Special Needs: Blind from birth
Breed + Sex: Quarter Horse Gelding
Pasturemates: Jack and Big Boy
When I think of something goofy, I think of Elvis. There’s no other word that fits him as perfectly as that. Elvis was born to genetically favorable (so they thought) parents in 2006. He was bred for professional purposes so his owners eagerly awaited his arrival. Then one day a young stallion was born… and something wasn’t quite right. The young stallion not only stumbled about bumping into things, but his face was not handsome like that of his father neither was it beautiful like that of his mother. It was ugly. Naturally, an ugly, blind horse was of no use to these humans and they did what any self-respecting horse breeder would do. They phoned the vet to come as quickly as he could and to bring the special shot. The vet took pity on the little fellow destined to die and began looking for opportunities to re-home him. Dan’s farm came to mind, the owners agreed not to kill him, and when he was weaned he came to us.
I don’t know how many horses you have been around that have been blind since birth, but they are a little… off. Since theses horses have never seen what another horse looks like or how they behave they are some of the strangest behaving animals. Have you seen the movie Tangled? And how the horse Maximus trails the scent of the thief? I kid you not, that is how these horses move about the fields. Head down. Zigzagging back and forth like a hound dog. When you talk to them it’s like the spirit of the cobra has entered them. They listen for a minute and then they turn their heads side to side and snake their necks like their heads are some sort of scanning device. Not only that but they get suuuuuper disoriented in open spaces. But instead of simply staying still they make tight circles around and around and around and around. And they never ever ever ever seem to get dizzy. It’s like they have determined that this “ring” is safe to walk in and therefore they can run a race without risk of hurting themselves. Try to put a halter on them, you say? You WILL get your butt busted… They each have “comfort corners” in their stalls, too. When we lead them into their stalls they always go right back to shoving their noses in the comfort corner. In a “normal” horse I would say that this behavior indicated illness, but with these horses it seems to be their coping mechanism. It’s their point of reference in case they get confused. They know that if they always begin and end in that spot they know where they are.
One particularly challenging thing about Elvis is that since his hearing is heightened by the lack of sight he is nearly impossible to handle when there are multiple loud noises around him. So wind, rain, fireworks, branches moving, etc. and he is a challenge to bring in from the field. He’ll just stand there like a doofus waving his head around and then when you touch him with the halter he rears up and starts kicking… So ya have to be really light on your feet in this job. We aren’t quite sure if Elvis has some brain damage as well (we haven’t had his IQ tested, haha) but he’s certainly not the brightest horse. Several of our horses with trauma blindness have brain damage as well, but more on that later!
The trick with Elvis is to watch the weather radar like a hawk so that he’s never caught out in bad weather. Annnnd on any other day I just ignore him and act like I don’t care and THEN he’ll do whatever I want him to. Act like you’re pressed for time or stressed? Forget it. You’ll never get that horse in the barn. Why, Elvy, why???
Another little side note. And I struggle with this daily at the farm. Dan has a list of “commandments” that we must follow at the farm. Commandment #1: “Let the horse be a horse” sounds all warm fuzzy vegan until you have colts that turn into yearlings that turn into giant 1000lb beasts that have never been taught anything but — #1. This is a halter. #2. This is a fly mask. It’s fine that they aren’t saddlebroken but why-oh-why were they never taught ground manners? Horses are unpredictable even when well trained, but refusing to train them under the auspices of “letting them be a horse” and you can have major problems.
Just wait until you hear the story of Acey and Pumpkin… Stay tuned!