AUBURN – In the paddock at Black Horse Farm, the little black filly decides it’s time for some attention.

While her mother serenely munches on hay nearby, the 3-month-old foal wanders over to owner Lisa Bither, nonchalantly leans down and starts nibbling on the woman’s shoe to untie her laces. When that doesn’t get the attention she wants, she pulls on the zipper of Bither’s fleece vest, nuzzles her pocket, nudges her for a kiss.

As Bither indulges her with a back scratch, the filly pricks her ears forward to catch the sound of a chicken scratching nearby, and she startles briefly at the sound of a stranger’s voice. But other than that, it’s almost impossible to tell the foal is blind.

“So many people say to us ‘What are you going to do with her?'” Bither said. “‘What can’t we do with her?’ I say.”

The filly – unnamed until Bither and her boyfriend, Jim Arthur, can come up with something perfect – was born in August to a mare who was boarding at their farm. The pregnancy had been normal, and no one anticipated the birth defect that left the baby completely blind.

“My first thought was ‘My god, we’ll have to euthanize her. What kind of life can she lead?'” Bither said.

Many horse owners do immediately euthanize blind foals, Bither said. Some owners don’t believe they can handle a special needs horse. Some aren’t sure a blind horse can have a decent quality of life. Others don’t want the birth defect to interfere with their breeding line.

But when the filly was born, the owner of the filly’s mother, her veterinarian, and Bither and Arthur – who were boarding the mother at their Auburn farm – considered other options. Bither’s research led her to and a Montana animal sanctuary that cares for blind horses. Bither, who’d been taking in rescue horses for years, decided her farm could give the filly the love, attention and training she needed.

Bither adopted the foal from the mare’s owner. Bither now can’t imagine life without her.

“She loves to hear our voices. When we come out here she gives us a whinny,” she said. “She’s happy to see us. Happy to hear us, I should say.”

Bither had worried the filly would crash into barn walls and run into the paddock’s fence, but such collisions are unusual. The foal gauges the world around her by sound, by the texture of the ground and by some sort of sixth sense her owners haven’t yet figured out.

“She can go in an out of this barn just like she can see,” Bither said.

While some things are harder because of the filly’s blindness – her mother wears a bell so she can quickly find her, for example – training has turned out to be easier. Horses often spook at halters and other strange objects they see for the first time. For the filly, that’s not a problem.

As the foal grows, Bither hopes to train her to be ridden, possibly as part of therapeutic riding for blind children.

Bither is also now thinking of rescuing more blind horses. After the filly, she doesn’t consider their blindness a disability.

“I’d call it an added feature,” she said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.