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My Friend Cricket

My Friend Cricket
Posted on 01/17/2018

Dakota Ridge High School senior Hailey Setzer leads her horse, Cricket, into a barn for his chemotherapy treatment.Hailey Setzer was visiting a sick friend. She comes to PK Acres in Littleton because this sick friend is also her best friend; a Palomino Quarter Horse named Cricket.

“I actually saw a lot of myself in him. Horses are really good at representing people’s personalities,” said Setzer. “Our personalities blended so well. He’s very stubborn like me. We’re both determined and motivated. We just synced right away.”

She says it was love at first sight. After leasing Cricket for a time, she ended up buying him, foregoing a car to do so.

“She had the option of getting her license and getting a vehicle just like most teenagers, but in her mind, this was the most important thing to her, to be able to have this horse that she loves so much,” explained Hailey’s mom, Jennifer Rutt.

Cricket is no ordinary horse, and Hailey, a senior at Dakota Ridge High School, is no ordinary rider. Both are members of the Westernaires, an elite equestrian drill team that has been thrilling audiences for decades at venues like the National Western Stock Show. Their Westernaires duties had to be put on hold when Cricket was diagnosed with cancer.

“We found out through CSU (Colorado State University) that he has squamous cell carcinoma. It is a very aggressive and rare type of cancer. Especially for it being in his eye since it’s a very local cancer,” explained Setzer.

Hailey is Cricket’s caregiver, administering his medicines. He’s wasn’t thrilled with the procedure, but he got through it, thanks to Hailey’s patience and gentleness. A peppermint candy cane was Cricket’s reward. To afford Cricket’s treatment, which has reached thousands of dollars, Hailey uses money from her after-school retail job, and help from a GoFundMe page. It’s all been a bit overwhelming, as Hailey has also had to keep up with her honors and AP classes. Long days and short nights have been her life, as Hailey goes from school to job to stable.

“I just can’t be any prouder of this girl. It brings tears to my eyes knowing how determined she is. Just to see her take this all on,” said Rutt. “If I could do this for her, I would. It’d be a lot easier. But, you know, just the emotion through all of this, all of her hard work. I even love that horse. That horse is a great horse.”

Hailey learned Cricket’s cancer had gotten so aggressive, the affected eye would have to be removed. She made the difficult decision to proceed, realizing it may be the only way to save his life.

“He’s honestly my best friend. He’s just made my life great the last year and would hate to see that go away. He’s honestly my best friend. He’s just made my life great the last year and would hate to see that go away,” she said.

“I just pray that the surgery goes through, he has a good recovery and he can get back in the arena because he truly loves that arena,” added Rutt.

The procedure at CSU’s Veterinary Training Hospital was a success, and they found that Cricket’s cancer did not spread, improving the chances of Hailey and Cricket making a Westernaires return. Her role as caregiver has also sharpened Hailey’s plans to pursue equine science at CSU once she finishes high school in May.

“You definitely learn responsibility through this. There’s a difference between people saying they can take something on, and then them actually putting the effort into it,” said Setzer. “This has really taught me what true responsibility is. Never give up.”

See the JPS-TV version of this story here.

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