THE STORY OF A HUNTER

Af Tina Bjerre Nielsen.

The deep hollowing on the right side of the head testifies that something is missing. Something that once had an important place on the horse's body. A body part which it is really hard to imagine that it can do without. How can it place itself in the world around it? Can it be ridden? And is it doing okay? When a horse loses an eye, its life is not necessarily over. Hunter Mette Kaufmann can attest to that. Read the inspiring story of her and her 17-year-old, Irish thoroughbred horse, Churchtowns Star – among friends called Langben (Longlegs). In the spring of 2020, he had to say goodbye to his right eye. Today, this hunting team ride undisturbed at full speed across the meadows, forest and the fixed obstacles.

When the horse loses an eye

It all began back in 2018 when Langben started getting small blisters on the cornea of his right eye. It was liquid, and it was clear to Mette that her horse was in pain. Therefore, she naturally had him examined and treated in the best possible way by the vet.

In 2019, the veterinarian was able to conclude that it was a relatively normal but nonetheless quite serious eye disease. The diagnosis was immune-mediated keratitis (IMMK). It is an immune system disease in which the eye attacks itself and in which the blisters that form on the cornea burst, if left untreated. If this happens, there will be holes in the cornea. Often, the disease can be treated before the blisters burst, but they will in all likelihood return. Therefore, it can be an enormously protracted and worrying disease that is difficult to predict the outcome from. That was what Mette and Langben experienced before she then had to make a drastic decision in 2019.


The eye attacked itself

Langben and his rider Mette Kaufmann. Photo: Bent Ursin.

The first thing Mette, in consultation with the vet, went on to try in order to save Langben's eye was an operation on the cornea.
“I would rather not have had his eye removed, so the vet found an ophthalmologist for animals who works a lot in Sweden and who is trained in the United States. She came and did a microsurgical operation on his eye," Mette explains.

Not surprisingly, the operation was both expensive and demanding, and long-term medication was required afterwards. Mette says that Langben is definitely not good at sleeping in foreign surroundings, and therefore she was allowed to take him home a few days after the operation. But the price for this was high.

"It required me to medicate him every four hours around the clock for three weeks," she says. The sentence is followed by an emotional pause that quite clearly testifies to how hard it was and how much she would do to help her partner.

With a warm-hearted sigh, she continues: “So I did. I slept as if I had had a baby again and had the alarm clock ringing at night so I could drive over to the barn and give him his medicine. But the worst thing about it all was, that 14 days after the surgery, it came back. In a different place in the same eye.” 

In other words, the operation did not have the desired effect, and Mette again had to consider what she should do to help Langben.

Expensive and ineffective surgery

To some, it might seem both sad and a little creepy when a horse is missing an eye. Mette thought so too when she was confronted with the possibility. In fact, she was terrified at the thought of her horse becoming one-eyed. But after continuing to struggle with Langben's eye disease on the back burner of the unsuccessful operation, she and her veterinarian made the tough decision in January 2020 that the eye had to be removed.

“I said, this has to stop. I felt so bad for him. I talked to several people who had showjumpers who had also lost an eye. They all said that the horses were fine and that it was no problem for them to keep jumping,” she explains.

Of course, knowing this calmed Mette down a bit. However, the fact that one rider had experienced that the horse had problems assessing level differences in the terrain made her worried. “I just thought, oh no, all I do is ride terrain on mine. So I was really not very excited about it, but there was nothing else to be done.” Therefore, Langben had his eye removed.


The eye had to be removed

Surprisingly, Mette was able to quickly let go of many of her worries. Langben was basically well after the operation, and it did not take long before Mette was back in the saddle again. In fact, it only took a couple of weeks.

“It's a little bit funny. The expensive eye surgery that did not work required three months in which we not allowed to do much. But when he had his eye removed, I was cleared to ride shortly after. Already 16 days after, when the stitches were taken, I allowed to sit on him. And after another week, we had ridden both in the terrain and taken a few small jumps," Mette remembers.

However, it is no secret that she was quite frightened at the thought of having to jump in the terrain on her now half-blind horse. She hardly dared, she says. But with a good explanation from a professional who could tell, that horses do not judge distance in the same way as humans because their eyes sit on the side of their head, the trust in jumping came back to her again.


In the terrain after 16 days 

When Mette is asked if she could generally feel anything different about Langben when she got back in the saddle after the operation, the answer is: "Nothing. It was simply not to be felt in the saddle that Langben now had only one eye. The problem was really in me and my head,” Mette emphasizes, referring to her fear of whether he could become a jumper again.

