Franklinton, LA - When it comes to equine royalty, Contrada is a princess with a shiny light gray coat and a sweeping grayish brown tail. She's a gorgeous thoroughbred mare with a sassy attitude that dominates her sweet disposition.
Maybe she knows that she has the right to be a little cocky; her daddy won the most famous horse race in the world in 2001, with the second-fastest speed of all time! His name was Monarchos, and he ran the Kentucky Derby in under 2 minutes. In the history of the race, the only horse to do it faster was the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.
Contrada prances around her home at Barney's Farm Sanctuary in Franklinton with such spirit and zeal that you'd never know she's suffering. But take one look under her sweeping tail and you'll know something is wrong: You'll find many oozing tumors; it's advanced equine melanoma, rampant in horses with gray coats.
Up until a few weeks ago, she was in a New Orleans stable where her owner was unable to provide her with the necessary medical care, but word travels fast among people who love horses.
For updates on Contrada, and to contribute to Contrada's Cancer Care, click here.
Thanks to some networking led by a caring stable owner, Contrada is now in the optimistic and altruistic hands of Allison Lee, the founder of Barney's Farm Sanctuary, who also happens to be a registered nurse, specializing in cancer (but normally treating people). Allison has a soft spot for horses, and especially for thoroughbreds who have been subject to the challenges of the race track.
"There are so many thoroughbreds in the world that don't have homes. The market is saturated with them because they are retired at five or six years old and they live to be 30," she explains. The Sanctuary is also home to a few horses retired from Mardi Gras parading.
Contrada's case meant countless hours of research for Allison, resulting in a road trip to the large animal hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where veterinarians are conducting a trial vaccine study for gray horses with melanoma. Allison, who owns two additional gray horses, jumped at the chance to help find a cure.
She and fellow horse lover Brian Henderson loaded up Contrada and drove to Gainesville on January 16th for what was to be the first of four trips, one month apart. But when the vets in Florida examined the 12-year old mare, the decision was made to postpone the vaccine and schedule surgery to remove the large tumor that could eventually grow in a way that would prevent her from being able to pass bowel movements.
"Eighty percent of gray horses get melanoma in their lifetime, so it's extremely common," says Allison. The lesions are most common under the tail but they can also appear in the ears and around the horse's lips where there is less hair and more concentration of gray skin.
Other treatment options involve injecting chemotherapy directly into the lesions, or administering a drug called Cimetidine, to the tune of $200 a month, a hefty price tag that would possibly stabilize the condition for comfort, but not offer a cure.
The surgery happened Tuesday, and the cancer was so large, there was a chance that Contrada might not be able to participate in the clinical trial. However, good news arrived Friday and she is now officially part of the program.
Allison Lee is beyond relieved, posting online, "We are so excited to finally share that Contrada was officially accepted to University of Florida’s clinical vaccine trial. While we do not anticipate this “curing” Contrada, the vaccine should drastically slow the progression of the melanomas and hopefully shrink some of the existing tumors. The research gathered from Contrada’s participation puts UF one step closer to the cure that we all so desperately want!"
We'll keep you posted on Contrada's status as she races toward a cure for equine cancer. Allison says no donation is too small, and they are still about $1,400 away from covering the cost of Contrada's surgery and her participation in the trial. That doesn't account for travel and lodging expenses.
More about Barney's: With pigs roaming about, roosters crowing, kittens mewing and a loud whinny from a horse now and again, the Sanctuary is a lively place, celebrating its two year anniversary on the Northshore. Allison and her boyfriend Shaun Accardo, who happens to be a cancer doctor, manage the place with the help of one farmhand and occasional volunteers. If you want to help, check out the Facebook page by clicking here.