What might be looked upon by some as an obstacle to overcome can be viewed by others as a stepping stone to greatness.
When it comes to physical limitations or disabilities, humans often rely on their strength of character, sense of faith, and the emotional support of others to rise above. But what about an animal faced with a similar situation? Have you ever wondered what goes on inside the head of a horse trying to compensate from a debilitating injury?
Hillary Howdle of Runnells, Iowa likes to think she has an idea of what’s going on behind the milky eyes of her 8-year-old APHA/PtHA mare A Sudden Cookie. You see, “Cookie” is 80% blind as the result of being kicked in the head when she was a foal.
“As a five and six-year-old, she looked perfectly normal, but her eyes are getting whiter each year,” Hillary says. “We expect her to be 100% blind by the time she is 10 years old. The first day we noticed she was blind was when we walked her into the farm barn, which is darker than outside. She crashed into the walls and panicked. When we took her outside, she was fine. Every time we walked her into the barn, she started to get really uneasy, so we called the vet.”
“She lost her eyesight the winter after the Color Breed Congress due to an eye infection that was wrongly diagnosed by an emergency vet. Then, she was treated again and went from 100% blind to 80% blind.”
The injections that Cookie would need to have for the remainder of her life to help regain any sight are very expensive and not guaranteed to provide much improvement, so Hillary chose to let the mare adjust naturally to her new circumstances. After 30 days of retraining, Cookie learned new cues that would help her ride, load into a trailer, and even compete in a Trail course, despite being almost completely blind.
“During the first year we showed her, while she was blind, we had people walk up to us asking if she was for sale,” Hillary says. “We always had to turn them down and explain that she was blind. They would always look at us dumbfounded and couldn’t believe it.”
“We show her now, and often, by the end of the day, a judge will come close to look at her and ask if she has vision issues. We say she is blind, and they say she is a special mare for sure! Honestly, she’s hard to really explain without meeting her. She’s a horse like no other.”
Cookie, an eight-year-old mare by A Sudden Pleasure and out of Good Bar Cookie, stands just shy of 15 hands. After being purchased as a three-year-old “project horse,” the intention was to sell her later down the line. Cookie surprised everyone by earning two Youth High Point titles, two Novice High Point titles, and two Open High Point titles that first summer on the Pinto show circuit. At the Color Breed Congress that year, she placed Top 10 in Youth and Novice Youth Hunter Under Saddle, Youth Equitation, Novice Youth Equitation, Youth Western Pleasure, and Open Western Pleasure; Top 5 in Bareback Horsemanship; and was named the Reserve Champion in Novice Youth Western Pleasure.
Today, Cookie competes at open shows and is often leased out to young kids eager to begin their horse showing career at 4H events or the county fair.
“I’m thankful we never sold her,” Hillary says. “She never gives you attitude about anything. You can show her all day, and she just keeps pleasing. If I see a friendly rider, who can’t get their horse ridden at an open show, I have them ride Cookie in a few classes, because I know she will pack them around like a champ. She rides the same for every rider, every day.”
“She competes at the exact same level she did when she could see. Honestly, she rides better than most of the horses with sight that we compete against. When she has a kid onboard, she is the perfect teacher. If I didn’t tell them she was blind, they wouldn’t know. They know to steer her, but Cookie knows if she bumps into the wall that she just needs to turn and keep going.”
In order to make things a bit easier on Cookie, Hillary doesn’t shave around her muzzle or eyes, which helps to give her a better sense of her immediate surroundings. Nowadays, Cookie still competes in her signature events like Western Pleasure and Horsemanship, but it’s truly an incredible sight to watch this blind mare navigate a Trail course.
“Everyone looks at me like I’m crazy, but then they watch her search for the poles and the bridge, and she goes right over. They just can’t believe it. She knows I would never put her in a bad situation, so she doesn’t worry.”
When she isn’t showing, Cookie is the mom of a colorful 2-year-old APHA colt and is currently in foal to APHA stallion John Simon for 2016. Since her condition is the result of an injury and not genetics, Hillary thought she would make an incredible broodmare.
“Everyone thought we were crazy for breeding a blind, maiden mare, but yet again she proved us wrong. She is the perfect mother to her foals and is great about everyone handling them. We couldn’t be more happy with how unique this mare is.”
We enjoy hearing your stories about horses and riders who have overcome incredible odds. Share your story by emailing b.bevis@EquineChronicle.com and you might read about it right here on www.EquineChronicle.com.