Listening to Big John
Horses have three eyelids--two on the outside like us, plus an inner lining called the nictitans, which closes horizontally from the inside corner and protects the cornea. The Amish breeder who abandoned John probably knew about the growth the rescue league noticed shortly after his rescue. The breeder also probably knew what it was--periocular squamous cell carcinoma--a form of cancer to which Belgian draft horses are predisposed.
Dona saw that the growth in John's eye had returned. Dona and Becky hauled him to a vet in Charles Town, who recomnended surgery. The course of treatment starts with removing the growth, as the rescue league had done. If the growth comes back, the next step is to remove the nictitans itself, which means the horse's eye must be protected artificially; without the nictitans, the horse's cornea can easily sustain damage from sunlight. If the cancer returns again, the last step is to remove the eye itself.
Becky and Dona took John to an equine surgeon in Virginia, who removed the entire nictitans on one eye and part of it on the other. For the rest of his life, John would have to wear a mask to protect his eyes. He didn't like the mask and was pretty good at finding ways to get it off. Knowing of John's proud nature, I can't say as I blame him.
One day the mini's showed up. They came from a farm near Taneytown, Maryland, where Jessie was living at the time. Jessie rescued them from a fate that befell one of their herd, who gave an unattended birth to a foal; both ponies died from exposure. One pony that Jessie rescued had recently thrown her own foal. The mare, her sister, and the foal found their way to Dona's.
Neither Becky nor Dona were enthusiastic about taking on these three little horses and they grumbled about finding a home for them. I wondered how long the grousing would last.
It didn't last long.
The next time I went to Middletown, Becky and Dona happily urged me down to the paddock to see the minis, who played tag with a giggling Dona, chasing her around the stable, then switching directions and roles so Dona could chase them back around the other way.