After a nearly three year long battle with Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU); I had my mare, Farletta’s right eye removed (enucleation) on October 24, 2012. Even though I was convinced the enucleation was the best choice for her and the only way to put an end to the constant pain and the pharmacy of drugs Farletta consumed on a daily basis; it still was not an easy decision. I did a lot of soul searching for myself – Is enucleation really what is best for Farletta? I also tried to tune
in to Farletta; how did she feel? Could she comprehend the choice I was trying to make for her? Did she understand the pain she felt could be stopped but it would mean she would lose her eye?
As a communicator I have learned the animals which are the most difficult for me to read are the ones I am closest to. The strong emotions and spiritual connection I have with my horse can actually inhibit my ability to read her. It is not unlike viewing a pointillism painting; if you stand too close all you see are thousands of individual dots of color, there is beauty and emotion but the message is unclear. If you step back and view
the painting from a distance you see how the thousands of tiny dots of color with all their depth and beauty come together to create an amazing picture and the message becomes quite clear. So it was when I reached out to Farletta; I was too close to see clearly. Was I hearing her or were my own emotions clouding my mind?
By early October there was little room for choice; Farletta’s eye was rapidly deteriorating and she was suffering the negative effects of long-term use of steroids, anti-inflammatories and pain killers. The choice was now between losing her eye and preserving her overall health and well-being; the answer became clear and the enucleation was performed.
There have been a few unexpected side-effects from having Farletta’s eye removed. She is not as messy in her stall, she is no longer suffering chronic back and hock pain, her coat is very shiny, her weight is healthy and easy to maintain.
Farletta is happy and playful again; she does silly things and plays silly games. She seems younger, lighter and more comfortable with life in general.
There is one other unexpected side effect from Farletta’s enucleation; a rebuilding of a broken part of our relationship. Five years ago I fell off of Farletta and was severely injured. As a result of the accident I lost faith in my ability to ride and I was unable to fully put my trust in Farletta; a fact which broke my heart. I mourned the loss of that part of our relationship; fear was now a constant companion each time I tried to ride my
beloved friend. I pressed on year after year trying to rebuild my trust in my own ability to ride and also fully place my trust back in my horse; but each year I rode less and less frequently.
However, something changed that first time I climbed on Farletta’s back following her recovery period from the enucleation surgery. I stroked her neck with my right hand and gently touched her right side with my leg. “I will watch out for
you, Farletta.” I spoke quietly to my mare, “Do you feel my hand on your rein? Do you feel my leg on your side? When I am on you, I will be your right eye; my hand and leg will tell you what you cannot see and keep you safe.”
There was no hesitation, no question, no doubt from Farletta. There was only trust. She rode that first day and every day since with absolute trust in me. She listens carefully to me and I listen carefully to her. We now experience a oneness we have not shared since before the accident. Farletta was able to do what I could not; trust without question, without doubt, without fear.
On a cold December evening, I did what I haven’t been able to do for more than five years. Following a quiet ride that
evening; I steered Farletta to the center of the large, empty
indoor arena. The fluorescent bulbs overhead cast a harsh but functional glow illuminating the arena as bright as a flash of lightning on a dark night.
I breathed in the smells of the damp earth and cold air.
Slowly, I let the breath out; sinking into the saddle, signaling for Farletta to halt. I sat in silence astride my horse, remembering a time which seemed so very long ago; a time when my trust in myself and in my horse was strong and unwavering. I gently touched the left rein with my right hand; signaling Farletta to turn her head toward my left leg. Slowly I slid my left hand up her neck toward her ears. A tiny twinge of doubt crept in and I
paused; touching Farletta’s ear before withdrawing my hand.
I took another deep breath in through my nose releasing it slowly out through my mouth. I placed my left hand on Farletta’s neck, once again sliding it forward over her soft coat
toward her head. Gently, I slipped my thumb under her headstall behind her ears, lifting the leather strap enough to get my fingers around it. Another deep breath; in through my nose and out through my slightly parted lips. “You ready for this?” I asked my mare. Farletta let out a soft sigh and tilted her
ears delicately in my direction. With a slight forward movement of my hand, Farletta’s bridle slipped over her ears and the bit dropped from her mouth.
Farletta stretched her neck outward and downward. She
let out a soft sigh and slowly worked her mouth in the way a horse does to show contentment or satisfaction. Still holding her now empty bridle in my left hand and the rein ends in my right hand, I gently touched my legs to Farletta’s sides and she moved forward with confidence.
We rode around the arena making patterns in the damp sand beneath Farletta’s feet. We navigated over poles and around invisible obstacles. It was just as before; we were just as before – feeling a connection and unity which can only come from a trust born when each individual believes not only in herself; but also in the other.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW, Equine Enthusiast, EAGALA groupie and writer of interesting, educational and entertaining blog posts!