How a big-hearted horse learned to run willingly guided – blind.
By Jennifer Horton in The American Quarter Horse Journal
This is the second in a two-part series. Want to review Part 1?
Jill was patient and careful with Bailey during his recovery. He stood in a stall for six weeks. If he was napping when Jill came to clean his stall, he laid comfortably while she picked the stall around him. She built a round pen for him as a turnout pen, small enough that he couldn’t build much speed but with room for him to ease around.
“But then I decided that I couldn’t keep crying every day,” Jill says. “I began walking him in the pasture, riding bareback with just a halter. He began walking pretty unsteady, tripping as he went, but it got better.”
Jill rode Bailey bareback for a month, letting him get the feel of his feet, and he got better and more confident. “He taught me how to hear and how things sound without seeing them,” Jill says. “I know what a four-board fence ‘sounds’ like now.”
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She began ponying him from another horse, which allowed him to trot and lope with guidance. “He picks his feet up higher than he used to, but I think it’s so he can set them down and feel the ground.”
Jill says Bailey’s personality and even temperament that made her love him from the start stayed intact.
Sean Johnson, Jill’s reining trainer explains: “He seems to have developed a sonar system that helps him. He was getting along well, so we put him back into reining training and brought him along. He’ll buck and play on a longe line. But he never lost his forward motion, and he adjusted to the reining training really well.”
Jill says Bailey actually turns better than before he lost his sight. Her first time to do a rundown was the scariest but it has gotten much easier now. His hair coat seems to have been affected by the loss of his sight. Without the sunshine or light coming through his eyes, his hair coat doesn’t know to react. But putting blankets on him and keeping him warm seems to have stimulated shedding.
Back to Competition
Sean says Bailey doesn’t really require any special treatment or preparation to show.
“We don’t fence him, and we are careful with dirt flying, but we ride him in the breaks with other horses, and nothing seems to bother him. The only thing different I guess is that he wears a fly mask to protect his eye when we trailer him, to keep the dust and stuff out because he doesn’t blink like a normal horse.”
Bailey often becomes the source of humor among his caretakers. While practicing, Sean will remind Jill to pay attention and keep control or slow down – telling her “don’t let him just run blind.” Or he’ll ask Bailey “Whatcha looking at, Bailey?”
Western riding is all about precision. AQHA Professional Horsemen Charlie Cole and Robin Frid lead Youth World Cup competitors through a pattern and help them learn what will get them a good score and what pitfalls to avoid.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Bailey can’t see.
“He walks along with you, and you tend to forget that he can’t see that trash can you just went around,” Jill says. “I feel bad every time he runs into something if I wasn’t paying attention, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. We’re very careful when loading and unloading from the trailer, talking to him all the time, and he sort of feels his way in and out of the trailer. He knows to lift his feet over the threshold of his stall door at home. He hears really well, but he’s not spooky. He actually kind of makes the other horses’ lives difficult, because none of them have the work ethic that he does.”
The Drysdales Tulsa Holiday Winter Circuit in December 2008 was Bailey’s first show since he became completely blind. Jill showed him in amateur reining, and word quickly spread on the grounds that a blind horse was showing in reining. By the end of the week, Bailey had a fan club showing up to watch him.
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“People want to watch him,” Jill says. “I had a woman walk up to me while I was leading him to tell me that she just wanted to hug me. I told her she should hug him, that he was the special one.”
The woman hugged them both.
“This little horse has made me a better person,” Jill says. “He always gives 110 percent and never complains. He’s amazing.”
It’s a circle of trust. Jill trusts Bailey enough to get on the blind horse bareback and ride through a pasture. Jill trusts Sean to continue training a blind horse. Sean trusts Bailey to perform and safely carry a rider through the reining class maneuvers. Bailey trusts Sean and Jill to care for him and keep him safe. At the center of that circle is a little bay gelding with a big heart.