BY LORAINE ANDERSON firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — MAPLE CITY — Abby Gross knew from the moment she first saw Tiger Lily in an Illinois stable that the 11-year-old hunting and jumping mare was the horse she had long dreamed of having.
“I liked how she moved and looked,” the Leland seventh-grader said. “ I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was kind hearted.”
Abby’s dream came to life on Valentine’s Day, thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation, horse-loving friends at Cold Spring Farm near Maple City and an anonymous donor who realized how much Abby thrived around the horses and offered to pick up boarding costs.
Abby, 13, was 10 when she was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called anaplastic astrocytoma after suffering a seizure. Since then, she’s undergone surgeries, a year of intensive chemotherapy and now is treated with oral chemotherapy.
A fund-raiser that includes an afternoon of horsemanship demonstrations and instructions by area trainers and a silent auction will be held at the farm next weekend on Sunday, April 28. All proceeds will go the family to help pay medical bills.
"People have been amazing,” said Emily Brinkman, her riding instructor and owner of Blue Oxer Equestrian Services at Cold Spring Farm. She began giving Abby lessons after her diagnosis and first surgery when she was 10.
Brinkman also saw that Lily was a good fit for Abby.
“Lily was trained well and she has a good temperament,” Brinkman said. “She’s a sweet mare, a great teacher and has shown at that intermediate level that Abby will show at. We were looking for a horse that would be good for Abby and take care of her on her sick days.”
Abby is the daughter Jeanie and Chris Gross and the sister of identical twin sisters Carly and Savannah, both Leland seniors this year.
As it happened, Lily was the first horse that Abby saw in Illinois when she went with her mother and Brinkman on a two-week search that took them to eight farms in Michigan and Illinois. Dutch warmbloods are a hunting and jumping breed.
“Abby had her heart set on Lily,” Emily said. “From my experience, it’s best to let kids choose their own horse than choose one and give it to them. Their personalities match better.”
Abby comes to the stable regularly for lessons on weekends and sometimes after school to ride. During the two months since Lily’s arrival, she and Brinkman have focused on preparing for horse shows — trotting, cantering, low jumps and technique.
“She’s like no other 13-year-old I’ve ever met,” said Brinkman, a mother of two. “She rolls with the punches, she’s funny, bright, a fantastic learner and takes it all in. I’m looking so forward to summer with the new horse.”
Riding lessons and riding have been good medicine for Abby, said Jeanie, her mother.
“It’s always been the riding that inspires her and keeps her going,” Jeanie said. “When you watch her ride, you can see that she’s free from worry or care, and that is a gift. Having a horse and having one like Lily is something Abby only could have dreamed about without the help of her horse friends and Make-A-Wish.
“I think it was the happiest day of her life."
Abby and her parents lived in Chicago the first six weeks of daily radiation treatments at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, which specializes in pediatric brain surgery. She most of lost her hair and suffered intense nausea and fatigue during the year-long chemo regimen that required a lot traveling back and forth to Chicago.
She had long wanted to take riding lessons and asked her parents if she could. That Christmas she found a small wrapped gift under the tree — riding gloves and riding lessons.
Abby went into remission in 2012 and over the next year gained back strength because she could spend more time at Blue Oxer learning to ride on stable horses.
Abby had a relapse just a few months ago. Surgeons removed recurrent tumor cells in January and conducted a third surgery on March 25 to repair a blood vessel complication so that she could enter a clinical trial.
Make-A-Wish, founded in 1980, grants the wishes of children facing life-threatening medical conditions to enrich their hope, strength and joy.
For Abby, riding, Lily, Emily and her friends at the Cold Spring farm have been “ like a shelter” over the last three years.
“The barn was something to look forward to,” she said.
The Abby Gross benefit will start at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 28, at Blue Oxer Equestrian Services at Cold Spring Farm. Admission is $5 per person at the gate, which opens at 12:30 p.m. Children 8 and under are free. Presenters during the afternoon of instruction and demonstrations include: Tom Pierson and Rachel Ory, reining: Betsy VanDyke, dressage; Judi Shapton, natural horsemanship, Mike Walton in team roping; and a special jumping demonstration with Abby and instructor Emily Brinkman.
The event also includes a bake sale and silent auction with many items donated by area businesses ranging in value from $25 to $450. Parking is available in the hayfield at Myles Kimmerly Park across from Cold Spring Farm at 8450 S. Cold Spring Road. It's a short walk along an off-road path to Blue Oxer Equestrian Services at nearby 8477 S. Bohemian Road, where parking is unavailable. Transportation will be available to those who need it. Food will be available for purchase from local vendors who will donate a portion of their proceeds. Donations also can be sent to "The Abby Gross Benefit Fund, c/o Traverse City State Bank, 310 W. Front St., Traverse City 49685.