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Blindness: Attaching a Bell to Your Horse's Halter
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Blindness: Attaching a Bell to Your Horse's Halter

Do you own a blind horse or is your equine rapidly losing his vision? Are you or another horse person losing vision? If any of those four scenarios applies to your situation, then you will need to make some tough decisions. For the blind horse or human, attaching a bell to the halter could tremendously improve the entire situation.

Horse Blindness

In the case your horse has been victim of a tragic eye injury, it could have caused blindness in that eye. In most cases however, the onset of blindness in a horse is a more gradual process. If you start noticing that your horse is often bumping into obstacles, becoming upset or anxious for no apparent reason, or starting to shy at nothing in particular when mounting or riding, his eyesight could be failing. Being a prey animal, it is in a horse’s nature to conceal his physical problems since being compromised could attract predator attack. Consult your vet whenever you suspect any physical or behavioral issues, including eye problems.

Use of a Companion

Having a poor eyesight, or a total lack of vision, does not necessarily mean that your horse gets grounded. Normally, a horse will be able to cope well with going blind if the situation is handled appropriately, though this will also depend a lot on the individual equine. When they are in one herd, horses will depend a lot on the visual cues coming from alpha equines. Therefore, it is advisable not to mix your blind horse with large numbers of normal horses. 

While you can keep him in a small turn-out area where you have well defined spots to access water, food and shelter, you may also want to consider turning him out with a steady companion. This responsibility can be taken up by a retired, good-sighted horse, donkey or pony. You need to ensure that the two animals get along with each other well. Attaching a bell on the companion's halter complements the two horses’ vocalization to each other to serve as a guide for the blind horse.

Blindness in Mares & Foals

In case your mare is blind but its loss of vision does not arise from an inherited eye condition, and you want to keep its good bloodlines, it is okay to breed her because she is also capable of raising her own foal. As a mother, she will need to know that her baby is nearby and safe always. Attach a bell on the foal’s halter so that when he is turned out with his mother, she can hear him more easily, especially if he is further away from where she can smell him.

Sight Disabilities on the Rider’s Side

For horse riders with disabilities, including blindness and serious vision impairment, therapeutic horseback riding programs can come in handy to help them cope with the situation. According to the website of Cornerstone Assisted Riding & Equitherapy based in the San Francisco Bay area, attaching a bell on the halter of a horse helps a visually-impaired student to locate their horse much more easily. Before going for the ride, a blind rider should be encouraged to catch and halter their horse, tack him and then engage him in and around his pen to help in a little familiarizing with it.


Image source: flickr.com

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  1. crazyhorse
    great article man!
  2. houssamwc
    Great article
  3. jst4horses
    Great article. When I was a child I took lessons for three day eventing from the only Native American to ever win Gold in equine program in the Olympics. At that time only calvary from around the world were allowed to enter the Olympic equestrian competitions. I learned with a blind folded horse, and was blind folded myself, a normal part of the training for the calvary he had been part of, and a normal part of the Austrian heritage calvary method of riding. We had a pony, who blinded, had a daughter who grew up being eyes for her mother. They were an amazing pair. Sometimes the daughter would hide, quietly in an area and let her Mom neigh and sniff and try to find her. I thought in a way it was kind of mean, but also felt it was the little pony taking time for herself. When jumping a blindfolded horse, I learned the confidence to keep a thoroughbred abandoned in our paddock by a youth program that did not want him anymore when he was blind. He was a favorite for many years for women veterans, rape recovery victims and high risk youth to groom, bathe, and ride with me holding his lounge line. He would have perfect confidence to step out if he felt me on the end of that line..........he got kidney problems and the vet said it was time for him to leave us, he appeared to tell me it was all OK. His last seeing eye horse had died of old age and a stroke a month or so before. I worked with many thoroughbreds at the track that had lost sight in one eye due to injuries. They still ran, and won. I really loved working with the blind in equine therapy programs. one of the counselors who came with the blind children from one program was one of the greatest horsemen I have ever seen, he had such one ness with his mount, and with the children he was working with. He had no arms. But since his clients were blind, they did not see him as a less, or disabled person, they just HEARD the horse changing gates, doing eights, and jumping with him aboard, and they learned great horsemanship from him.
  4. lamshot
    Great article

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