Earlier this year I bought my first gray horse (also my first mare). Up until now, I’ve owned bays, chestnuts, and a few liver chestnuts, all geldings and none of which required more than a few stitches or time off for a lameness-type injury. So far, I’ve learned lots from my gray mare, Zara, including (but not limited to): which products are best for spot cleaning, which shampoos work best on yellow tails, heat cycles, and most recently melanomas.
Zara had melanomas when I bought her, so I knew at some point they’d have to be addressed. I’ll admit, I didn’t fully realize how gross those lumps are until I started tending to them! She had two lumps that were on the larger side, one on her tail bone and the other near her rectum, and I knew that they had to go sooner than later. I discussed a treatment plan with my vet, who recommended waiting until the late fall/winter to remove a few of the bigger ones as there would be less flies around. She also recommended bringing her to our local large animal hospital so that they could be removed with a laser. Though it sounded extreme, removing them by laser was actually best as it would keep the margins clean and the wound would be cauterized. We scheduled Zara’s melanoma removal for early December.
It’s interesting to visit a large animal hospital when you’re not panicked or having an emergency. The hospital staff is very friendly, the vet students are thorough, the building itself is clean and extremely functional, and the vets are simply amazing. You really don’t realize any of these things when you’re rushing a colicing horse in for treatment, but when you’re not freaking out and making life and death decisions, the large animal hospital is actually a nice place! Zara is usually well mannered and surgery day was no exception; she was curious but not fearful of her new surroundings after quickly determining that this was definitely not a horse show (I think the security cameras gave it away).
Unfortunately since the surgery was done with the laser, I couldn’t watch for liability reasons. The surgery took approximately 4 hours, and when it was time to go Zara and I were both very ready! The surgery went well, but the lump near her rectum had ended up being deeper than they had initially thought. They completely removed it, however it was going to need quite a bit of healing.
Post op care was straightforward – stall rest for a week or so, cleaning the incisions, re-wrapping the tail bandage, and hand walking. I’m not going to lie, the holes where the melanomas used to be looked horrible. They were bloody and oozy for days and her hind legs and tail had to be washed almost constantly. But the tissue looked healthy, infection free, and eventually everything started to heal. Though we had sedative available, Zara never needed it. She let us clean and examine everything without an issue (I definitely would have kicked me if the roles had been reversed!). She never got cranky in her stall and was well behaved on her hand walks – not what I had expected from an OTTB mare!
This week Zara was finally healed up enough to go outside in a med paddock and do some walking and trotting under saddle. She was so excited to go back to “work”, but was careful to mind her manners. She’s still a few weeks away from being able to do full flatwork and we probably won’t be jumping for another month or so, but I’m very happy that the healing process is coming along without any hitches.
Although she’ll probably have to have more melanomas removed at some point down the road, I’m really REALLY glad we got rid of the larger ones when we did. There’s so few things you can plan out when dealing with horses, especially when it comes to medical treatment and surgeries. The whole process was fairly stress-free because we weren’t reacting to an emergency (it also helps to have a knowledgeable vet, hands on an detail oriented barn manager, a renowned large animal hospital in your backyard, and an horse with seemingly infinite patience).
If only more horsey medical things could be so easy!