Right in the Eye: Tricks for Applying Eye Ointment

In this excerpt from the book Good Horse, Bad Habits, horsewoman and lifelong rancher Heather Smith-Thomas explains how to deal with that common problem: treating your horse’s eye injury.

Courtesy Trafalgar Square

Most horses are very sensitive about their eyes, and putting medication into an eye can therefore be a difficult challenge. Even a gentle horse that trusts you may resist and throw his head in the air or rush backward when you attempt to treat an eye.

Here are a few tricks to making sure that, should your horse ever injure his eye, you’ll be able to treat it without fuss:

1. Spend a lot of time working with the horse’s head and face in your daily interactions and training sessions. Rub the areas around both eyes (but not too close to them), using advance-and-retreat techniques (going closer, then backing away to an area where he was comfortable with your touch before coming closer again). Work toward the horse allowing you to gently cup your hand over each eye without touching it. If he raises his head to avoid your touch, work on lessons for lowering his head, giving him treats, if necessary, as a reward. Take your time and be patient. When you are tense or in a hurry, the horse is more likely to become upset.

2. If the horse accepts having your hands near his eyes, consider your technique when applying the ointment.

  • Stand facing the side of his head and slide your hand (the one nearest his neck) under the cheek piece of his halter, so that if he moves your hand will move with him.
  • Place the tube of eye medication in that hand, and point it toward the front corner of the horse’s eye. Hold the tube parallel with the eye so it won’t be so apt to bump the eye if he moves.
  • Rest the wrist of your opposite hand against the side of the horse’s nose/face and put the thumb of that hand against his lower eyelid, near the front corner of the eye.
  • Use this thumb to roll the lower eyelid down and your index finger to push upward on the upper eyelid to keep the horse from shutting his eye tightly.
  • Gently place the tip of the medication tube in the corner of his eye and draw it carefully along the inside of the lower eyelid as you squeeze out a string of ointment, depositing it along the membrane of the inner lower eyelid. With good luck, the horse cooperates and you can release the eyelids so he can close his eye following this application.
    Use your thumb to gently massage the lower eyelid to help spread the medication around.

3. If necessary, squeeze the proper amount of medication onto your clean finger (or wear a surgical glove if you don’t want it in contact with your skin). Repeat the process described in Solution 2 for holding the upper and lower eyelids open. Once the lower eyelid is exposed, gently transfer/scrape the ointment from your finger onto the inner part of the lid and release the lid, allowing the horse to close his eye and spread the medication around. This method is often less confrontational to many horses and so they are more apt to stand still.

When the horse is too touchy about his eyes to stand still enough for applying necessary medication, consider having an assistant help you.

This excerpt from Good Horse, Bad Habits by Heather Smith-Thomas is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).

Courtesy Trafalgar Square

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