When Morgan Wagner was thirteen years old, her grandmother gave her a beautiful Appaloosa colt named Endo. Together they learned to ride and work as a team. In 2005, Morgan was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Lupus. Over the next few years, her life was turned upside down. “Normal dreams like building a career and family were gone,” she says. “Endo was always there for me. He was my reason to keep going.”
In 2010, Morgan noticed a cloudiness in Endo’s left eye and took him to the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. There, Dr. Jacob Mecham diagnosed Equine Recurring Uveitis (ERU), also known as Moon Blindness. ERU is a chronic, recurring inflammation of the uveal tract of the eye. Although there is minimal research on ERU, it is thought to be an auto-immune disorder, and seems to be more common in Appaloosas. The severity and timing of recurrences can vary.
Dr. Mecham treated Endo with topical anti-inflammatory and pain medication, and the condition resolved in ten days. Unfortunately, several months later, Endo was back in the hospital with uveitis in his right eye, and the disease became progressively worse.
Dr. Mecham prescribed daily doses of pills to control the painful inflammation in Endo’s eyes, but they affected his appetite. “When Endo heard the sound of the pill bottle, he would put his head in the corner of his stall,” says Morgan.
Unable to take medication, and with his pain increasing, Morgan and Dr. Mecham decided to remove Endo’s inflamed eyes. It was a tough decision, but it turned out to be the right one. “He was there for my struggle with accepting and learning to work with my own disability. I was going to help him through his struggle,” says Morgan.
At first he had a hard time adapting. “The hardest thing for him was maintaining his balance. Without his eyes he was unable to see light and dark. We learned there is a huge difference between blind with eyes, and without them. We spent months working on large circles at a walk, then gradually increased the difficulty until he was able to canter small circles,” says Morgan.
Fortunately, Endo is a very smart horse and began to compensate in other ways. “He figured out on his own that the dirt around trees, fence posts, and the arena walls is on an slight incline; he uses that to guide him around the property,” says Morgan.
Endo also has a very good memory. “If I touch his nose to something, he remembers where it is. When we travel for shows, I use the halter to guide his nose along the walls to learn the dimension of his new stall,” says Morgan.
With time, Endo was able to resume some of his favorite activities, like hanging out in the pasture with his buddy, Cinnamon, and riding with Morgan. Amazingly, Endo has little trouble navigating around the farm, including following the road around the buildings. Because he relies on his smell and hearing, there are two things that make him nervous: very loud, continuous noise like a tractor and snow. “The tractor interferes with his hearing,” says Morgan, “and the snow deadens smells.”
Surprisingly, Morgan has also been able to retrain Endo to navigate trail courses, and even jumps, with verbal cues. In 2014, Morgan and Endo stunned the audience at the Northwest Horse Expo All Breed Challenge with their ability to fly through an obstacle course. Later that year, they also competed at the Las Vegas Andalusian World Cup in Working Equitation classes. Morgan’s fees for those events were partially covered by friends of Endo who contributed to a Go Fund Me campaign.
“Endo is amazing,” says Dr. Mecham. “The trust he has for Morgan, that allows him to jump blind, is incredible.”
Morgan just says: “He is a very special horse.”
You can view a video of Endo, coming down the road to Morgan’s call, on Endo’s Facebook page.