The equine eye is a delicate structure with complicated anatomy. Problems affecting a horse’s eye can rapidly worsen and cause irreversible damage and blindness.
Unless you examine many equine eyes (as equine vets and equine ophthalmologists do), you probably cannot discern the type or severity of disease, or damage to your horse’s eye.
However, it is helpful for horse owners to conduct a preliminary assessment of their horse’s eyes if they suspect a problem, and communicate their findings to their vet.
If you learn some basic skills, you can be a partner with your vet in treating and assessing your horse’s eyes, and in monitoring the success of eye treatments.
Stand directly in front of your horse, holding the sides of the halter in each hand. Be careful when you do this because it is dangerous to stand directly in front of a horse.
Using a headlight, look at and compare both eyes. Do the eyes appear to be the same size and color? Is there swelling around one or the other or both? Is there drainage or tearing from either? Compare the size and shape of the eye itself, the corneas, the pupil size and appearance, and the iris, the eyelids and lashes.
Standing to the side of the horse, hold the nose-band of the halter in one hand and place no pressure on your horse unless they are moving their head. Use soft feel. Start with your free hand on the cheek and slide it toward the eye. Gently touch around the eye and, when your horse accepts that, use your index finger to push the upper eyelid up and use your thumb to roll the lower lid down.
If the horse resists, keep your hand against his face, and keep pressure on the halter. When the horse yields, instantly release pressure. You should be able to see most of the eye now.
Try pushing your horse’s head away with your eye hand and pull the jaw toward you with the halter hand. When you do this, the eyeball will roll and you will be able to see even more of it and assess the white of the eye (sclera). Look at the clearness of the colored part of the eye and assess the size and shape of the pupil. Look at the white of the eye, is it white or reddened?
Tips for safety & Success
Always be careful and be ready to move quickly when standing directly in front of any horse.
Know what your horse's eyes look like in health. Study them, and even photograph them for later reference. Always compare one eye to the other.
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 closely examine 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.