“Of course, I do take care. First of all, he's allowed to turn around when I ride if he needs to look somewhere. And when we jump two and two during the hunts, I have the horse he jumps with, on the side of him where he can see. Then he can judge exactly where they are. But the horses he knows and is comfortable with, they can be by his blind side when we ride a normal ride in the woods,” Mette explains.

The only thing she has experienced as a challenge after the surgery is that she needs to pay more attention to how she handles him from the ground. It is important that she shows him an extra time where she is. "It's not enough to talk to him. I also just have to poke him with a finger so that he can feel that I am there now,” she points out.

In addition, he also had to learn for himself what it meant that he had lost his sight on one side when he was standing in the stable. Suddenly he could feel things he could not see, and that sometimes this frightened him.

“The first 14 days he must have had a lot of bruises on his head. Once inside his stall, he could get scared of something he could not see. If, for example, he would touch the manger on the blind side, he was so startled that he threw his head and perhaps slammed it into the wall. I felt bad for him,” she says.

In the end, however, she points out that it is quite clear how Langben is all the way back to his old self: “He is happy, he has his courage back, and he is just a great friend to ride. And then he simply has so much personality.” 


Did not feel any difference

Langben and Mette have known each other since he came to Denmark from Ireland about ten years ago. In 2016, they won the Hubertus Hunt (famous Danish hunt) together while still having his right eye. Due to the corona pandemic, however, not many hunts have taken place since Langben's eye was removed, but those they have ridden have exceeded all expectations.

“I have really learned from all this that if I have to make a similar decision another time, I will not hesitate for a moment. I would definitely have had the eye removed to begin with if I had known it would end so well. Then he could have been spared the 3 months of eyedrops after the first operation - and I would have had a smaller vet bill."

It is Mette's hope that Langben's story can inspire and help other horse owners if one day they to have to make a tough and worrying decision just like her. It is important to remember that a horse can easily live a good and adventurous life with a visual impairment.


Would not hesitate another time

This is how Langben looked back in 2019, before his right eye was removed.
 Photo: Bent Ursin

Langben and Mette at the traditional Danish Hubertus hunt before the eye was removed. The crew is seen in the middle of the picture.
Photo: Bent Ursin

Langben and Mette during a hunt in 2021. Photo: Kim Mathiesen, Visual photography

This is what Langben looked like shortly after the eye was operated on.
 Photo: Private.

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The deep hollowing on the right side of the head testifies that something is missing. Something that once had an important place on the horse's body. A body part which it is really hard to imagine that it can do without. How can it place itself in the world around it? Can it be ridden? And is it doing okay? When a horse loses an eye, its life is not necessarily over. Hunter Mette Kaufmann can attest to that. Read the inspiring story of her and her 17-year-old, Irish thoroughbred horse, Churchtowns Star – among friends called Langben (Longlegs). In the spring of 2020, he had to say goodbye to his right eye. Today, this hunting team ride undisturbed at full speed across the meadows, forest and the fixed obstacles.

THE STORY OF A HUNTER

Af Tina Bjerre Nielsen.

When the horse loses an eye

Langben and his rider Mette Kaufmann. Photo: Bent Ursin.

The eye attacked itself

It all began back in 2018 when Langben started getting small blisters on the cornea of his right eye. It was liquid, and it was clear to Mette that her horse was in pain. Therefore, she naturally had him examined and treated in the best possible way by the vet.

In 2019, the veterinarian was able to conclude that it was a relatively normal but nonetheless quite serious eye disease. The diagnosis was immune-mediated keratitis (IMMK). It is an immune system disease in which the eye attacks itself and in which the blisters that form on the cornea burst, if left untreated. If this happens, there will be holes in the cornea. Often, the disease can be treated before the blisters burst, but they will in all likelihood return. Therefore, it can be an enormously protracted and worrying disease that is difficult to predict the outcome from. That was what Mette and Langben experienced before she then had to make a drastic decision in 2019.


This is how Langben looked back in 2019, before his right eye was removed.
 Photo: Bent Ursin

Expensive and ineffective surgery

The first thing Mette, in consultation with the vet, went on to try in order to save Langben's eye was an operation on the cornea.
“I would rather not have had his eye removed, so the vet found an ophthalmologist for animals who works a lot in Sweden and who is trained in the United States. She came and did a microsurgical operation on his eye," Mette explains.

Not surprisingly, the operation was both expensive and demanding, and long-term medication was required afterwards. Mette says that Langben is definitely not good at sleeping in foreign surroundings, and therefore she was allowed to take him home a few days after the operation. But the price for this was high.

"It required me to medicate him every four hours around the clock for three weeks," she says. The sentence is followed by an emotional pause that quite clearly testifies to how hard it was and how much she would do to help her partner.

