Do Horses Get Charles Bonnets Syndrome?

Last night we had a strange, and worrying, experience with Breeze. . Breeze is the sweetest pony, but she is extremely nervous. Last night however she surpassed herself, and gave me a few more grey hairs along the way.

Doing our usual bedtime routine, carrots for Florence, apples for Breeze, debrief on the day, hay, water, skep out, check all is well, it soon became apparent that all was not well with Breeze.

it is not unusual to find Breeze on high alert, but last night she took it to another level. I had heard her snuffing a bit, but just thought she was commenting on the dogs. However, when I went into her stable with a full haynet, only to be ignored, alarm bells began to ring. Normally I would be in for a full-scale mugging, breeze usually starts off by trying to eat out of the net as I take it in and try to hang it, and if this doesn’t work, she turns her attention to my pockets. Last night though, Breeze just stood there transfixed. Head held as high as she could get it, ears erect and straining forward, eyes bulging, nostrils flared, heart racing, and, I realised as I laid my hand on her shoulder, trembling. This poor pony was frozen to the spot with Fear! At what though? Let’s face it, what ever it was, it wasn’t bothering Florence. Yes it’s true, Florence is of a much more Sanguin disposition than Breeze, but she isn’t stupid. Had there genuinely been anything that frightening anywhere in the vicinity, Florence would definitely have mentioned it. However, despite only being in the adjoining stable, in stark contrast to her companion, Flo was the picture of relaxed contentment. It did cross my mind that she might be tying up, or have colic, but this wasn’t the stance of either a tied up horse, or a colicky one. Not only that, but Hal had just cleaned some very healthy looking poo from the stable. When it comes down to flight, fight., freeze, this was absolutely textbook freeze. She was staring up towards the house, but neither Florence, either of the dogs, Hal, nor I, where aware of anything untoward. Florence was perfectly happy and content in the nextdoor stable, The dogs have gone off down the field on their own private nose lead missions, and all I could hear was a distant owl. Absolutely nothing obvious for a horse to be scared of.

Thankfully Breeze did begin to relax after a while, but she was still unsettled by the time we left her. I find the whole situation a little worrying, and it’s made me begin to wonder about something. Is it possible that Breeze could be suffering from hallucinations?

Sadly a few months ago we discovered that Breeze is very gradually going blind. She is an old lady, at least 20 years old now, and has recently been diagnosed with age related pigmented retinopathy. Yes I know, whilst a horses eyes are different to humanise, The name of this condition, and indeed the pathology of it, are similar to retinitis pigmentosa )RP), which is the condition I myself have. However, as RP is not an age-related condition in humans, whereas age related pigmented retinopathy is and age related condition in horses, I prefer to think of Breeze as having the equine equivalent of age related macular degeneration )AMD). Basically she is a little old lady who is losing her eyesight. . There is absolutely nothing we can do about this, it’s not a treatable condition, and the vet has been very calm about the diagnosis. We have been told to carry on as normal but to be vigilant, and be led by Breeze as to what she can and cannot do. We have not even been advised to stop riding her, although I have decided that I wont ride her myself from now on. I’m actually too heavy for her anyway at the moment, but I think its better for all concerned if at least one of us has a fully functioning pair of eyes. As an aside, I recently read the headline of a research study which took place in Australia, which concluded that a high percentage of aged, defined as over 17 years old, horses have some form of eyesight problem, but this is usually not known about by their owners, and rarely has an adverse affect on the horses ability to carry out ridden activities

Until they are near total blindness. Symptoms like stumbling and spooking are invariably put down to other things. Back to Breeze though, , and I wonder if last nights strange behaviour was down to her failing eyesight. As a result of the Retinopathy, does Breeze have Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Does Breeze have what?

Charles Bonnet Syndrome is a little understood condition that causes people who are losing their sight to have visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are only visual in nature, no sound,smell, or taste, but can vary from patterns to detailed and lifelike representations of animals, people, events or places, which can be static or moving. According to the NHS there are known to be approximately 100,000 diagnosed cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome in the UK, but there could be many more undiagnosed cases. Whilst it affects people who have lost most of all of the site in both eyes, The real mechanism behind it is not fully understood. However it is believed to be down to the brain trying to make sense of, and filling in the gaps in, The incomplete message being received by the visual cortex. The macular society believe that half of people with AMD will experience symptoms of Charles Bonnet syndrome at some point. These hallucinations are only related to sight loss and have no link to mental illness or any form of dementia in any way

So, whilst there are of course differences, horses and humans are both mammals, and mammalian eyes and brains do vary from species to species, there are also a great many similarities. What I am curious about is, given that Breeze has a condition which is not unlike a condition that humans get, could she also have another condition, which is often associated with the human variation of the condition she has? In other words. Can horses get Charles Bonnet syndrome? Is the reason that only Breeze was so frightened last night, because it was only Breeze Who could see what she was so scared of? I guess we will never know, but I’d love to hear the opinions of any vets, ophthalmologists, other experts who might stumble across this post in the future

Three Years of Joy

It’s Florence his third Gotcha anniversary today! It feels like she’s always been with me.

