Injuries to a horse's eyes tend to be traumatic because of the vigorous manner in which horses perform everyday actions. Blows to the eye may cause detachment of the retina, lacerations of the cornea, penetration injuries, and wounds around the eye.
When a horse appears to have an injury to the eye, whether the signs are as subtle as blinking, keeping the eye closed, or tearing excessively, it's important to evaluate the eye carefully. If a foreign body is present, it should be gently removed. If the horse is cooperative, irritants and foreign bodies may be removed using a sterile saline flush.
If the eye appears irritated and there is no sign of injury, it should be monitored closely. If the condition worsens or doesn't improve within 24 hours, an examination by a veterinarian should be arranged. In the meantime, the horse should be placed in a dark environment and kept calm.
If the injury is severe, such as a bleeding injury from a tree branch having whipped against the eye, or if the horse is in too much pain to let you examine the eye, prompt attention from a veterinarian is crucial. The veterinarian will be able to apply topical anesthetics, and perhaps injectable sedatives, so that the horse will allow a thorough examination of the eye.
In some cases, prompt surgical treatment may be necessary. In other cases, topical treatments on an ongoing basis may be advised. In any case, adequate diagnosis as to the severity of the eye injury and follow-up treatment can save the horse's eyesight.
When the injury to the eye results in persistent, severe pain or when the eye is damaged beyond repair, surgery to remove the affected eye may be necessary.
Dealing with a horse with one eye requires changes in management of the horse's routine. Fortunately, most horses that lose an eye adjust reasonably well to their situation and are able to continue many of their activities. However, care needs to be taken because the horse may spook easily when surprised by activity out of its line of sight, making it important to keep children and other animals away from the horse.
Dealing promptly and properly with eye injuries can not only save the horse's vision, but can also keep the horse and the people who deal with it safe and able to function as nature intended.