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

Day 10 – Standing Out.

That thing that I wish everybody would wear, not just at this time of year but all year round, it’s high viz clothing. There seems to be a lot of focus on what is fashionable, but not necessarily practical, in all the horsey magazines, and websites., and sadly, there still seems to be the attitude in certain circles, that there is something wrong with wearing high viz clothing when out and about in countryside.

This was highlighted by a visitor to our house, Who took one look at my husbands Bright orange Equi safety Riding code, declared that he wouldn’t be seen dead in it.

he was totally bemused by my response”That’s the whole idea!”.

Laying Down on the Jov

It turns out that Ben’s Mum, Helen, is a very good rider. She used to ride as a child and In her teens, but life, and motherhood, took her in a different direction. However, Ben’s interest has gradually lured her back into the saddle.. She began to have the occasional lesson with Melissa. Occasional morphed into regular. Then, a couple of months ago, she had a go on Breeze. . One go became two goes… Well, you get the picture. It’s a win win situation as far as I’m concerned. Helen gets to endulge her newly rekindled love for riding, Ben gets to share something with his Mum, and Breeze gets some much needed exercise. What’s not to like?

The trouble is, Breeze doesn’t see it that way. Vreeze is a real sweetie to handle, and, although she can be a dominant bossy boots towards other horses, doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body. However, she is very resourceful, has a will of iron, and, as far as she’s concerned, came here to retire. She also has a few tricks up her sleeve from her trekking centre days. I know from personal experience how easily she can slam herself into reverse, and how quickly she can go backwards.

So far Helen has been treated to; Breeze refusing to approach the mounting block. Helen took the block to Breeze instead.

Breeze going to the block, but then swinging her backside out just as Helen is on the point of mounting. Hellen is remarkably agile, and has mounted from all sorts strange angles. By and large Breeze now stands quietly at the block for Helen to mount..

Breeze is not above putting in the occasional fly buck. However, Helen always picks up on the massive, telegraph like signals that Breeze obligingly sends before doing it.

It really does seem that Breeze has to argue and complain as a matter of principle, but Helen is always ready with a counterargument; or at least it did until last weekend.

Last Saturday afternoon Breeze’s inventiveness surpassed all expectations. She stood to the mounting block nice and quietly whilst Helen got on and adjusted girth and stirrups. She then did some very nice work both in walk and trot, all the time with what seemed to be a happy relaxed smile on her face. Ben, slowing to halt, and looking like she might want to have a wee, she slowly and gracefully sank to the ground. Helen calmly stepped off her, expecting her to roll. Not a bit of it! Breeze just lay there with an expression on her face which clearly said “beat that!”.

Helen responded bye waiting for Madame to stand up, taking her back to the mounting block, and hopping on her from the strangest angle yet. She then made her to5 more minutes work, during which there were no more issues.

On Sunday Helen came and rode Breeze again and produced some of the best work they have ever done.

I truly believe that, whilst neither of them would admit it, they are both secretly enjoying the challenge.

Feeling Guilty

It’s not very often that I have to put my hands up, and confess that my blindness, together with my stupidity, is the direct cause of a problem for my horses. Yesterday though, well, let’s just say the buck stops squarely with me, and I’ve never felt so guilty. Anyone know the best way to apologise to a horse?

Since Leo left us, Florence and Breeze have been rubbing along quite nicely, and a general atmosphere of peace and tranquility has prevailed. Breeze is quite a dominant little soul, whereas Florence likes the quiet life, and rarely, if ever, rocks the boat. I get the impression that Breeze May have had to compete for resources In the past. She’s a real sweetie to handle, but, oh my word, can she be aggressive toward other horses, especially when there’s. Food involved! She has mellowed since she’s been with us, but nevertheless… She doesn’t actually chase other horses off their feed, but she has a large personal zone around her, and if another horse steps into it while she’s eating, well let’s just say, she’s got a powerful kick!

Ideally you wouldn’t feed your horses whilst they’re all in the field together, but this Is the real world

, and needs must. Usually with Florence And Breeze it’s not that much of a problem. Hal and I, and even Ben for that matter, are mindful of Breezes need for space, and together with the fact that we need to make sure that Florence, and nobody else, gets Florence is medication, they get fed comfortably far apart, and are closely supervised

Last night I got it very wrong, and poor Florence ended up bearing the brunt. For some reason I missed judged where both horses were in relation to each other. Thinking that Breeze was further to her left than she actually was, rather than dropping Florence his food on the far side of the water trough as usual, I dropped it a few feet inside the gate. Disaster! Breeze was actually only just on the other side of the gate. Poor Florence had only just dropped her head and started eating, when, with no obvious warning, Breeze let fly, and gave her both barrels squarely and firmly on the backside. It sounded like a gun going off! Remarkably, after I had repositioned Florence’s feed back to its usual place below the water trough, both horses carried on eating like nothing had happened. Thankfully Florence does not seem to have any nasty after affects, although I’m sure she must have one hell of a bruise. I was so horrified, and felt so guilty that my stupidity and carelessness caused this to happen, that it was all I could do not to burst into tears. I won’t make that mistake again.

