Being able to treat your horse’s eyes safely, after your vet has assessed the injury or problem and prescribed a topical eye ointment, is a very useful skill.
Eye medications are usually given frequently. For this reason, unless a horse is hospitalized and treated by veterinary staff, you may be involved in the treatment protocol at home.
Left eye: Halter your horse. If possible, have a helper hold the horse. Stand on the left side of the horse. If you are working alone, then grasp the halter with the same hand as your ointment applying hand (right if you are right handed). You will manipulate the lid with your left hand.
With your left hand, establish contact with the area around your horse’s eye. Use the tip of your index finger of the left hand to push the upper eyelid up. Roll the lower lid down with your thumb. Do this once or twice, and release if the horse does not resist. Be sure the horse accepts this before proceeding to the next step.
Once you can roll the eyelid out without resistance, then prepare to use the ointment. Now, with the heel of your right hand braced on the side of your horse's face, the halter in the same hand, and the ointment tube tip parallel to the side of the face, lay a strip of ointment on the rolled out lower lid. Allow the eyelid to roll back in.
For the right eye, use the same hands to do the same things but stand on the other side.
Tips for safety & Success
Before you begin, take the cap off of the eye ointment that you intend to use.
Horses protect their eyes instinctively when they perceive a threat. They have a powerful squinting reflex and can easily raise their head away from a careless handler. A trusting and respectful relationship is needed to treat the eye.
This is another example where using soft feel will allow you to make the procedure easy and painless for you and your horse. Use a well fitting but not tight halter. A halter that is too loose allows your hand to move too far away from the eye to get the ointment in.
Do not to let the tube touch the eye or press into the eyelid. Like any other treatment you perform on your horse, you know you are doing it right if it gets easier each time.
Commonly, horses begin the treatment program allowing their owners to medicate their eyes. Some become more resistant with time. If this happens, it is your clue that you are making withdrawal easier than compliance.
If you are having difficulty, practice rolling the lid down without any ointment. Remember, if you can’t do it without the ointment, you can’t do it with. I would suggest doing that 1-2 times first, such that you can see the pink of the inner lid, then try applying the ointment onto that shelf of the turned out eyelid.
You are doing two things when you practice that. You are teaching the horse that if they let you do step 1, that you will release (stop trying and release pressure). You are also gaining proficiency at the procedure yourself.
Remember not to press on the eyeball through the lid because anything that you do to cause the horse pain will cause them to tightly squint. Push straight up along the eyeball, not inward into it.
If you get the eyelids gooey with ointment, then your fingers slip and it can be almost impossible. You can blot some of that away with a tiny piece of paper towel.
Some people will talk about putting a strip of ointment on their finger and then touching that to the lid and lashes. I just don’t think it works adequately.