breed: 1994 grey Appy mare
type of rescue: Animal Control seizure
intake date: 9/19/2016
adoption date: 6/26/2017
length of time with SAFE: 1 year, 8 months
Stormy’s story is truly a fairy tale! She came to SAFE scared and hurt, with little to look forward to. Today she lives like a princess, and although her “little girl” is a proper grown up, the love between these two is absolute magic. Thank you to Leigh for sharing Stormy’s story with us, and for giving this sweet girl the life she always deserved!
“It’s been just over a year exactly since I brought Stormy home. What a year it has been!
Like many of us, I loved horses growing up; however, for a suburban Canadian kid, the dream of horse ownership was pretty far off! I sated my equestrian yearnings by reading horse magazines, wrote (embarrassing) short stories about horses, collected the Canuck version of Breyer horses, and was contented with lessons and trail riding in the summer. I still dreamed of that ‘one day’ when I could own my own horse and forge that special bond with my favorite animal.
Fast forward to March 2018, and I was sitting in a cafe in Olympia, WA, browsing online for local animal charities. SAFE popped up, and immediately piqued my interest. As I scrolled through pages of adoptable riding horses and companion horses, one equine friend in particular caught my eye.
There was Stormy’s story, and the video working with Melinda on clicker training and under saddle. I started to cry in public, which is unlike me, but I immediately knew I wanted to a) donate money to SAFE to be a Stormy sponsor and b) meet this wonderful courageous creature who had been through so much. My husband, David and I made a plan to meet her and I think he knew then that if I met her, I would want to do everything in my power to bring her home.
We drove from Rochester, WA to Redmond on a beautiful, cool spring day in late March 2018. Ian was there to show us into the paddock that Mason (another SAFE alumni) and Stormy shared. David pet Mason while I approached the shy-but-curious Stormy (I may have brought some carrots; soon learning that treats are a great motivator for my girl. We are alike in that way!) Stormy walked up to us, and let me pet her and give her scritches. Ian was so patient and answered all of my questions about Stormy’s history. I was smitten, from the top of her notched piglet ear to the tip of her tail.
Driving home that evening, I was pretty convinced I was going to finagle a way to bring this adorable appaloosa home.
Here’s my PSA: Most people do not adopt blind horses as their first horse and I wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that it’s a walk in the park. The success of the partnership depends entirely on the horse, the support system, and the level of skill you have. My advice would be to listen to the older/more experienced horse people around you, and soak up everything you can from learning opportunities before taking on a special needs horse. SAFE made sure I was committed and had a lot of support on this journey. I think the only reason it really worked for us is because we did our research and I was realistic: I didn’t adopt an older blind horse because I wanted to turn her into some kind of dressage superstar; I adopted an older blind horse because I wanted to give her a home.
The fact that Stormy has always gone above and beyond my expectations is because I didn’t really have any to start with! I just wanted a friend, and I ended up with so much more. Admittedly, some of the folks around me were skeptical of this decision, but once they met Stormy they realized she’s a steady partner and has the right attitude for a beginner.
Stormy and I have built our relationship on compassion, trust, fairness and trying to find common ground and a common language. She is incredibly patient, a hard worker, and has hilarious moments of ‘sassy Appy-tude’ where she lets you know her opinion. Usually said opinion can be swayed with a firm word and then she’s back to her eager-to-please self, licking and chewing all the way.
So much of building good ground manners and responsiveness in the saddle is ‘feel’ and pressure/release. In this scenario, the horsey half of the partnership can’t see my body language and can’t predict what I’ll do next, so we have to get creative. It’s also interesting that whereas Stormy was most certainly trained under saddle at some point in her life, the neglect she suffered and her blindness basically meant restarting from scratch. SAFE gave her the foundation she needed to be a solid citizen and we are continuing that work.
Our partnership is trial and error, taking baby steps, and re-evaluating constantly. For example, early on we figured out that a plain lunge whip was probably not going to work to move her out on the circle all the time, because unlike sighted horses, she can’t see it coming and thus has no impetus to move away from that pressure. We started to lunge with a stick and flag, because Stormy can hear the ‘whoosh’ of the flag and that’s what she uses to stay out on the circle. When we started walking trails in hand, I sometimes forgot Stormy couldn’t see, so when branches crackled or a bird swooped low and noisily, her spook response was ‘let me climb into your pocket please’ and swinging her head around suddenly to listen better (I now wear a helmet when hand walking trails with her). When she first came home to the barn, we always had a companion in turnout with her or right alongside her. As she’s grown in confidence, she now has turnout on her own in a lovely big paddock, where she miraculously navigates hot wire to chomp delicately on the grass that grows right beneath it.
