Eye Injuries

Horse owners should take every eye injury very seriously.

Because horses have large, prominent eyes on the sides of their heads, they are more prone to eye injuries than other domestic animals. Most eye injuries result from a variety of causes – foreign objects such as dirt, sand or small rocks thrown into the eye during racing or running; scratches from hay stems, weeds or tree limbs; or accidental trauma from humans.

Self-inflicted injuries occur when the horse makes a sudden head movement and contacts a trailer latch, hook, protruding nail, fence, bucket handle or some other object. Because the cornea almost entirely fills the space between the eyelids, corneal ulcers, abrasions and lacerations are the most common of all eye injuries.

Only two to three days are required for some corneal injuries to become sight-threatening. It is critical for you to recognize the early signs that accompany corneal injuries and to seek prompt medical attention.

In addition to recognizing the signs of eye injuries, a horseman needs to recognize signs of good and bad conformation. AQHA's "Form to Function - The Importance of Horse Conformation" DVD will help you do just that.

Eye injuries are extremely painful. The eyelids might swell, and redness could occur in the white part of the eye. Inflammation, which often accompanies eye injuries, can lead to a gray cloudiness of the cornea and, if severe enough, long-term scarring.

Because the cornea is normally inhabited by bacteria and fungi, there is a great potential for even minor injuries to become infected. Minor infections can rapidly progress and result in permanent damage in as little as 24 hours if left unattended.

If Your Horse Injures His Eye

    • Have him examined as soon as possible by a veterinarian to determine the type and extent of injury.
    • Wait to apply medication until after the examination because it could interfere with diagnostic tests.
    • Do not reuse ointments. Used medication could be contaminated and cause infection if applied to a freshly injured eye.


Therapy will be dictated by the type and extent of the injury, the complications encountered and the disposition of the animal.

Therapy involves removing the cause, if still present, and controlling the infection with topical or injectable antibiotics, and ophthalmic atropine and oral nonsterodial anti-inflammatories. Atropine ointment is placed in the eye to dilate the pupil, which prevents adhesion formation in the iris and relieves pain.

Did you know that complications and injury can result from certain types of conformation? AQHA's "Form to Function - The Importance of Horse Conformation" DVD explains the importance of a well conformed horse. AQHA members get a discount!

Because atropine dilates the pupil, the horse should be kept in a dark stall and out of sunlight throughout the treatment period and several days after. Corneal injuries require aggressive therapy that can include treatment of the affected eye four to six times a day. Because corneal injuries can heal or worsen quickly, the eye should be re-evaluated by a vet 24 to 48 hours after treatment has begun.


With appropriate treatment, most corneal injuries have successful outcomes. The success rate is directly proportional to the speed with which the eye is examined and treatment initiated. Remember that an eye injury is a true emergency.

The difference of a few hours can have a dramatic effect on the outcome.

For more information on keeping your horse healthy, consult an American Association of Equine Practitioners member veterinarian in your area. For a list of members, log onto, or call (800) GETADVM.