordinary with your horse. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what to look for when it comes to your horse’s health and wellbeing.