It is my personal belief that horses are uniquely gifted at shredding layers of artifice with which we as humans cloak ourselves. They expose—for better or worse—our essential natures. I, for instance, have had some uncomfortable truths get revealed from owning horses.
One such truth was my middle-aged increasing physical frailty, when I at age 50 broke my collarbone and three ribs after getting thrown by my unpredictable, spooky grey Arabian mare, a childhood dream horse I bought using more wishful folly than prudence. She has since been rehomed with someone more suitable.
Upon finding my new Quarter horse gelding, a cheerful, steady, sweet (and handsome) boy named Rolo, I have been fortunate to learn better truths. I’ve learned fun, trust, and most crucially-confidence. I feel like I am finally a rider again.
Then, a year or so ago, I noticed periodically that Rolo’s left eye had a creeping cloud over his iris. His eye squinted and watered. The vet diagnosed uveitis in his left eye (also known as moon blindness). So we’d do a round of steroids, a pupil dilating drop, antibiotics, and a UV-minimizing fly mask to ease his photophobia. Those remedies, along with a daily eye drop, kept it at bay for nine months, then three months, then one month, until nothing worked.
An ophthalmic specialist confirmed the uveitis, but she also confirmed that Rolo’s eye had glaucoma and cataracts. She said he was likely experiencing headaches similar to migraines from glaucoma, which made me wince in empathy and recognition – I get terrible migraines.
When she told me, I very gently massaged his forehead, eyebrow bone, and behind his ears. Rolo seemed to appreciate it. He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning against the tender pressure. The doctor told me that Rolo was going to lose sight in his eye, and glaucoma would make cataracts inoperable.
It wasn’t “if”; it was “when” he’d go blind in the eye. For his pain from glaucoma, she prescribed daily Bute. I very dryly and with my customary public non-hysteria discussed the eventual treatment that probably made the most sense, which was the removal of Rolo’s eye. The questions remaining, whether he’d have a prosthetic implant or just a socket, we would address later.
When she left, with a check-up scheduled in three months to gauge how much vision he had left, I thanked her, waved, put Rolo back out with his herd, then leaned against the side of the barn, and sobbed until I was out of breath.
My reaction wasn’t based on logic. Plenty of horses, due to disease or accidents, lose an eye, and most cope brilliantly. My reaction was due to the final fig leaf of self-protection and armor Rolo had managed to strip away.
I am also blind in my left eye. I also had pain in mine, to the point where it was no longer viable, and it had to be removed. Various cosmetic procedures with the best surgeons and artisans in Washington D.C. have allowed me to live a fairly normal life. I was born without sight, so I’ve never known anything different, which doubtless helps. But that’s not to say it has always been easy. On the contrary, much of it has been painful. A lot of that pain and embarrassment came flooding back. I felt utterly, inexorably naked, like I was back in 7th grade.
Rolo was my crutch – I relied on him to keep me safe since I could only see out of my right eye. Now I would have to help him, on both our weak sides. Would I be able? I was scared to think about it.
Rolo would look different. It would be the first thing people noticed. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him. Rolo is a proud, self-assured horse, I didn’t want people’s first impression and energy around him to be “Awww what happened?”
Rolo’s right eye would be exponentially more important. I would have to fight my very detrimental urge to constantly baby or coddle him. It brought into bold relief my own precariousness, which, being a tomboy growing up, I mostly cheerfully ignored. Musing over my current day-to-day life with a German Shepherd Dog and his huge playful flailing paws, along with my weekend hobby of being amongst swinging lead ropes, tree branches, and swishing tails, my choices suddenly struck me as foolish madness.
I went from giving my situation little thought to having to worry about Rolo’s vision, so it seemed like the only things I COULD think about were our precious matching Faberge egg right eyes.
All these issues that I had buried deep and rarely examined were now on display by my 1100 pound “son”, right at face level, and with the biggest eyeball imaginable. Okay, Rolo. Got it. Thanks.
Rolo has an option to have an implant, which is a ball to fill out the space, or just an empty socket. I was firmly in the implant camp because it would look less drastic, until I realized Rolo doesn’t care what he looks like. He just doesn’t want to hurt anymore. An implant can be rejected, become infected, any number of issues. So the socket it is. Surgery is scheduled. It’s happening. I will be by his side when the doctor cuts his now blue/green oddly pretty eye out, and after, I’ll rub him behind his ears and whisper to him that I know how he feels, I’ve been there, and I’ll tell him (along with my younger self) “my darling, it will feel better soon; I promise.”
In sum, as I watch Rolo navigate his world, the way I hope I have, with brave nonchalance and sometimes humility when we bonk our faces on doors we forgot were open, I am so proud of him. And maybe, just maybe, a little more accepting of myself, too.