Thursday, October 28, 2010

What Do You Do With A Horse Who Has Recurrent Uveitis?

Marshall was abandoned, for about 3 years, he lived alone.  He is now 6 years old and almost blind.  He has recurrent uveitis. His eyes have been gradually getting worse since we rescued him back in October of 2009.  He was able to at least see shadows of big items but now his left eye is barely able to make out those things.  He has stepped into his feed pan several times.  The feed pans tend to move around because the horses like to pick them up, shake them and paw at them through out the day. This includes Marshall, he's no innocent bystander.  Marshall uses his memory to help him get around and so the moving feed pans can be a problem at times.

Marshall following Jameel
 Marshall has a lot of help from everyone but Jameel is his true seeing eye horse.  He mainly sticks with him.  He's very interesting to watch.  From the beginning, he began memorizing his new surroundings.  He uses his ears, feet, mouth, head and all parts of his body to help him make a picture of his environment.  When he walks or runs, he is very precise on his feet, and I can tell he's feeling every single step and trying to get a clear picture of what is under him.  It's much more pronounced than the other horses, since they have their eyes to help them.    He's not heavy but he is so clear and so precise with each land of the foot.

Buzz and Marshall playing

Even with bad eyes, this hasn't slowed him down.  He feels very comfortable running in the field and kicking up his heels.  He's been a big help to  Buzz.  Marshall likes to send Buzz out onto a circle like a person lunging a horse.  They like to play that way, and every so often  rear up and start again.  In a lot of ways, his eyes haven't slowed him down but in other ways it has;  for instance his feet,  he really has a hard time allowing me to pick them up.  His feet are his eyes, not just a quick get away.  I think picking up one foot actually makes him feel disconnected to his surroundings more so than an average horse.  He depends on all his senses and all of his body parts to help him know his environment;  it's almost like loosing another eye.

 When I lead him, I'm teaching him when I say ho-ho (halt) that he needs to investigate. I'm trying to turn this into a habit. I will also use the word "look" to encourage him to look; there's something in front of us that needs attention.  He's learning to bring his head down and search for it.  He'll even take a tiny step forward to touch it with his foot.  Going over logs or ground poles, he feels it first with his feet and will then take the step over it.  One day, I was leading him at liberty and I wanted to switch sides.  I asked with ho-ho and swapped sides.  I again asked for him to go forward, but he wouldn't instead he reached  his head forward and looked down.  I had to laugh and told him I'm sorry I forgot.  I quickly said look and then we were able to continue on with no problem.  I guess it's working too well.

In order for him to know I"m still there, he will bump his nose or his whole head into me. He's very soft with this but again he's very precise with his touch.  He does this more often on his left side than his right.   When he's really unsure of where we're heading he'll even place his nostril behind my elbow.  At times, he'll be too afraid to go forward, and I have to place my hand at his nostril to help him see that I haven't left him.  It gives him the courage to move forward again.  He has a sweet spot; his cheeks.  He melts when I rub them.  I'll even rub them when he's unsure or a job well done.  Rubbing his cheeks is a better reward than treats, not that he'll say no to treats especially sugar cubes, his favorite.

What else is interesting about him is that if he thinks there's another person by him, he'll check to see if that's true and verify it.  He'll swing his head toward that person and softly bump him.  He's always verifying because he doesn't want to run into anyone.
I know that horses have great memory,  Marshall's memory is no exception.  One day, I was leading him in his pasture and there was a big oak branch laying on the ground.  I dragged it out of the way and put it in a pile of brush.  I lead Marshall back through that area and immediately he moved over to clear now the invisible branch.  I had to remind him that I moved it and it was okay to walk into it. His memory amazes me, and I'm really glad that he has a really good mind; this will help him throughout his life.  There is a set of double gates and for him both gates need to be open wide, otherwise he'll run into it.  He's trusting me more and he actually followed me through just one open side of the double gates.  Because his eyes have gotten worse, his trust in me has become a real necessity. 

 You would think with lack of sight he'd be quiet and calm.  For the most part, he is, although he does have opinions and his anxieties can run a little high especially at Breakfast and Dinner time.  He'll chase some of the horses during those times.  The horses understand that he is having a hard time and allow it.  This part is interesting because he and Buzz will usually be allowed to act out.   On the other hand, Jazz isn't allowed at all to be like Buzz and Marshall,  They put their foot down and say "NO" very loudly.  They know what's good for one horse and what isn't for another. Personally, I think it's becoming a habit for Marshall and I do tell him to knock it off and go to his grain pan.  I've tried to reason with Raz to not let Marshall get away with this, but no luck so far.  I'll just keep doing what I'm doing and hope that the others will see I'm right?

With Marshall,  I've found keeping the rope short is better for him.   He has spooked before, several times, and he has always moved away from me.  I'm not worried about him running into me and if he does, it'll be purely accidental. Sometimes, you just have to take the risk.  Being around these horses it's always a risk some are bigger risks than others.  For him, he needs to be able to find me.  I'm his eyes.

You can see Marshall's personality coming out. This is his 3rd or 4th time strolling through the flower garden.
Marshall's eyes aren't slowing him down.  He tries very hard.  With every step he takes there is a bit more trust in me and more confidence in himself.

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