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Greys and Melanomas - personal experiences?

Hi! So I’m horse shopping. I’ve taken the route to avoid greys due to the risks associated with melanoma. I’ve recently learned that melanoma is EXTREMELY common in greys…like 80% of greys have a melanoma by the time they’re 15!!! While I knew it was a risk, I never expected the statistics to be so high.

Horse shopping has come with a lot of challenges and we’ve been through multiple failed attempts. There are two prospect greys that literally check all of the boxes other than “no greys”.

I’d like to hear some personal stories from those who have owned greys in their life and if they’ve experienced melanoma with their horses and what was the long term outcome. We have a sweet 20 yr old in our barn with it in his throat and intestines :frowning: but I’d like to hear other’s stories as well. I just don’t get how many greys are out there and how desired they are given the risks.


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It has been said that “If a grey horse does not die of something else, it will die of cancer”. I haven’t had many grey horses over the last 55 years, only one who I knew until the end. And I don’t know what he died of, but he made it into his mid to late 20s. But then, I know of 2 bay horses who died/were put down because of cancer, one as a 10 year old, one in late 20s. I have a chestnut horse here now, that I am wondering about whether he has some sort of cancer, hasn’t seen a vet about it yet. Horses get cancer, just like humans do. Grey horses get it more often. The faster they turn white makes a difference… those who stay dark longer are less likely, as far as I know. But it’s something to consider for sure. But don’t think you are “safe” from cancer by not buying a grey horse.


When I was a junior 20 plus years ago, a generous boarder in the barn let me ride her grey TB. Said TB is still kicking it in her backyard. I don’t have any other personal experience with grey horses long term as I’ve had chestnuts and bays bar one pinto pony.

I had a gray pony gelding who lived to be quite old–well into his 30s. He had several melanomas under his tail (one on the tail itself, several around his anus). My vet said he would most likely die of something else, eventually. He was in his mid to late teens when I got him and he already had the tumors. I didn’t do anything to treat them as they didn’t grow much.


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I have 2 greys (both Conn x TB).

The older one is 27 and has quite a few melanomas, one on each side of her mouth, several under her tail (one was removed with cryosurgery), one on her side just in front of the girth. They have never given her any problems.

The younger is 12, and has no melanomas.

I bought a young grey mare despite being wary about the melanoma thing, because I’d heard that it’s rarely really a problem (you know, what most people are saying here, lol.)

Well, that young mare developed quite a lot of melanoma quite early. I did Oncept at eye watering expense with little result, and now have the vet scheduled to come debulk tumor around her anus that’s ruptured. She has melanoma under and behind her jaw that’s fairly unoperable. I’m really just waiting for impaction/obstruction colic that kills her. Or maybe her jaw tumor will begin to really interfere with her breathing. She’s 13 this year.

I won’t buy a grey horse again. If you are really considering it, I’d find out what the grey parent looks like, melanoma-wise. My mare’s dam was euthanized due to melanoma bulk. And if had to do it all over again (and still bought the horse) I would’ve started her on oncept at the first sign, maintained that, and debulked every mass as it arose.


Virtually all greys get melanomas. Most die from something else. You can’t tell in advance. Nonlethal melanomas can still be a nuisance to manage around anus and tail, under tack, or on eyelids they might require surgery

All greys have melanomas, so basically don’t get a grey, If you don’t want to deal with them. I don’t like to think that my horse would have 80% chance to have them.

I own a gray horse - actually 2…One is 21; bought him 8+ years ago, knowing he had melanomas; there has been no material change in the ones I can see. He is sassy, strong and fit. My other horse is not yet 10, no signs at this point. Knew a welsh pony years ago who died at about 30, had melanomas for years. I’ve known of numerous gray horse owners over the years, dont remember any that lost a horse due to melanomas. So - I would take the risk again. But that’s me. My horse with the biggest health problems is a chestnut mare… :roll_eyes:

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As Scribber said “Most die from something else.” Nowhere near “99.9% chance of death because of them.”


My gray mare had a few very small melanomas by mid teens. What I have heard is yes, grays will get melanomas but they don’t amount to much.
Colored horses that get melanomas, (not nearly as often but when they do) get really sick.

Had an appendix Grey that got under the tail melanomas in late teens. In his mid 20s it was annoying as he would get bouts of loose manure that required cleaning often but we euthanized at age 25 due to advanced arthritis and mobility issues.