Learning to ‘unlock’ Stormy’s potential for movement has been a long and rewarding process. We are always working on getting her balanced (due to arthritis she can be a little tight in the haunches), and more relaxed and elastic in her walk and trot. We train on behaviors with the clicker several times a week, whether it’s a refresher on ‘whoa’ or ‘walk on’ or more complex movements like turning on the forehand, trotting over jumps or navigating obstacles using only voice. If something isn’t working, it’s usually my fault, because when I put myself in her ‘hooves’, it’s easy to see that a command wasn’t clear, or that my intention wasn’t easy to follow through with. Stormy has taught me so much patience, and is so willing to try new things, especially if there’s a good crunchy treat in the vicinity. I love that she keeps one ear on me at all times, and the other swiveling to pick up on the rest of the environment.
Stormy’s “Likes” include her gelding neighbor Cecil, having a good lie down in her stall after dinner, rolling around in the arena after a workout, and being groomed on her face until she falls asleep in the cross ties. Dislikes include baths (yuck), being rushed at unexpectedly by baby cows, and summertime flies. She is still on the fence about her hay rations.
Sometimes I like to think that when I was a ten-year old girl daydreaming about my dream horse, Stormy was a little filly taking her first steps in the world. All it took was for me to move 3,000 miles to Washington, a miraculous equine rescue and for 25 years to go by. Stormy was worth the wait.
Stormy took advantage of our nice weather this week by requesting a spa day. She must know that bath time is followed by grazing on fresh grass while fur is drying.
Our blind and beautiful mare Stormy never ceases to amaze. She approaches life with incredible bravery and capability. But it turns out that there is more to Stormy than just being a treasured pasture pet. Last week, Stormy allowed her trusted friend Melinda to place a saddle on her back and climb on. She accepted a rider as if it was the most normal thing in the world. She’s now proven herself a bona fide lead line pony. Who knows how far she’ll go? The choice is hers, and we’re proud to gently offer her these opportunities.
Video created by Kino McFarland, McFarland Media
I’ve been working with Stormy regularly for a few weeks now. It’s been a learning curve for both of us, for sure! This is the first blind horse I’ve worked with. I’ve been teaching her aspects of the horsemanship techniques we use as the basis for SAFE’s training program and combining those with clicker training to teach verbal cues.
Here is a medical update from Melinda our Herd Health Manager about Stormy:
A few months ago, we still believed that Stormy’s right eye maintained some ability to sense light and shadows. We continued to administer medication to manage the uveitis and save that eye in hopes that it was still helpful to her. Unfortunately, her condition worsened. Her eye was no longer responding to medical management, and it was becoming swollen and painful.
Dr. Fleck came out and did a procedure known as a chemical ciliary body ablation, as an alternative to surgery. This procedure involves injecting a drug directly into the eye to induce shrinkage and results in a long-term reduction of intraocular pressure, thereby alleviating her pain. It sometimes takes a few injections to complete, and so far Stormy has had 2 and she’s doing well. If these injections succeed at keeping the pressure down, she will not need to have the eye surgically removed. It’s looking good so far.
In the meantime, Stormy goes about her daily business as a happy camper. Her herd-mate, King, was sent out for training so we needed to introduce her to a new companion. She took a liking to Mason, and he now keeps her company and watches over her in the paddock. Stormy has also gained a few more volunteers to be her “people,” and she very much enjoys getting pampered and loved on.
Stormy and King enjoy some indoor turnout on a snowy day.
We had a bit of a setback in Stormy’s healing process post-surgery. After the bandage removal, we continued to clean the incision site daily and administer antibiotics as Dr. Fleck had prescribed. He said to continue to treat and monitor it, but there was potential that her body was rejecting the ocular implant that was placed during surgery. Implants are commonly placed during enucleation procedures for cosmetic purposes. They give the appearance that the horse just has their eye closed, as opposed to leaving the socket hollow. They’re nice to have, but if her body was rejecting it then the only solution would be to remove it. After about a week and a half of the antibiotic and cleaning regimen, it was clear that she was not healing the way that she should and we would need to intervene.
