Eye Disease in Horses & Ponies – Some Helpful Resources


Eye Disease in Horses and Ponies

Eye problems in horses and ponies can so easily be overlooked or missed.  Having had a pony that suffered from bad uveitis and 12 months trying to manage it, the change in the pony when the eye was eventually removed was dramatic.  Eye problems are common in older horses but even young horses can present with them: a friend of a friend had a horse they had owned from young and only found out it was blind in one eye when it came to being started under saddle and was very spooky/one sided on a particular rein. Luckily the trainer picked up on it, the horse had its eyes thoroughly investigated and was found to be completely blind on that side.  It shows how good our horses are at masking problems, it’s key to their survival and so as horse owners it’s important to keep an “eye” on things…sorry, I couldn’t help myself!

So here’s an interesting Eye Abnormalities Scientific Study…

A paper in the Equine Veterinary Journal by Claudia Hartley of Langford Veterinary Services, Bristol referenced some interesting figures from a study of horses in Australia which suggested that “eye disease in horses 15 years of age or older is being greatly missed or underestimated by most horse owners”.
In 327 older horses in Queensland, Australia, 88% had eye abnormalities but only 3.3% of owners
recognised their horse had an eye problem.  Ocular disease prevalence in horses ≥15 years in the UK was 94%, with cataract (59%), vitreal degeneration (66%) and senile retinopathy (33.7%) the commonest abnormalities identified.

Key Points:

Keep an eye on the eyes!  If your horse presents with an eye problem or sudden change in behaviour then do everything in your power to get to the bottom of it. If you feel your vet hasn’t got the resources to help then there are Eye Specialist Vets or Equine Ophthalmologists who can give you their opinion.  If the outcome is that your horse needs its eye removed then in most cases this does not mean they cannot be ridden – many horses can still lead a relatively normal life with some adaptations.  You may need to alter their environment to avoid knocks or scrapes in the stable, yard, paddock (padded coverings over rough or pointed edges etc), that they might have seen before; you will need to announce yourself more clearly as you approach the side that they can no longer see from to avoid startling them (and just remind professionals like your farrier to do the same), and you will have a new duty to keep the eye socket clean (as they do tend to fill with mud!) but on the whole life will go on much as it did before!

For any owners wanting to learn more about eye disease in horses, here are some good resources:

Equine Ophthalmology for Horse Owners – The American Association of Equine Practitioners






About Author

Dr David Marlin is a physiologist and biochemist who has worked in academia, research and professional sport. He has worked in the equestrian and veterinary world and in human sport, healthcare, medicine and exercise science. In 1989 David obtained his PhD from the UK’s leading sports university, Loughborough University following a four-year study on the responses of Thoroughbred racehorses to exercise and training, undertaken at the renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. You can read David's full biography in the Our Website section.