A blind horse has proved that a total loss of eyesight doesn’t have to be a barrier to success. Elizabeth Shorthouse’s Norwegian Fjord Ausdan Warrior (Rio) lost his sight in both eyes in 2016, but recently made a return to the dressage arena at Swallowfield Equestrian Centre, Warks, scoring 63.7% in an intro test.
“In November 2016 I noticed there was something wrong almost overnight — he was coming into his stable and couldn’t seem to find his haynet or his food,” Elizabeth told H&H.
“He was seen by a specialist who told us he had uveitis and there was no blood supply to one eye, and the retina was detaching in the other, and he would have no sight. I was sobbing my heart out but the specialist told me to go out and show the world what a blind horse can do, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Elizabeth, who has owned the 10-year-old grey dun since he was a foal, started riding Rio again three weeks after the diagnosis, starting in walk. The pair had “dabbled” in dressage previously and finally took the plunge to enter an unaffiliated class.
“We can’t go in the show ring any more as there’s too much hustle and bustle, but the set pattern of a dressage test gives him confidence. I ride around the arena first, going right into the corners, and he forms a map in his head,” said Elizabeth, who has taught Rio to respond to the commands ‘step up’ and ‘step down’, which has helped him load and travel in the lorry, and to stop if she says ‘wall or ‘gate’.
“We have such a bond. He trusts me and really tunes into everything I do,” she added. “I have to be very aware of my body and my head because he will respond to my movement. He used to hear things and get distracted, but he’s very relaxed now. He just loves to work and always tries his best, and he knows I wouldn’t put him in a bad situation.
“I wore high-viz with the words ‘caution – blind horse’ in the warm-up arena at Swallowfield, but he’s used to being ridden with the horses at home and he was fine.”
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Elizabeth hopes that Rio — who she believes is the only totally blind horse competing in dressage in the UK — will inspire other riders of partially sighted or blind horses not to give up on them.
“I want to show that this is an obstacle, but not a barrier. When Rio was first diagnosed people asked if I was doing the right thing by riding him, but I’m so glad I didn’t write him off. At home I treat him as thought he’s not blind and he loved being out competing.
“There’s no stopping us now — we’re aiming to do MyQuest, and to get to the British Dressage Draught Horse Championships.”
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