Always Look A Gift Horse in the Mouth...erm...Eyes

Alternate title: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished


I was not looking to acquire a new broodmare AT ALL, especially after the disaster that was this year’s breeding season. However, I recently ran across someone giving away an EXTREMELY well-bred mare with a very successful production record. I went to see the mare, and I was more than pleased with her conformation, movement, and general condition. The kicker was (I thought) that the mare is 21 years old and last foaled in 2020. So, eyes wide open, I picked her up and figured I’d give her a try with a local, very nice but not terribly expensive stallion next year and cross my fingers.

Well…Not so fast. The mare had weepy eyes, which the previous owner said was due to a “fly allergy” and was easily managed by keeping a mask on her during the warm months. It looked to me like maybe she had blocked tear ducts, and that’s an easy fix, right? The vet came two days ago to do fall shots/etc. for my entire herd, and I had him give the new mare a general physical. He successfully flushed her tear ducts, and they were not blocked. Upon closer examination, she has growths inside both lower eyelids, very close to the tear ducts. Her actual eyes look fine, but the growths are not small, and my vet suspects that the mare has melanoma (mare is chestnut, not gray, so that is NOT good news if his guess is accurate). :cry:

My vet is sending photos and videos to an ophthalmologist to get her opinion. I’m not inclined to shell out the money for a biopsy or anything of that kind with this particular horse. My vet doesn’t think she’s in any discomfort at the moment. The giant question mark is, if she does have melanoma, how aggressive it might end up being.

I guess, instead of a new broodmare, I now have a new weanling nanny/pasture ornament. Good thing she appears to be an easy keeper other than this eye situation. This is really more of a vent/cautionary tale than a question, but if anyone here has dealt with ocular tumors of any sort and/or melanoma in a non-gray horse, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.

I long ago swore off buying or breeding to gray horses specifically to avoid melanoma. Joke’s on me…

Without knowing what is there, you can’t depend on a guess.

Need to biopsy and know what kind of growths, benign or cancer and what kind of cancer.
It may be a manageable one.

We had a bay feral horse that came up with a line of bumps from the corner of his mouth up his face, about five of them, from pea to little marble size.
Our vet said oh, looks like trouble, excised all he could find, lab came back a very aggressive kind of cancer that spreads, comes right back in months and kills.

Cancer never came back, he lived with us all his long life.
Our vet told us, two year old in a drought in a Nevada feral horse herd caused rickets on his knees and his bad knees is what finally killed him, not that bout with cancer.

You just never know, but today we can find out and do so much more, may be worth checking things out a bit more?


Oh my goodness @Montanas_Girl! I am so sorry.

Misery loves company, so let me tell you the story of my $200 black type producing broodmare who was a full sister to a world record holding G1 stakes horse. You know the one COTH told me not to buy? :rofl:

I’m so sorry we have the same luck.

But a silver lining- one of my horses had a massive eye tumor with an initially grim prognosis… only for it to be completely harmless prolapsed fat. Hoping you get that luck, too.


Yes, that is true. But, to get a biopsy, I have to haul this free 21-year-old broodmare over 100 miles each way to the nearest referral hospital. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things, but still…money that can be better spent paying the remainder of this year’s breeding vet bills. Especially as I’m certainly not going to invest in any expensive treatments or surgery. So…I don’t know that there’s much I’m willing to do other than keep her comfortable, really. Until I hear from the consult, though, no firm decisions will be made.


Yes, of course, just wanted to say, you never know with those growths until you get the best expert opinion you can, which you are doing and even then, they can be wrong.

Best luck with this mare, at least she is sweet and you like her, that is always a plus.


She’s a fancy old girl, too. At least she’ll be a pretty pasture ornament, if it comes to that!


Before you decide this is a melanoma contact the ophthalmologist at Auburn. A friend had a mare that developed an eye condition that sounds a little bit like this. She had lots of different vets look at her but nothing was helping the mare until she took her to Auburn and the eye vet down there was able to recognize what she had. I can’t remember the name of the condition but it is not regularly seen in horses. It does show up in pugs and similar dogs with protruding eyes. And unfortunately I don’t have the vet’s name either but maybe your vet can contact Auburn and discuss the symptoms. Christy Scotch is the owner of the Hanoverian mare with this condition.

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Thanks, @SusanO. I will keep that in mind if the ophthalmologist here doesn’t have answers for me. I actually used to work at Auburn and still have friends among the vet school faculty and technicians, though none of them are in the ophthalmology department.

My concern isn’t so much treatment options (or lack thereof) at her age. She’s welcome to live out her days here as long as she’s comfortable and happy. It’s more that, if whatever this is has a suspected or confirmed genetic link, I definitely do not want to breed her.

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That is exactly what my mare had. In dogs it’s called “cherry eye.” A mass of prolapsed fat from behind the eye.

My regular vet at the time told me it was a cancerous mass on her eyelid that had metastasized to her eye and possibly her brain. The ophthalmologist at the university laughed out loud at that diagnosis. It was outpatient and less than $1000 to have it removed.


No It’s not cherry eye. It has to do with melanin on the lens of the eye or behind the eye or something like that. I wish my computer had not died - I had a link to what it was called but that is all gone now. I will ask Christy on Facebook what it is called.

Heterochromic keratouveuitis. That is what it is called. I will have to read up on it again but I don’t think it has anything to do with cherry eye but then again I am not a vet.


Ah no. They aren’t related. Just a coincidence they both cause similar weepiness and are more common in dog breeds with protruding eyes.

Am I the only one heartbroken that this beautiful girl produced foals for 20 years and then needed a soft landing with a COTHer? Montanas_Girl, I know this is not the news you were hoping for but so glad she has a home with you.

At 21 an eye onset issue I would not suspect to be genetic. But you wouldn’t know without a biopsy.


I have a 22-year-old bay mare who had a melanoma removed from her tailbone at 19. She isn’t a breeding candidate so I didn’t have that concern. But when I found the lump and my vet recommended removing it we were all pretty surprised that it came back as melanoma! Then I was worried she’d get a bunch more and it would kill her etc etc etc but that hasn’t come to pass so far. My vet was able to do the removal and send out the biopsy, no referral hospital needed.

Oh, that’s definitely not what this mare has. She has definite tumors/masses inside the eyelid, not on the lenses.