PLEASANT HILL, Ore. (KOIN) — In the farmlands outside Eugene lives a horse that sees the world a little differently than the rest of us.
His name is Endo the Blind. He’s a 19-year-old Pony of the Americans horse owned by Morgan Wagner.
And he’s missing both of his eyes.
Endo was born a healthy bay colt and was owned by Morgan’s grandmother. When Morgan was 13, her grandma let her choose a foal from her herd. Endo was just a few months old when Morgan chose him.
“He was just different,” she said. “There were prettier foals, more outgoing foals, but he was different.”
Morgan was new to the equine world when she got the young horse but they both learned and grew together. But even with a natural gift for horsemanship, Morgan had her hands full.
“He was a horse, before going blind, that would have just a neurotic breakdown if you moved him just one stall over at home. Wouldn’t eat for a couple days. So that was a lot of work to get him to that point. But now, everywhere is home,” she said.
Endo started having eye problems when he was eight. His eyes would get puffy, red and weepy. Veterinarians diagnosed him with equine recurrent uveitis (also known as “moon blindness”), glaucoma and cataracts. His prognosis wasn’t good.
“Those flare-ups continued until he was 12, 13,” said Morgan. “They started getting worse — the vet was out a couple times a month. Nothing was working and we had to decide to take the eyes out. We did the right one first and then 6 months later, the left one came out.”
The loss of the first eye was a shock for Endo. Morgan said he was scared so she started practicing blindfolding him to get him used to the feeling of having no vision at all.
“The first time, he shook and didn’t want to move,” Morgan said. “Then by the third time, I was able to walk him around the arena and he figured out how to rub off the blindfold, so that was that.”
Even though his one remaining eye could only discern a little light, Endo was able to keep his balance. But after it was removed, he struggled with dizziness, even at a walk.
Morgan put in the time and effort needed to help Endo cope with his now-sightless life. She learned how to be more aware of sounds and smells to help her horse adjust.
“I have to be aware of not just what I can see,” she said.
The pair experienced many challenges and obstacles as Endo learned how to navigate the world without sight.
“The first time we went out to a pasture after he lost his eyes, he was at a walk and then I just let him go to see what he would do,” Morgan said. “He was running within a couple of seconds. He just kept going faster and faster.”
As with all major adjustments in life, Endo stumbled — literally. Morgan said his front teeth bear the chips from the times he tripped in the early sightless days. But she said he “fought really hard to stay up. He tries to keep me safe — he hasn’t tripped for a really long time.”
From afar, it’s almost impossible to notice anything amiss with Endo: he moves and acts like a horse equipped with all of its natural senses. The incredible thing is, he never runs into things.
“He can kind of feel the ground when it starts to change for uphill or downhill. Even with trails, he can feel when he starts going off the trail by the grass or the leaves on the side,” Morgan said.
She thinks Endo can hear the way his hoofbeats ricochet off structures like walls, trees and fenceposts.
“If I were to turn him loose in an arena like this for the first time, he can canter right up to the fencing and stop — he knows it’s there,” she said. “I can put him out in new pastures, he goes around the trees; he can sense the hot wire fencing even if it’s not on.”
As if being able to simply get around weren’t impressive enough, Endo is a seasoned show horse with many blue ribbons to his name. Morgan and Endo compete in working equitation, which combines dressage, obstacle and timed obstacle phases, as well as trick training and liberty work. Endo was just named the national champion at the master’s level.
The pair also travel to various equine expos, including the Northwest Horse Fair & Expo in Albany and the Washington State Horse Expo in Ridgefield. The events give Endo and Morgan the opportunity to show the public just how deep the bond can run between human and horse.
Morgan said people react in many different ways when they meet Endo.
“They always believe there’s an eye on the other side,” she said. “I’ve had kids just cry and say how horrible and unfair it is, and other kids say he’s magical and want to give him cookies, he nuzzles them.”
The events also give Endo a chance to show off his jumping abilities, his knowledge of more than 50 verbal cues and dozens of tricks.
One of his favorite tricks involves eating — his favorite activity, Morgan said.
“He has this fun little game we play where I put an apple slice in a bunch of carrots and I tell him ‘eat apple’ and he’ll eat the apple but none of the carrots,” Morgan said. “Then we switch it and do it with the carrots, too, with one carrot and a bunch of apple slices. He likes that game. It’s the wintertime activity since he can’t go out every day.”
When Endo isn’t on the road, he spends his time as a lesson horse for young riders, training with Morgan and playing with his miniature horse pal, Cinnamon, who Morgan rescued from a neglectful situation. The little horse is never far from Endo’s side.
Morgan said Endo is taking the rest of this winter off but will go to Equitana in September 2020 at Kentucky Horse Park.
As for future retirement?
“When he decides,” Morgan said. “Right now, he likes going to events and visiting with people. Being fawned over, petted and getting treats. He probably won’t get sick of that for a while.”
While Endo is a success story for horses who lose their sight, Morgan said not all cases should expect the same results.
“Some horses could do it, some owners could do it — but some can’t. It just depends,” she said. “A lot of people message me wanting help and I feel like they want the magic answer — the secret in a couple sentences. It’s like, no, this is years and years of hard work.”
But one thing is clear: Morgan has worked hard to let Endo still be a horse who can run and play and enjoy horsey things so that, in the end, it can be said Endo the Blind lost his sight but he never lost his spirit.
Meet Morgan and Endo March 7 & 8 at the Washington State Horse Expo in Clark County