On Sunday December 4th, Dr. Renner made a trip out to the barn to remove the implant. He sedated her, prepped the site, easily removed the black silicone ball from her eye socket, and bandaged her up. The skin surrounding her socket was inflamed and not ready to be sutured, so he opted to leave it open until there had been enough healing to suture the lid closed again. He returned to change the bandage on Monday and then again on Tuesday. By Tuesday enough healing had taken place to where he could suture the skin closed. He left a small hole to serve as a drain for fluid accumulation. Another bandage was placed, and this time we got the go-ahead to continue bandage changes on our own.
We are now removing the bandage, flushing the socket with a betadine solution, and re-bandaging every 3 days. We’ll continue this until the socket fills in enough that there is no longer a drainage hole. The new sutures will be pulled on 12/20. At that time Stormy can have her bandage off for good, but she’ll need to wear her protective eye cup until the site is completely healed.
Stormy is being an angel for this entire process. She stands quietly for her bandage changes, and doesn’t mind the flushing procedure. Melinda, our herd health manager, says that Stormy asks politely for a really good face-scratching session before having her bandage replaced. We expect the healing to take about a month. Stay tuned for her post-surgery reveal photos!
Stormy has been very patent and relaxed during her recovery from her eye surgery. She had a bandage change Monday 11/14 and Dr. McCracken was pleased with the progress. We were able to remove the bandage on Friday 11/18 and she was allowed to have time out in a small run. And on Monday she once again was able to have turnout time with King in our front field.
Today however we noticed a little drainage near the sutures so we called Rainland for advice. Dr. Fleck advised us to leave the sutures in until next week, in order to let it heal from inside out. He gave us an eye cover for Stormy to help protect the area while still allowing air in to promote healing. We are to clean the area once a day. As a precautionary measure, we’re starting her on antibiotics for a week. Despite this little set back, things still look great for a full recovery, and Stormy remain happy and content.
Please think healing thoughts for Stormy, who will be undergoing surgery today to remove her left eye. Her friend King accompanied her to Rainland Farm Equine yesterday afternoon, and the two should be returning to Safe Harbor on Friday if everything goes as planned. We are very hopeful that Stormy’s quality of life will be improved when she is no longer feels the pain that her damaged eye has clearly been causing her. SAFE is immensely grateful to Trisha and Ryan, who have made an incredibly kind and generous donation to pay for this veterinary procedure. Stormy has touched the hearts of so many people and it is beyond wonderful to know that our community is sending her their collective love today.
UPDATE: Stormy’s surgery could not have gone better, according to Dr McCracken. She is now resting comfortable with her good friend King standing watch beside her. The two should be able to return to Safe Harbor tomorrow if all continues to go well.
We’ve continued to treat and monitor Stormy’s eyes. As we told you before, she was put on a medication that initially seemed to be helping in both eyes. However, within a week, Stormy was back to squinting her left eye, which is a pretty clear sign that it’s hurting. Dr. McCracken came back out to check Stormy’s eye for ulcers (which is a common problem in blind horses if they bump their heads walking into things). She didn’t find ulcers, but was not happy to see that Stormy’s eye was swollen nearly all the way shut.
Sadly, Dr. McCracken has suggested that we think about removing Stormy’s left eye sooner than later. The eye has not improved with the medication she’s been given, and unfortunately there is not a stronger option available. Removing the left eye is the only option to relieve her discomfort. Stormy’s right eye is not currently causing her pain, but Dr McCracken suspects glaucoma, and has advised us that it will eventually need to be removed as well.
As we saw with Anakin, removing a horse’s eye, especially when it is causing them pain or discomfort, is not the worst thing that can happen. Anakin’s procedure went flawlessly, and he is a much happier horse now. But Anakin was a horse with a strong determination to live, and he remains fully sighted in his remaining eye. The decision as to what is best for Stormy is difficult. It’s hard to know what sort of quality of life she is facing, and how much is too much for a horse of her age and condition. Most of all, we are sad that her uveitis went untreated for so long, leaving her in such misery. She is a lovely horse who certainly deserved better.
Stormy got a visit from Rainland Farm Equine veterinarian Megan McCracken DVM earlier this month, including an eye examination to try to determine how serious her condition is. Below, you can read the report from Dr McCracken in all its clinical detail. Stormy has a condition called Uveitis in both her eyes. Uveitis is fairly common in Appaloosas, especially those that are grey or white like Stormy. Uveitis causes recurring inflammation and eventual blindness, and it’s pretty safe to say that this is something that Stormy has been facing for quite some time. She is definitely blind, and clearly in some discomfort.
Stormy’s left eye is often squinted or partly closed, with some clear discharge. The squinting indicates that there is some pain or discomfort in this eye. She does not react to movement or light, and her pupil is fixed and does not dilate. The pupil appears to be adhered to the lens, and she also appears to have a cataract on that lens as well, which would explain the lack of reaction to light being shined into her eye.
