Charlie Madden is urging equestrians — not just farriers — to consider wearing eye protection while dealing with horses as his loss of vision was the result of an accident that could happen to anyone.
Kent-based Charlie, who has been in his trade for 13 years, was shoeing a horse he had not met before in February when his life changed.
“No one else was there; the yard owner had said the horse would be fine and it was cross-tied,” he told H&H.
“I’d done the front feet, and the horse was a bit fidgety but not too bad, then I did the hind foot. I went to put the foot down and felt him pull back a bit, and as I turned round, he pulled right back.
“The string didn’t break but the headcollar did and the metal cheek ring catapulted off, like a shotgun, and went straight into my eyeball.
“My eye burst and all the fluid was running down my face, it was horrific.”
Within 10 seconds, Charlie said, his vision in that eye had gone completely.
“It was weird; it felt like I’d been punched in the face but then it didn’t hurt, and didn’t at all till about three weeks later, it was just sore and uncomfortable,” he said.
“My friend lives next to the yard so I phoned her and said ‘I’ve just burst my eyeball’. I’m a bit of a wind-up merchant and it was her birthday so she thought I was winding her up but I said ‘No, you’ve got to come over’.”
The friend and her parents arrived, and told Charlie he needed to go to hospital.
“They were panicking but I said ‘Let me pack my stuff first’,” he said. “They said they’d do it but I like my van to be packed a certain way, and I wanted to roll up the extension cord so no horses got electrocuted; I was more paranoid about that!”
Charlie was taken to two different hospitals in Kent and eventually transferred the next morning to the specialist Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, where he said the consultant told him it was the second-worst eye injury he had ever seen.
“The worst was a man on a construction site where a ratchet strap snapped and went into his eye, and they had to take it out,” he said. “Mine was like a burst football, and the doctor said it wasn’t good but they wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until they operated.”
Charlie underwent the three-hour surgery that day, and his eye was saved.
“The iris had started protruding out of the hole so they basically had to push it back in and stitch up the globe,” he said, adding that the eye fluid regenerated itself, and apart from some minor cosmetic issues, his eye now looks almost normal — although he only has about 5% vision in it.
“It could have been a hell of a lot worse,” he said. “If you didn’t know, you couldn’t really tell, apart from the fact I wear glasses now, and I’m just pleased I didn’t have to have the eye taken out.”
But of course the injury was life-changing. Charlie had to take months off, and is now only back at work part-time, and mainly trimming.
“I was working a lot before it happened,” he said. “I’m 32 and have been doing it since I was 18, and I was starting to feel a bit beaten up. But I was off four to five months without pay and I survived, and I thought ‘Do I really need to chase my tail six days a week?’
“It gave me a reality check; I was working hard and earning decent money, but I wasn’t enjoying it. Now I’m surviving and I’m happy.”
But Charlie’s main reason for sharing his story is to make other people aware of the risks.
“Shoeing horses and being around them is dangerous; I’d always said to my mum that one day I’d get injured, kicked in the head or something, but no way on earth did I think it would be something like this,” he said.
“You don’t realise how important your eyes are till something like this happens, but now I don’t go near a horse without my glasses or safety glasses on. I breed pedigree cats too, and the other day I was building a run, and the netting pinged back and scratched my glasses, so that would have been my eye again.
“I just want to get my story out, to encourage people, not just farriers, to wear eye protection as much as possible because this could happen to anyone. It could happen just tying your horse up.”
Charlie, who thanked all the Moorfields staff for their “incredible” care and support, added that unless a miracle happens, he will nor regain his lost sight.
“But I’m happy with what I’ve got,” he said. “I’m just grateful I’ve still got my eye.”
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