|By Melissa Dribben, The Philadelphia Inquirer|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"I'm sorry," she said. "You don't deserve this."
She fed him some of his favorite treats, wintergreen Life Savers and "stud muffins" -- an equine delicacy made of grains and molasses, then she slumped into a pile of straw in the corner of his stall and cried.
An hour before, she had learned that
She immediately began planning for his death. How could she make his last days as comfortable and happy as possible? How long would she wait before putting him down? And the hardest question of all, how would she tell her 3-year-old daughter, Blair, who had a deep and mutual bond with the 1,200-pound animal?
Four months later, fate has proved much kinder than Withstandley ever could have dreamed.
The horse is one-third of the way through chemotherapy treatment and in remission for the lymphoma that his veterinarians found last winter, almost by accident.
"I love that horse," Withstandley said a few days before she rode him into the ring at one of the world's elite equestrian competitions. "He's done so much for me."
And she for him.
Although lymphoma is a common cancer in thoroughbreds, it is rare for owners to invest in extensive and expensive chemotherapy, said
"Often, the horses have more aggressive forms of the disease," Johnson said. Usually, by the time the cancer is found, tumors have already spread to vital organs. But even in cases in which the horse might respond to treatment, owners are reluctant, either because they cannot afford the
Withstandley, a 34-year-old former
They had just bought a house, she was pregnant with
Bred and born in
"They recognized his athleticism," she said. But the horse was not happy. He seemed anxious with a rider on his back. At one point, Withstandley thought about giving up and retiring him to a farm.
With encouragement from her husband and the horse's trainer, however, she persevered.
"I gave him a month off, and when I started riding him again, cut back to only once or twice a week instead of every day," she said. She bought him a new saddle that fit him better and got him a softer bit.