Florence came to me when I was going through an extremely stressful time. In all honesty I really should not have even been thinking of buying a horse just then. I was taking part in a clinical research trial, and sadly things have gone slightly wrong for me, and Hal and I were making the journey from North Devon to Oxford on an almost fortnightly basis, I ended up having four surgeries between September and February At the same time we were also being filmed for a television programme. An experience which I never want to repeat. I had been told earlier that summer that my beloved Magnum had a serious heart problem, and therefore could no longer be ridden, so I started window shopping for horses as a distraction. My friend Amy sent me a link to an advertisement on the website pre-loved for a 16-year-old piebald Cob mare that she thought might be eminently suitable. As the horse was not particularly far away from us we decided to go and have a look. The rest as they say is history.

Although Florence arrived in the November, because of the ongoing problems with my eyes, more surgery, an absolutely appalling weather, I didn’t actually sit on her until the beginning of March the following year. O’Boywas that leap of faith! Florence was amazing though, if you didn’t know, nothing in her behaviour would have told you she hadn’t been sat on for four months. It’s fair to say that up to that point Florence and I had not been getting along particularly well, and there had been more than one occasion when her bags had been packed and she was going back to her previous owner. However, every time Hal talked me down and convinced me to give her another chance. Poor Florence

, it must’ve been extremely difficult for her to move from her secure home of eight years, into a completely alien environment, with an owner who seem to keep disappearing and reappearing, and who must have been radiating stress, anxiety, and unhappiness like the Sun radiates light and heat. I truly believe that she could either here or smell the implant that I had in my I, and was very very aware of the problems that I was having, because she kept trying to bite my face. Believe me when you can’t see it coming, The snapping together of huge great horse teeth just millimetres away from your face is quite alarming! My theory about this was backed up by the fact that, as soon as I had the implant removed, in the middle of February, the attacks on my face stopped. Another problem we had when Florence first came to me, what’s that had not appreciated that she has extremely sensitive skin, and is extremely ticklish. She is a great big enormous hairy gypsy cob, but underneath all that black and white fur she has a thoroughbred skin I’m sure.

I’ve always believed that, Magnum, being a very old and wise horse, New that his time was coming to an end, and understood that Florence and come here to take over from him. I am quite sure that he explained the situation t her to look after me. You see, on what was probably the hardest long weekend of my entire life, we had Magnum put to sleep on the Friday, and had the implant removed on the Monday. From the moment I got home from hospital Florence and I began to build and understanding and bond. . I am so glad that Hal convince me to keeper. I trust Florence completely, I know she has boundaries, and I respect that. She does not have a nasty bone in her body, but she does not give her trust automatically. Yes she can occasionally be rude and pushy when handling her on the ground,

but when I’m sat on her back there are no limitations,? The world is ours too own. Florence is an extremely intelligent horse. She has the ability to read her rider, and adjust her way of going accordingly. This year she has carried my extremely capable writer niece Hannah, 11 year old Ven, my 87 year old Dad, Hal, and me, and been a total lady with us. She hates being on her own, and gets terrible separation anxiety. However, she has always been the bottom most ranking horse in my herd. She hates water,really hates having her legs touched, and can be a little bit girthy. Florence is completely unflappable, and extremely nosey. She is the kind of horse who would rather investigate something instdad of run away from it. She can be very impatient though, and doesn’t like standing around. Florence is quite vocal, and has an endearing way of wickering and snickering to me. Someone once connected that they thought Florence spoke to me like I was a foal. I just adore her!

So here’s to the next three years – Big beautiful black and white horse

Taking Stock.

It’s incredible to think that last week marked the 4th Anniversary of Magnum and Sapphire joining us here. What an adventure the last 4 years have been! I still have to pinch myself from time to time to make sure this is really happening. OK, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, sadly Magnum, Sapphire and Leonie have all taken their final journey, now it’s Florence and Breeze who greet me in the mornings, but, whisper it quietly, I’ve never been so happy..

Flo and Breeze seem very settled and content, and, again whisper it quietly, are glowing with health.. We must be doing something right.

Hal and I have started to have lessons at home. Having our own school is a blessing. However, do to Breezes propensity for laying down on the job, we are both riding poor, long suffering, Florence. . We’ve had two lessons so far. It was supposed to be more, but a stupid tandem accident, and the uncharacteristically hot weather (this is Devon in July, it’s supposed to be raining, not wall-to-wall sunshine and 28°), have been cramping our style for the last couple weeks. However, Hal is already trotted Florence, whilst I am working towards doing my first online dressage competition.

Despite her evident lack of desire to do any work, Breeze is proving to be a total sweetheart. She is lovely to handle on the ground, and has the kind of personality which makes it very difficult to get cross with when she is messing around. She’s a gentle soul and very easy to love.

Since Leo left us, quite a few people seem to have an opinion as to whether or not we are going to get another horse, or even whether we should. Some people asked the question. Other people tell us what we should or shouldn’t do. . Although I have to admit that it annoys me when, without being asked, people presume to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, I am touched that so many people care. Yes, there will be another horse. As long as I am able to look after them properly, there will always be another horse. Mot yet though. Mostly because we can’t afford it right now, but also because, despite what Breeze might say, both our girls are rideable, so we don’t need another riding horse. Sadly, Hal’s back problem prevents him riding as much as we anticipated he would, and if truth be told, the whole Leonie situation has seriously damaged his already fragile confidence.

Florence and Breeze are an easy going pair, and for now Hal and I are just enjoying having these two lovely mares in our lives. Who knows what the future holds? For now I’m quite content with what the present has to offer.