My Plans Go Awry

I approached Wednesday's lesson with great optimism. I had my double bridle all made up and I anticipated 30 minutes of just re-clarifying my aids, mainly reminding Bingo of what exactly my aid meant with me patiently waiting for positive results.

When I woke up it was FOGGY and the fog was thick but it was above freezing and there was no precipitation in sight so I assumed minimal problems with Bingo. I was wrong. Debbie had to be elsewhere so Sam did the lesson (fine with me), and as she brought Bingo in it was obvious that something was off. He was really hesitant moving forwards, Sam told me when she went to get him he was just standing there and when she touched him he startled as if he had not seen her approach. She had to be really careful bringing him in, he acted as if he was blind.

In the barn he was not much better, and to add to his problems the light in the wash stall had just burnt out and he just could not SEE. In the wash stall he was startling at stuff he usually ignores, he moved around as much as he could with obvious agitation and he was super sensitive to grooming. Human touch did not calm him down, he most definitely not enjoying his grooming, it seemed like Bingo had transformed back to what he was before, a scared insecure horse.

When we walked to the riding ring Bingo was hesitant. As long as Sam was at his head he was sort of calm, but if she moved out of sight he got agitated again. Sam told me that Bingo had been having great difficulty moving around at night, and even in the daytime he stuck really close to his paddock mate, never moving far from him. The first part of my ride was sort of a mess, Bingo was loathe to move into the dense fog, he was acting like he was seeing everything for the first time, and his whole attention was on what was around him instead of me. When I pointed him to the long path beside the long side of the ring he slowed way down, and Sam told me to keep him in the smaller clear area by the gate. I got him turned before he balked.

Bingo started relaxing some when headed towards Sam, but when I asked him to go away from Sam it was really difficult to keep him moving. When we turned back towards Sam he sped up with short hurried steps. Having the double bridle on did not help at all as Bingo just would not relax enough to produce good movement. His head was up, constantly turning from side to side if he could not see Sam and he felt like he could explode under me.

Bingo had eye problems a few months ago, the vet saw him and prescribed treatment. After talking with Sam and riding Bingo in the fog it was obvious the eye problems had worsened. Then I remembered reading about MOON BLINDNESS in my veterinary books, especially the older ones. This, unfortunately, is a progressive disease. The horse may have decent vision a lot of the time, but when they have an attack the eye's lens clouds over and the eye shows irritation. I went to the web and looked up moon blindness, now it is known as Equine Recurrent Uveitis, or periodic ophthalmia, or Equine Uveitis. There is no cure and it is the leading cause of blindness in horses. Right now it is classified as an auto-immune disease, and the treatment that the veterinarian prescribed is the recommended treatment for a flare-up. Some days the horse can see all right, but when there is an exacerbation the eye is very irritated and painful, and as the disease progresses there are periodic flare-ups that harm the horse's eye.

Poor Bingo. He just could not see in the thick fog (or at night), and it probably seemed to him that I expected him to walk into a solid barrier especially when the sunlight reflected off of all the water droplets in the dense fog. No wonder Bingo was agitated.

When I got home I researched and thought, and I decided to go back to the one snaffle that he seemed to enjoy a little, the titanium Fager Bianca with the roller. Thinking back when Bingo had a flare-up he “forgot” all that I had taught him and it was like I was having to train him all over again. I do not know if I will ever be able to go back to the double bridle with Bingo, I do know that if I go to the double bridle before he shows me that he understands what my aids are saying with the snaffle I could well cause major problems with his training and his mouth. Besides, what if I get to the stable and find out that Bingo is totally unrideable (like another dense fog), his Weymouth curb is too narrow for the alternative lesson horses and none of them have ever been ridden in a double bridle. It is just easier to do a gentle 5” snaffle, then I can change riding horses without much problem.

Believe me, I am REALLY disappointed!

On Friday it was bright and sunny. Sam did not have much of a hard time catching Bingo or bringing him into the barn, and the burnt out light in the wash stall had been replaced. Bingo was still restive in the wash stall but he was better. My husband and I groomed him as he showed irritation by moving any which way in the cross-ties and Sam helped with his feet, boots, and tacking up. Bingo was walking much more confidently when led out to the ring and had settled down some. Since Bingo could see better it was a lot easier to get him moving, but his walk was a short strided fast scurry instead of his usual relaxed walk with adjustable stride length. Since he was still looking around anxiously our contact was not good and I could not get him to lengthen out of his short nervous steps. At first I had trouble getting him to go into the areas of the ring we had avoided on Wednesday, but with patience I finally convinced him to go where I wanted to. One time he refused to go to the right but was quite willing to go to the left towards the gate, so we stood for a minute or two while I used an opening rein to get his noise pointed in the right direction, then my leg aid to proceed when he relaxed his neck a little bit.

Bingo was super sensitive to my legs on Friday. Usually it is leg, leg, leg, on Friday it was little occasional hints with my legs while I changed to my thigh aids for turning. With every leg aid he was prepared to charge off as much as I would let him and my hand aids were used mostly to gently slow him down to a more reasonable speed. He kept on wanting to go faster, but this was not the faster of high spirits, it felt to me like faster as in running away. I kept him at a walk, I did not want to get into a battle royal of slowing him down at a trot where he could barrel along ignoring me every step of the way. It is like I have to train a whole new area of his brain to my aids and expectations because he was acting like he had never experienced those aids before in his life.

Bingo does not adapt to change easily, and this may be a BIG problem for him with this progressive eye disease. I know many horses adapt to blindness quite well, but I do not know if Bingo is capable of doing this. This greatly limits his ability to be a reliable lesson horse too especially for beginners.

So I had to change my plans. I was using the double bridle mostly for me, to build up new nerve pathways for my hands and arms. The fact that Bingo had calmed down in the double bridle was a totally unexpected bonus and I was having a lot of fun exploring new possibilities with him. But this is really not possible now.

Poor Bingo.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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