Beating Equine Skin Cancer: Lakota’s Story

Okay, so you may have noticed that I’ve fallen behind on my ‘Horse of the Month’ series (although I do love doing it!). I’ve decided to change my tactic a bit. Instead of featuring one horse per month, I will now feature one every few months or so. Therefore I am renaming this series as Highlighted Horses (which you’ll be able to locate on the blog menu).

And guess what? I have a very special horse to share with you in this newly named series. She’s a double registered (Paint/Pinto) 15-year-old mare named Lakota. She has quite a story, and you might want to grab a kleenex or two.

You see, not long ago, Lakota was at an auction barn in Arcadia, Florida, destined for the slaughterhouse. But seventeen-year-old Sammi Colley had just convinced her parents to let her buy her very first horse. And by chance or fate, the paths of these two would soon intersect.

“I looked at multiple nice horses, but just never had that ‘feeling’ when I tried any of them,” said Sammi.

But on December 13, 2014, Sammi and her father drove to the auction barn, and Sammi noticed a skinny paint mare hiding in a corner by herself. When she asked one of the sale workers if she could ride her, the man laughed at her. But Sammi persisted, so he got the mare out and saddled her.

“She was moody, unresponsive, disrespectful, and extremely underweight,” said Sammi. “But I just had a feeling that she was one I needed to take home and give a second chance. So we did.”

Sammi found a local boarding stable and first focused on getting Lakota to gain weight. She also did some research on Lakota’s history, and learned that she had originally come from Michigan before being shipped to a new owner in Florida. The white-faced, blue-eyed mare was then left in a pasture for about nine months and unfortunately, developed skin cancer on her left eye. This is how she had ended up at the auction barn.


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A vet advised cryotherapy (freezing treatment) and hoped the cancer would be gone a few months. All appeared to be going well, so Sammi began trying to work with her new horse.

“In the beginning I couldn’t even touch her,” said Sammi. “It took me months to be able to put a halter on her, but eventually she began to trust me. Riding with another issue. She would buck and kick and scream.” Sammi suspected that Lakota had been abused at some point in her life. She didn’t seem to trust humans at all.

The following summer, more problems arose when Lakota began to suffer from bouts of colic. Sammi took her to the vet again, and it was determined that Lakota had sand in her intestines. Sammi changed her diet (including giving her Sand Clear) and began to watch her closely. The next month, she colicked again.


“This time was different,” Sammi said. “I couldn’t get her to walk at all, and she wasn’t breathing normal. Eventually she slumped onto her side and shut her eyes. I honestly thought she was gone, and I sat with her on the ground for awhile. I remember asking her, Please. Just please try to get up. I swear to you, not five seconds later, that horse got up.”


After the vet treated Lakota again, Sammi decided to move her to a new boarding facility. Lakota seemed to improve at her new location and began to gain weight. The duo began to work together again and eventually started going on trail rides several times a week.


“Already the horse nobody wanted was actually worth something. The only thing holding us back was that stupid cancer,” said Sammi. It just hadn’t gone completely away yet.


As time went on, Sammi felt like they’d hit a wall though. Lakota’s cancer wasn’t getting worse, but it wasn’t getting better either. The vet suggested using a cancer-treating salve (5-flourouracil) which was supposed to burn the tumor off. Unfortunately, the salve also burned Lakota’s sensitive skin.


“Lakota had that done every two weeks and it eventually turned into a problem,” said Sammi. “She ran and hid whenever she heard the vet’s truck, and had to be sedated just for him to observe her because she wouldn’t let him anywhere near her. I don’t blame her for this. I assume the pain the treatments put her through was terrible.”


It became obvious that the treatment wasn’t working either. The cancer continued to grow and Sammi felt Lakota was suffering. So she sought out the advice of several different equine surgeons from the University of Florida and other veterinary facilities.


Ultimately, she decided it was time to remove the cancerous eye. The surgery was performed just last month, on May 13th.


“It’s only been a few weeks, but I can already see a difference,” said Sammi. “She is learning to compensate for the loss, and more importantly it’s obvious she isn’t in pain anymore.”

Sammi goes to see Lakota every day and the two focus on ground work, grooming, and bonding. As Lakota improves, Sammi plans to go on more trail rides and maybe even try her hand at barrel racing at some point.


But as it turns out, Lakota is now helping Sammi to heal in a completely different way. Tragically, Sammi lost her father this past December, and Lakota has been her mainstay during this very difficult time.


“I feel like it’s almost a repayment from when I guided her out of this mess,” said Sammi. “Sometimes she’s the only reason I even get out of bed, and she brings me joy.”


As for Sammi’s future plans with Lakota, she said, “I want to make her the best she can be. To show everybody who doubted us that she isn’t some ‘worthless slaughter horse’.”
I have a feeling that she’s already well on her way with that goal. 🙂

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Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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5 Responses

  1. Debbie says:

    What an awesome story. They are BOTH well on their way to proving that Lakota is not a useless horse and they both have a purpose. This was not a chance meeting but their destiny!

  2. Sammi says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this! I love that Lakota’s story can be shared and that people can experience her struggles. So many humans themselves couldn’t overcome what this mare has, and yet she still greets me with a soft eye and whinny everyday. Thank you so much Casie!

  3. Sammi you are a remarkable young woman! (And Casie for you to share such a story…it brings hope.) And Lakota a remarkable middle-aged horse! Sometimes I think…if only horses could talk…but they do. And you have listened. Kudos to you, Sammi, and your love of a horse destined for slaughter!

  4. Eden says:

    This story is amazing and very inspiring!! Thank you for sharing this!!

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