Bingo Looks for Ghosts

When we started grooming Bingo Debbie was telling me that she had the veterinarian look at Bingo's eye when she came to look at another horse's eyes. As a result of the veterinarian's visit the barn workers have to put an ointment into each horse's eye. Of course each horse required a different eye ointment. Bingo is also going around in a screen fly mask to keep irritants out of his eye.

Bingo's eye ointment has atropine in it. Atropine is found in the herbs belladonna, hyoscyamus, and stramonium, and has been used medically for hundreds, or possibly thousands, of years. Like all drugs it can have side effects. Bingo's eye is improving a good so that is good.

Bingo was moving uncertainly when Debbie brought him up, not lame, not weak and trembling, just an indication that he really did not know where he was going. We groomed him, Debbie put the ointment in his eye, and after she bridled him she put his fly mask back on over the bridle.

When we started our ride Bingo was hesitant and somewhat loath to move, though he was a good boy and obeyed my aids, eventually, and started trudging around the ring. He was wary, checking stuff out. I was not totally surprised, after all this is the very first time he'd been ridden with ointment in his eye and a fly mask on. It was NEW and if you've read my posts you know how Bingo reacts to new things in his life.

But after a while I suspected something else was going on. It was almost like Bingo was looking at stuff that was not there (peaceful environment, the outside horses were grazing). By the third time around the ring Debbie went to open up a drain for a big puddle of water at the far end of the ring. We walked past her, she threw some wet sand off the shovel to the outside of the ring, and Bingo startled and shied to the side a little worse than usual, two or three steps instead of just one step. He reacted worse to this than he did when a big white crane rocketed right past his eye a while ago. That was when it hit me, atropine has some usually mild psychedelic side effects—people can see things that are not there if they ingest belladonna.

Did Bingo see ghosts gathering for Halloween?

On the plus side of Bingo's increased reactivity Bingo was a lot easier to stop when I alternated my relaxed fingers. There were no resistances to stopping, I did not have to repeat my aids more than once or twice, and Bingo was even more ready to back up than usual. Bingo got plenty of “good boys” and neck scratches for his slowing down properly. His increased reactivity did not extend to his obedience to my leg, however. It took me more leg aids and firmer leg aids to get him to move out.

When I rode on Friday the stable was a hive of activity, several people had just pulled out on their way to the NC State Fair horse show and many riders who would be leaving later were helping out around the stable. Bingo was in a stall finishing some food without a face mask on, so my husband brought him out to the wash stall. One of the girls came up and said Debbie had asked her to help us until Debbie got there so I grabbed the chance to educate a young horsewoman. I introduced her to my HandsOn grooming gloves, my Retriever Dog washing mitt, and my Tigers Tongue grooming tool. When I groomed Bingo's ears I also showed her my ZoomGroom cat grooming tool, the one that the horses love on their heads. I exposed her to my philosophy that the better I made the horse feel (and at the same time avoiding irritating the horse at all) the more likely the horse would be to give me the benefit of the doubt when my MS made my body wonky.

I had forgotten about the fly mask and Bingo had not gotten the salve in his eyes yet, so Bingo was pretty much back to normal. I had an uneventful ride, Bingo did not look at ghosts, and there were no surprises. He was still more obedient to the bradoon (yeah!) and had gone back to his usual responsiveness to my leg if a bit reluctant. There were several girls grazing their horses while they waited to load on the trailers and they did not bother Bingo at all though he did keep an eye on them at first. The weather was really nice, it was cool enough to use the BOT stuff, and the surrounding wild life kept quiet and still.

When we got back to the barn Debbie was back and she put the salve in his eye and found his fly mask and put it back on. Even though we were surrounded by busy riders and their horses getting ready for the show Bingo relaxed and enjoyed his rub down.

The moral of this tale is that sometimes the medicines we use with horses have side effects that can cause problems for riding. Frequently a horse on medicine does not react the same way as it usually does to outside stimuli. Ultimately it is up to the rider to understand that this horse on this day is not the horse he usually is. Step back, forget about your training plans, go back to the basics at the walk and give the horse a chance to “find himself” again. With an understanding rider the horse can often adapt enough to give a pleasant ride.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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