The Things We Do for Love: “I Taught My Horse to Overcome His Blindness”
Caroline Golon, author of the popular blog Crayons & Collars, shares the stories of pet owners who go the extra mile for their pets in this series, The Things We Do for Love.
When 14-year-old Victoria Czech competes in shows with her horse, Skip, spectators are amazed to learn that Skip is completely blind. They’re even more surprised to learn that it was Victoria herself who trained Skip to live and thrive without his sight, long before he lost it.
When Victoria was 10 years old, her parents gave in to her pleas for her own horse. They found Skip, a former show horse, through a vet near their home in Chippewa Falls, Wis. The family knew the friendly horse was special. “He was supercool, with lots of spunk,” remembers Victoria.
But, two years after the golden palomino came to live with them, the Czechs noticed that one of Skip’s eyes was cloudy and swollen. After a series of vet visits, the 23-year-old horse was diagnosed with primary glaucoma and, his vet warned, would eventually lose his sight in both eyes. The family was faced with a choice: daily medications to help Skip keep his sight as long as possible, and most likely eventual surgical removal of his eyes, or put Skip down.
The latter was never an option. “Would you give up on a human?” asks Mary Czech, Victoria’s mother. The family agreed to do all they could for Skip, and Victoria got to work preparing her horse for life without his sight.
A Determined Young Girl
Over the next two years the family spent thousands of dollars on Skip’s medical care. They worked to keep Skip's eyes healthy and pain-free, with Victoria religiously delivering drops and ointment into Skip’s eyes three times a day.
But within a year Skip lost vision in one eye so the vet removed it.
While Skip could still see with his other eye, Victoria trained him to be ready for complete blindness. “She knew she had to bond with him even more,” says Mary. “She rode with him every day, building more and more trust. We didn’t know how long it could be before he lost his sight.”
Victoria says she and her parents read up on how to care for blind horses and brainstormed ways to prepare Skip. They reconfigured the horse's stall to be easier to navigate, and even bought a horse named Zipper to be Skip's "pasture buddy." Zipper wore a bell so he could lead Skip around once he could no longer see. To teach Skip where the edges of the field were, Victoria put paper bags on fence posts so the horse could hear them crinkle in the wind and know where the fence was located.
Above Skip’s trough, Victoria hung wind chimes so he’d know where his water would be.
A True Champion
As expected, the day came when Skip lost sight in his other eye and it, too, was removed, leaving him completely blind. But he was ready; Victoria had seen to that.
Skip rebounded quickly from his surgery and began exploring his new world without sight. “He didn’t seem like anything had really changed that much,” says Victoria. Within a week, she climbed on Skip’s back to see how he would respond to a rider. “The first time I rode him, I knew he’d be just fine,” she says.
And he was. As Skip and Victoria grew accustomed to a new way of life together, Skip proved he was still a show horse, and then some.
Victoria began training Skip to compete again. She introduced him to Trail Class, which is an obstacle course competition. “Most horses spook with stuff like this,” says Mary. “But he can’t spook. He has to trust you.” And he trusts Victoria. Today, Skip and Victoria are winning championships in the trail class and leaving spectators incredulous.
“He goes through the obstacles like no tomorrow,” Mary says. “And people are floored when they discover he has no eyes.”
Victoria expects a lot from Skip and doesn’t let his disability get in the way. “I don’t let him get away with anything,” she says with a chuckle.
Mary believes the experience has helped Victoria mature and learn important life lessons. “It’s taught her to follow through on commitments. You made a commitment to this animal, and you follow through on that at all costs."
Read more The Things We Do for Love columns here.
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