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Horse loses sheath and part of penis after major melanomas found during sheath clean

The owner of a horse who underwent surgery to remove his sheath, part of his penis and two growths the size of grapefruit wants to raise awareness of melanomas, and the importance of sheath-cleaning.

East Sussex-based Annabel Dry thought she was going to lose her 11-year-old Highland gelding Angus when vets discovered the extent of his issues, late last year.

Annabel told H&H it was thanks to a friend’s diversifying her business that the melanomas were discovered, last spring.

“My friend Allie MacLeod, who runs the Horsebox Spa, started doing sheath-cleaning, which saved her business as she could do it during lockdown,” Annabel said.

“In May, she gave Angus a little spa day, including a sheath-clean, and when she felt up there, she said there were some lumps and she thought I should get the vet.”

The next day, the vet confirmed melanomas, explaining that their removal would be a simple procedure.

Angus was taken to Bell Equine for the surgery, but when he was on the table, vet Tim Mair called Annabel to say the situation was worse than previously thought.

“Tim said they’d found extensive melanomas; they couldn’t do what they’d intended as there were two huge growths in his groin, and melanomas all the way up his penis,” she said.

“Tim said he would either have to go to heaven, or have this huge operation, to remove his sheath and penis, and try to remove the lumps. That night was so horrible.”

Annabel was told the vets would not know exactly how many melanomas there were until they performed the operation, so she and they agreed that Angus would go in for the surgery.

“We left it as, if they found lots more, they’d send him to heaven, which was what I thought would happen,” she said. “But amazingly, Tim was able to remove them and he came through.”

Angus had had hundreds of coalescing melanoma masses, from a few millimetres to centimetres across, in his sheath. Vets removed the entire sheath and part of his penis, as well as the two huge melanoma masses deep in his groin, and created a new opening to allow him to urinate.

“It’s been a massive road to recovery, and they found melanoma cells in his lymph nodes so we are on borrowed time, but he’s doing so well now,” Annabel said. “The surgery means he can wee forward rather than out of the back like a mare; when he had his first wee afterwards, I was so proud!”

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Annabel, who thanked her aunt Lucy Verity for taking Angus to Bell, Mr Mair and her yard owner Nina Coppard for their support, as well as Allie for her discovery, wanted to raise awareness of the issue, and the importance of sheath cleaning.

“If we hadn’t found them, they could have ulcerated or burst, and been much more serious,” she said.

“He’s my first horse, and so much more than just a horse; he’s everything I work towards and my best friend. I love him to bits.

“Thank you to Tim for being amazing and giving him a chance. And for anyone else in the same position, I thought my only option was to put him to sleep but it’s not. I don’t know how long I’ll have with him, whether it’ll be a year or 10, but I’ve got that time.”

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