Trail Terrors, Part 3: Eye Injury

Barb Crabbe discusses eye injuries, how to recognize them, how to prevent them and how to treat them if your horse is injured out on the trail. From Horse & Rider magazine.

Eye Injury – What to Watch For:

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  • Excessive blinking.
  • Tears of discharge from eye.
  • Swollen eyelid.
  • Reddening of the whitish tissues surrounding the eye.
  • A whitish or bluish tinge to the cornea (the clear outer layer of the eye).

Eye Injury – What’s Happening:

  • Your horse may be experiencing any one of a number of different types of eye troubles. These are the most common:
  • Foreign body: A piece of twig, gravel, dirt, etc., may be lodged somewhere in the eye tissues, causing discomfort.
  • Scratched or damaged cornea: Rubbing an irritated eye, or a direct blow, can result in corneal damage, evidenced by a white- or blue-tinged cornea.
  • Conjunctivitis: This inflammation of the tissues (conjunctiva) surrounding the eye is characterized by reddening of the tissues, and blinking or tearing with no obvious corneal damage.
  • Bruised eyelid: A blow can cause an eyelid to suddenly swell; the eye itself may or may not be damaged.

Eye Injury – What to do:

  • Step 1: Carefully examine your horse’s eye, gently grasping and removing any foreign body you can see, or by using Step 2.
  • Step 2: Rinse the eye with saline from your first-aid kit, to clean out foreign bodies (such as dust or gravel), or accumulated mucus, and to relieve discomfort.
  • Step 3: Apply triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment, which will help to ward off infection if the cornea is damaged. Warning: Be sure the ointment in your first-aid kit doesn’t contain a steroid. Not only can theses compounds delay healing of a corneal injury, they also can actually make the injury worse!
  • Step 4: If your horse is blinking, tearing, or keeping his eye closed-all his eye is painful–administer a dose of Banamine, to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Step 5: If you notice a cloudy or bluish hue to his eye, immediately head for home and summon your vet–your horse may have damaged the cornea. If his cornea is clear, you can head on down the trail.

Eye Injury – Risk Factors:

  • Riding amongst low branches, which can result in direct trauma to the eye.
  • Windblown dust and gravel, which can cause irritation.
  • Flies or other insects, which can congregate around your horse’s eyes, causing inflammation or irritation that might stimulate him to rub his face–resulting, in turn, in corneal injury.

Eye Injury – Preventative Measures:

  • Avoid trails framed by horse-eye-height branches.
  • Affix a made-for-riding fly scrim/strip set to your bridle, to create a physical barrier against insects.
  • Apply fly repellent to your horse’s face (and body) before you ride. (Tip: Roll-on fly repellents fit handily in a saddle/trail bag, for easy on-the-trail face touch ups.

Barb Crabbe, DVM, is a contributing editor at Horse & Rider. Her advice can be found monthly in the Horseman’s Handbook section of the magazine. She is an Oregon-based equine practitioner.

This article originally appeared in Horse & Rider in May, 1994.

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