I have purchased one gray in my life. He was 3 when I bought him and already had melanomas. Like a dumb azz, I bought him mostly because I felt sorry for him in general. Did not know a thing about melanomas in grays at the time and figured you just had them removed and voila! Problem solved!

Well, here’s our journey after I had owned him for a few years:

Buying a gray is a risk. Buying a horse with early onset melanomas is an even bigger risk. BUT the important thing to remember these days is that IF the gray you buy has or gets melanomas, there are treatment options now. Prior to maybe 10-12 years ago, the options were almost nonexistent and had little to no proof of efficacy. There are more options these days and some, like Oncept, really do work in many cases and the science is there to back them up.

It’s amazing to me that, almost 10 years into this journey, that many vets don’t even know about the options, much less the horse person on the street. We aren’t quite there yet, but the risk appears to be lessening so that it’s not a doom and gloom situation if they do develop.

Hope this has been helpful!

Here’s the gray wonder in all his glory. He’s 17 now and living his best retired life with his buddy.


I have had care and custody of 2 grays.

One was a lease horse. He had a few stable melanomas on his tail dock. He he was euthanized at age 29 due to recurrent laminitis and founder.

The other is my current horse. She is 21 this year. She is getting what I consider a fair burden on her tail dock. Most at present are pea sized. One is about jack ball sized. She has a small one next to her vuvla. Her first one was on her when I bought her…at 2 yo. I had that one removed and it did not recur. She had 2-3 pencil eraser sized ones on the insides of her thighs in her pre-teen years but those disappeared. Had I seen that one during her PPE, I don’t think I would have bought her but no one saw it…you had to crank her tail up over her back and that wasn’t done during the PPE. I found it while working on desensitizing her to having her tail and back end handled.

I probably won’t have another horse after she is gone but if I did, I would not buy another gray. Not so much for the melanoma issue but rather the trying to keep them somewhat clean looking…it is a giant pain :stuck_out_tongue:.


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My local vets, and I have a few, haven’t seen any really notable response to Oncept or other treatment options. Overall, the description is “disappointing.” That’s certainly been my personal experience as well.

The fact there were treatment options that looked hopeful in making a real, actual gains in addressing melanoma is one of the things that made me feel okay about buying a grey. Unfortunately, it seems they don’t do much in A LOT of horses.

I have no experience with Grey horses and Melanomas. However I have heard/read the same statistics that the original poster has described about grey horses and their potential to get them.

Interestingly enough, I have a dun colored Quarter Horse, he’s really light, people think he’s a buckskin. Anyways, he developed a melanoma just inside his left nostril about 3 years ago. It grew so fast. Local vet removed it at the barn, but got dirty margins. She told me melanomas in horses other than greys are likely aggressive and the outlook for him was guarded. So I took him to Purdue university for a chemotherapy shot at the removal site. It has not returned. While at Purdue, they pointed out two very small bumps on his face, said those are also likely melanomas, and said I could just watch them if I wanted. Neither one has grown or changed. He’s 25 now, and has had other issues in his old age, but nothing related to the melanomas.

The vets at Purdue were a little surprised he had them to begin with, but they didn’t seem totally “shocked”.


I almost typed this exact thing in my earlier response. Prior to buying my first gray 8 + years ago, I was vocal about not wanting one due to the cleaning challenge. I also did not want to own a stallion (which he is). Several months into a part lease and he completely won me over.

I had two greys. One had a small melanoma on the underside of her tail and vets disagreed on whether it was a melanoma or she had broken her tail at some point. Thai one lived for a very very long time and was ridden through her twenties and put down in her thirties for arthritis. The other had no melanomas and was put down for a completely different kind of cancer in her late teens.

I was told later by my vet that when looking at potential horses to check a grey all over for melanomas. If one or two were found in an older horse not to worry. If several were found in a younger horse, pass.

I have had 3 greys…one passed at age 30, one died at age 23 of colic, and the third one is still with me, at age 20…still in work with lower level dressage.
As far as keeping them clean…all horses get dirty. I also have two bays. The dirt doesn’t show as much but they like roll in the mud and get plastered with the best of them and the hand that wields the curry has to work just as hard

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I’ve had 2 greys- my daughter’s mare developed a small melanoma on her dock around age 12, never grew larger.
My mare is 18, and no sign of any.