Stormy’s right eye appears enlarged, which could indicate glaucoma or increased pressure. There is no reaction to movement or light in this eye either. It is possible to see that her lens has become detached and is now resting at the bottom of the anterior chamber of the eye. This will also increase the pressure in the eye because there isn’t room enough for the lens in this part of the eye. However this eye does not appear to be causing her pain or discomfort.
Dr McCracken advised us to treat Stormy with a cortico-steroid ointment in both eyes to decrease the inflammation. We noticed an improvement right away in the appearance of swelling and Stormy seemed happier and more comfortable too. This has been quite a relief to us all!
We’ll continue to monitor the situation and work with Dr McCracken and possibly an equine ophthalmologist to determine the best course of treatment for Stormy. It’s very possible that one or both eyes may need to be removed at some point in the future if her discomfort can’t be controlled. We would like to find a companion for Stormy that be her eyes the way King is now. If we’re successful into introducing her to a suitable friend, the two would be adopted together to a home where they could live out their days in comfort.
ASSESSMENT NOTES : Stormy has evidence of bilateral Equine Recurrent Uveitis. This is a chronic condition of horses that results in recurrent inflammation of the uvea or structures within the eye). It is very common in Appaloosa horses and more common in Appaloosas with very pale coat colors.
Stormy’s left eye is currently more painful as evidence by her blethrospasm or squinting. There is also increased epiphora or clear ocular discharge from that eye. On evaluation, she does not have a menace (moving her head away in reaction to a hand moving toward her eye), a PLR (pupillary light response — the reflex contraction of the pupil when light is shone in the eye), or a dazzle (reaction to a bright light shone in the eye). There is significant increased corneal opacity (cloudiness in the outer layer of the eye), which makes evaluation of the inner ocular structures difficult. It is possible to see her pupil and it appears to be adherent to the lens. The lens also appears to have a cataract (increased opacity of the lens). These findings are all consistent with equine recurrent uveitis. The cornea is fluroscein stain negative meaning that there are no scratches or abrasions on the cornea.
Stormy’s right eye also has signs of severe recurrent equine uveitis. This eye is enlarged. There is no menace, PLR, or dazzle. There is increased corneal opacity (cloudiness). In addition to the overall cloudiness of the eye, there are several linear streaks if more opaque cornea. These are often consistent with increased ocular pressure (glaucoma). It is difficult to see beyond the cornea, however it is possible to see her lens resting on the floor of the anterior chamber. The anterior chamber is the front portion of the eye between the cornea and the iris. The lens should normally be suspended in the posterior chamber (behind the iris) behind the pupil. It is used to focus light the comes in through the cornea (front of the eye) onto the retina, which is at the back of the eye. In cases of chronic uveitis, lens luxations can occur. If it is a poster luxation, the lens remains within the posterior chamber. There is no change in pressure in the eye and there is just decreased vision. In Stormy’s case the lens has fallen into the anterior chamber, there is not space for it in this portion of the eye and it has therefore induced increased ocular pressure or glaucoma. A measurement of intra-ocular pressure would be needed to fully diagnose the presence of glaucoma. This eye does not appear to be as painful. Stormy is currently blind with evidence of severe recurrent uveitis in both eyes. She has one painful and one significantly abnormal eye. The eye with the presumptive glaucoma does not appear as painful, but it could become so in the future.
Stormy was started on antibiotic and corticosteroid ointment in both eyes to decrease the inflammation with her eyes. She also was started on two days of oral banamine to further decrease this inflammation. This should make her more comfortable. Measurement of intraocular pressure and treatment with glaucoma medications should be considered.
Spoke with Terry on 10–5‑16 — Stormy is significantly more comfortable on the corticosteroid ointment. Plan to continue administration twice a day for a total of 14 days and then decrease to once a day.
Stormy is a 22 year old Appaloosa mare who was seized from her owner by Pierce Co Animal Control. Stormy, another horse, and several dogs were discovered living tied to trees and starving, on a wooded property where their owner was squatting. The horses were seized and held in Animal Control custody for nearly 7 months while their owner unsuccessfully petitioned the court for their return.
Stormy has uveitis in both her eyes, and she may be completely blind. Despite this, she is a calm and capable mare who leads easily, loads into a trailer, and can comfortably move in and out of her stall into her small paddock. She is very sweet.
Photos, just off the trailer: