The relationship between a teenage girl and her horse is like a marriage — for better and for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Abby Milewski of Gill, MA was 11 years old when she first met a tall, liver-colored Appaloosa named Rex at the Pony Pals 4-H Club. It was love at first sight.
She schooled him from being a backyard horse, never having competed gymkhanas. Together, they learned what it took to train and show a willing and happy show competitor. She went on to buy him and a further half year of joy showing him at shows such as the Franklin County 4-H Horse Show, co-chaired by Kristie Tognarelli and Barbara Baldwin on Saturday, June 28. Milewski is now 14, and Rex is 19.
“The best day of my life was Oct. 5, 2013, when I became the owner of Rex. The worst day was when I found out Rex had cancer,” she writes in a scholarship essay about Rex.
During a lesson a month and a half ago, an instructor noticed something wrong with Rex’s penis as he urinated. A vet visit confirmed numerous masses and took a biopsy, and told Milewski it was fine to keep riding him, which she did. That weekend during a ride, when she got off to give him a break, she realized his legs were covered in blood and he was unable to urinate. The second veterinarian who arrived to stop the bleeding diagnosed a fast-acting cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer common in Appaloosas. But not common in what is necessary to treat it. Rex’s only chance was to have his penis amputated. They next day Rex was already booked for surgery at Tufts.
Abby’s brother, Aaron Milewski, gave his saved college money to pay the bill.
The operation, which occurred on May 8, was successful. Enough of the penis was left to protect the sheath so he can urinate.
Unfortunately, the biopsy showed the cancer had entered his bloodstream. “He’s on medication for the rest of his life to keep it from spreading. It’s always going to be there,” said Milewski sitting astride Rex, waiting patiently to go into their class.
He requires biweekly lab work to check his kidney function, as one side effect of the medication — piroxicam — is that his kidneys could shut down. Abby is hoping for a full recovery. So is her vet, Dr. Robert Schmitt of South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic in South Deerfield, MA, and the vets at Tufts. So are her parents, Laura and Eugene Milewski, who were sitting under an awning of their motorhome while Milewski performed at the Franklin Country Tri-County fairgrounds, where the 4-H horse show occurred.
Horse owners are advised to consult their vets if they see any unusual lumps on their horses, or scabby, misshaped places around their eyes.
To raise money to pay her brother back, and pay for continuing vet bills to help “Rex kick cancer,” Abby and others are spearheading a “Rex’s Rescue Ride,” at the Craig Memorial Equestrian Center at 470 Long Plain Road in Leverett, MA on Route 63 on July 12. Riders can bring their horse and ride the trails. Lunch will be served and is included with the trail ride fee of $30. Those that don’t own a horse can rent one on the property for a fee of $25. Those not wishing to ride can just buy lunch, $10 per adult, $5 for child. There will be pony rides from 10:30 to 3:30 p.m., and a bake sale and raffle. Donations can be sent to Tammy Tergliafera, 7 G Street, Turners Falls, MA 01376, with checks made out to Laura Milewski.
Meanwhile, girls and women competed in English and Western style under the hot sun in 95 degree heat. Walk, canter, back four steps, turn around, walk and so on. Some horses’ manes were intricately braided. Britney Rosewarne of Turners Falls competed with her miniature horse against five other miniatures. She gave her horse a bath, brushed him, shaved his legs and bridle path to prepare him. She received her horse as a Christmas present three years ago.
Getting the news that her horse is cancer-free would be a great Christmas present for Milewski.
Milewski and Rex looked just like any of the other 43 competitors, emanating the extraordinarily healthy and life-giving bond of their relationship, for better or for worse.