With a warm-hearted sigh, she continues: “So I did. I slept as if I had had a baby again and had the alarm clock ringing at night so I could drive over to the barn and give him his medicine. But the worst thing about it all was, that 14 days after the surgery, it came back. In a different place in the same eye.” 

In other words, the operation did not have the desired effect, and Mette again had to consider what she should do to help Langben.

The eye had to be removed

To some, it might seem both sad and a little creepy when a horse is missing an eye. Mette thought so too when she was confronted with the possibility. In fact, she was terrified at the thought of her horse becoming one-eyed. But after continuing to struggle with Langben's eye disease on the back burner of the unsuccessful operation, she and her veterinarian made the tough decision in January 2020 that the eye had to be removed.

“I said, this has to stop. I felt so bad for him. I talked to several people who had showjumpers who had also lost an eye. They all said that the horses were fine and that it was no problem for them to keep jumping,” she explains.

Of course, knowing this calmed Mette down a bit. However, the fact that one rider had experienced that the horse had problems assessing level differences in the terrain made her worried. “I just thought, oh no, all I do is ride terrain on mine. So I was really not very excited about it, but there was nothing else to be done.” Therefore, Langben had his eye removed.


In the terrain after 16 days 

Surprisingly, Mette was able to quickly let go of many of her worries. Langben was basically well after the operation, and it did not take long before Mette was back in the saddle again. In fact, it only took a couple of weeks.

“It's a little bit funny. The expensive eye surgery that did not work required three months in which we not allowed to do much. But when he had his eye removed, I was cleared to ride shortly after. Already 16 days after, when the stitches were taken, I allowed to sit on him. And after another week, we had ridden both in the terrain and taken a few small jumps," Mette remembers.

However, it is no secret that she was quite frightened at the thought of having to jump in the terrain on her now half-blind horse. She hardly dared, she says. But with a good explanation from a professional who could tell, that horses do not judge distance in the same way as humans because their eyes sit on the side of their head, the trust in jumping came back to her again.


Did not feel any difference

When Mette is asked if she could generally feel anything different about Langben when she got back in the saddle after the operation, the answer is: "Nothing. It was simply not to be felt in the saddle that Langben now had only one eye. The problem was really in me and my head,” Mette emphasizes, referring to her fear of whether he could become a jumper again.

“Of course, I do take care. First of all, he's allowed to turn around when I ride if he needs to look somewhere. And when we jump two and two during the hunts, I have the horse he jumps with, on the side of him where he can see. Then he can judge exactly where they are. But the horses he knows and is comfortable with, they can be by his blind side when we ride a normal ride in the woods,” Mette explains.

The only thing she has experienced as a challenge after the surgery is that she needs to pay more attention to how she handles him from the ground. It is important that she shows him an extra time where she is. "It's not enough to talk to him. I also just have to poke him with a finger so that he can feel that I am there now,” she points out.

In addition, he also had to learn for himself what it meant that he had lost his sight on one side when he was standing in the stable. Suddenly he could feel things he could not see, and that sometimes this frightened him.

“The first 14 days he must have had a lot of bruises on his head. Once inside his stall, he could get scared of something he could not see. If, for example, he would touch the manger on the blind side, he was so startled that he threw his head and perhaps slammed it into the wall. I felt bad for him,” she says.

In the end, however, she points out that it is quite clear how Langben is all the way back to his old self: “He is happy, he has his courage back, and he is just a great friend to ride. And then he simply has so much personality.” 


Langben and Mette at the traditional Danish Hubertus hunt before the eye was removed. The crew is seen in the middle of the picture.
Photo: Bent Ursin

Langben and Mette during a hunt in 2021. Photo: Kim Mathiesen, Visual photography

Would not hesitate another time

Langben and Mette have known each other since he came to Denmark from Ireland about ten years ago. In 2016, they won the Hubertus Hunt (famous Danish hunt) together while still having his right eye. Due to the corona pandemic, however, not many hunts have taken place since Langben's eye was removed, but those they have ridden have exceeded all expectations.

“I have really learned from all this that if I have to make a similar decision another time, I will not hesitate for a moment. I would definitely have had the eye removed to begin with if I had known it would end so well. Then he could have been spared the 3 months of eyedrops after the first operation - and I would have had a smaller vet bill."

It is Mette's hope that Langben's story can inspire and help other horse owners if one day they to have to make a tough and worrying decision just like her. It is important to remember that a horse can easily live a good and adventurous life with a visual impairment.


 This is what Langben looked like shortly after the eye
 was operated on.
 Photo: Private.

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