Like a conquering hero riding into battle, Norman, a one-eyed ex-racehorse, drew cheers from fans and caused his owner to weep as he competed in his first sanctioned horseshow last weekend.
The 17.3-hand bay gelding ribboned for second and third-place in the 2-foot-3- Jumper competition May 25 at the Bronze Level Equine Canada Sanctioned Show, marking the end of a long, dark chapter, and the beginning of a bright future.
“Everyone was cheering when they announced it was Norman on the course,” says owner Heather Young of Ottawa, Canada. “He competed against 13 other horses in each class under his coach Vanessa Honey of VH Equestrian. And he was amazing. He looks so great that people don’t even realize he doesn’t have his right eye until they see him up close.”
Race name: Alydeed’s Leader
New name: Norman
Dam: Sounding Joy
Foal date: April 26, 1999But what looked easy as Norman tucked his knees, pricked his ears, and conquered oxers and fences, was a long time coming on a journey fraught with hardship.
Norman’s right eye was surgically removed in July 2011 after a stromal abscess destroyed his cornea. Nobody was quite sure what caused it, but veterinarians surmised that a fleck of dirt might have triggered the destruction.
At the time of his diagnosis and subsequent surgery, Young and Norman had only been together for a year. In her, Norman had found a loving owner after living alone in a field for two years, growing thin and forgotten.
Heaven Can Wait Equine Rescue eventually rescued the statuesque animal, boarding him at the charity’s property until Young adopted him in July 2010.
Possessing a sweet temperament with not a mean bone in his body, Norman packed Young around for her lessons, always taking care with his novice rider.
And by the time of his surgery, she would ignore suggestions by friends to euthanize him and start fresh with another horse.
“This was a horse who had been passed around and neglected,” she says. “I couldn’t give up on him.”
At first veterinarians tried injecting medications directly into his affected eye. For 48 hours, Norman waited patiently in a hospital stall, with tubes attached to his face, as medicine was delivered through his eyelid. He never flinched, but did show the doctors he was hip to their poking and prodding ways.
“He quickly figured out if someone with a white coat came in, they were going to poke him or do something else. So he’d turn his back to them and wouldn’t let them near him,” she says. “The vets would have to leave, take off their jackets, and return to his stall with treats”.
Those doctors eventually removed his eye, and Norman was sent home with a protective cup covering the socket.
After a month he was cleared for light riding. But Norman struggled to get his feet back under him. “He tripped over everything, he tripped all the time, and he was constantly lame,” Young says.
But even after these issues cleared up, and the determined T-bred had his feet under him, another, more perplexing one emerged. Whenever she tried to mount him from the mounting block, which was positioned on his left side, his “good side,” he reared up.
After two weeks of trying to puzzle this out, Young brought in a natural horsemanship coach who cleared the matter up in a flash. They moved the mounting block to Norman’s blind side, and Young marveled at the reason.
“It was explained that Norman trusted me, but he wanted to be able to see what was coming at him,” she says. “So, it was fine for me to stand in his blind side, and for him to be backed up to me, and a mounting block. He just needed to see the rest of the world. When the coach explained it to me, it made perfect sense.”
From that point on, it was a slow but steady progression. And eventually, Norman and Young would prove that even with one eye, Norman is as worthy a show horse as any other.
“Watching Norman and Vanessa was one of my proudest moments,” Young says. “It made everything that he and I went through, and all the second guessing myself, fade into the past. It also made me appreciate what an extraordinary animal he truly is.”