They Also Break Hearts

As many of you will know, Hal’s horse, Leonie, Leo, has always had problems. Damaged left eye, covered in scars, intermittent ataxia, neurological problems, suspected Wobblers Syndrome. Over the last few months her symptoms have worsened, and she developed a head shaking issue. Her behaviour has become unpredictable, at times challenging sometimes dangerous. Hal has had some frightening near misses while handling her. Our Vets have done a lot of work to try to get to the route of the problem, and see if there is anything that could be done for her. Sadly though

, while Leo seemed to be getting worse, all the tests were inconclusive. After a long and difficult discussion with our Vet we decided that enough was enough. Leo was put to sleep yesterday morning.

This has been so hard. She was only 8, and, as far as we can tell, we were probably the longest home she had ever been in. I also have the sneaky suspicion that her problems were , whether imtemtionally or not, as a result of human action, and The view that a horse is just a thing, not a sentient being with feeling and needs. We will never know the truth, but I don’t think Leo had a good life before she came to us. I hope she felt safe and loved here.

Whatever she was, Leo was no shrinking violet. . She was first at the gate, followed you around, a knocker over of poo ladies wheelbarrows, a grabber of hoses, a biter of bums, and a door banger. There was something about her though that everyone liked.

In Memory

Leonie

15hh Black Irish Cob mare. Passported in Newry, but could have come from anywhere. Exact age unknown, but approximately 8. Taken far far too young.

Very much loved

Next time it thunders, don’t worry, it’s just Leo banging on the gates of heaven because she’s not getting enough attention,

Blind man’s fog

It’s fair to say that it’s been very cold all week. It didn’t actually rain for roughly 10 days which quite honestly feels like a bit of a triumph. We’ve coped with frozen water troughs, and if I’m perfectly honest, rejoiced in the hard frozen ground whichas made such a refreshing change from wading through mud. However things became a bit more tricky when the water started freezing in the buckets in the actual stables. However, we do have a working kettle in the tackroom now, so this wasn’t an unsurmountable problem. That is until Wednesday when disaster struck. The tap on the yard finally froze solid and refused to be revived by boiling water. The tap on the house didn’t want to know either. . So now we’re hauling water from the house to the yard. Hal has been doing the water carrier relay. Back and forth with a wheelbarrow loaded with our enormous water carrier. However, yesterday morning I had to carry the water carrier from the house to the yard, as pushing A wheelbarrow whilst carrying a stick doesn’t really work. I had to make two trips, because I’m not strong enough to carry the water carrier when it is completely full, and on my second trip I really struggled as I had put too much water in and the container was too heavy for me. However I managed it, so my horses did not go thirsty.

All this cold weather has been having quite a serious effect on Hal. Although he has not been formally diagnosed, we believe he has a condition called Raynolds syndrome. This means that, when he gets cold, The blood vessels in his hands contract too much, his hands go pale, and numb, and can be very painful if he touches something. He has really been struggling this week. To try to combat the problem, he has some hand warmer sachets called Little Hotties, which he keeps in his pockets, or can slip inside his gloves if necessary. You just shake them, and they warm up, staying warm for about eight hours. Well they say that necessity is the mother of invention, so when

He was struggling with his hands the other day, Hal had a sudden lightbulb moment. If he placed a little Hottie hand warmer under the water troughs and buckets would it prevent them from freezing? Erm, well yes actually it would! It’s not perfect, but it definitely makes quite a difference.

Yesterday though things got a whole lot more challenging. Storm Emma and the beast from the east had a hot, or should that be cold, date in Devon. The wind blew, and it snowed big-time, and because the Wind blue, The snow drifted. Enter a whole new level of difficulty for yours truly.

It’s not for nothing that some people refer to snow as blind man’s fog. It is the most difficult thing to orientate yourself in if you cannot see. Snow dead and sounv, so you lose all those audible clues, like echoes for example, that you rely on to tell you where you are. Neither can you feel all those tactile clues you get from the ground through your feet. Not just the official tact tiles that you get at road crossings and junctions et cetera, but also those unofficial things tell you where you are, like that even piece of pavement for example. Curbs, sleeping policeman, Grass verges, steps, ramps, and low walls, all things that you might use to tell you where you are, become hidden by deep snow and snow drifts. Using a long cane is extremely difficult, and even Guide Dogs can struggle.

It took us over an hour last night just to give them water. Hal hauling a wheelbarrow through thick drifting snow, and me floundering around trying to find the path I use several times every day. The thought of having to get water to the horses by myself this morning nearly reduced me to tears.

I did it though! I only took a gallon, but added to the remains of their overnight water it kept them going.

Frankly though we are both exhausted. Please let it be Spring soon!