For those of you who know our barn, I’m not talking about the Lily that is currently in our program. This Lily was one that I knew when I was a child that later ended up coming to my barn as a lesson horse.
She Looked Evil!
Lily was a registered Arabian mare. Bay with black points. I don’t think she had any white on her. Except for maybe on her forehead, she got a little gray as she got older. She was probably about 15 hands or so. Not big at all.Though throughout her life I will say she spent her fair share of time being rather fat.
The thing about Lily was from a distance, like in the field with the other horses, she looked like your basic horse. She didn’t show any signs of her personality, good or bad signs.
When you got close to her (I mean for any reason, haltering her, catching her, going in her stall…literally all the time). She had her ears literally flat back against her head. I, in my life still now to this day, have not seen a horse that looks as angry all the time as Lily did.
Lily’s owner’s name was Beverly. She kept Lily at the farm across the road from me (the one I mentioned before having racehorses). At the time the farm was owned by her sister-in-law, Gail.
It was set up as a self-care barn. There was a schedule and everyone who had a horse in the barn would have designated days to feed.
I ended up over at that barn when I did my first real lease on a pony named Dumpling. It was Beverly’s niece who was going to be sharing her with me. That didn’t end up working out, but I got more riding time, so I didn’t mind. Not sure my parents felt the same way since they were now being responsible for all the expenses instead of half.
Anyway, that is how I ended up being at that barn and meeting Lily. I can still see her in my mind’s eye as plain as day shaking her head with her ears flat back. Seriously, sometimes it was like she didn’t have any ears they were pushed back so far!
What Did Lily Do?
Honestly, she didn’t do much of anything! When her owner first got her, Lily was a young horse and Beverly hired a trainer for her. Beth Klieber was her name. She was one of the best horse people I have ever known to this day. Anyway, back to Lily.
She seemed to be pretty green under saddle and I’m not so sure her owner was comfortable riding her. I remember Beth riding her a couple of days a week for a while. She never seemed to do anything bad… Even under saddle though, the ears were always flat back.
People that would meet her briefly would insist she must be in some sort of pain or something. She could not possibly be that angry all the time.
That Is Just How She Was
The thing is looking back on it, that was just how she was. Her ears were always flat back. She never acted out in any way. Just constantly had to look fierce. Maybe something happened to her in her past to make her defensive? I kind of doubt it since Bev got her at such a young age, but I guess you never know.
Bev would ride her every once in a while at the walk and trot. Not too regularly. Beth, the trainer was working a lot on Lily’s canter she had a tendency to cross canter ( different leads in the front than in the back) in both directions. If you have ever ridden a horse who does this. It makes for a fairly jarring uncomfortable ride. That was a habit of Lily’s that never completely went away, even in her old age she still did it a lot.
I think what it comes down to is Bev just didn’t have the free time she thought she would have for Lily. She always visited her and brought her treats, but very rarely got on her back.
Bev was very overprotective of Lily. She did not let anyone else at the barn ride her. If I remember the story correctly, the one time she did put someone else on her it was on a lunge line. Something bad happened that left Bev’s hands torn up from lunging without gloves, and I’m pretty sure the rider came off. For liability reasons, she preferred her to not work than to take the chance of someone getting hurt. Now that I’m older and know that the world we live in is so litigious I totally get it. At the time, I was just a kid who wanted to ride any horse I could, and Lily was one that I wouldn’t get to sit on until much later in life.
Time For A Change
Beverly realized after a while that she wanted to make a change. She loved Lily and would never sell her, that’s for sure. What she wanted was to find someone who would ride Lily and get some enjoyment out of her.
Lily Moved To Our Barn And Started A New Chapter
One of our lesson horses must have just died at the time (I say this because that seems to be the only way we get open stalls in our barn). It was brought up in a conversation about maybe Lily could be a lesson horse. To Bev, it was perfect, she had known us for years and could trust us to take care of Lily.
I’m sure there were many people doubting whether or not Lily would work out. An evil looking horse and a lesson program don’t really go together.
It Did Work For Lily
The thing is, Lily wasn’t really an evil horse. It was just a front she put on. It’s just how she was. The less attention you paid to her nasty looks the better. She was a great little lesson horse. Her size was nice, not too big for kids, not too small to carry adults. At the walk and trot, she had a good steering wheel and good brakes. I even think we popped her over some low jumps. There were even a few kids that believe it or not called grumpy eared old Lily their favorite! Who would have ever thought it?
She Never Really Learned To Have A Great Canter
Her canter was always a little tougher. She went right away when asked, but continued to prefer to canter on two different leads instead of the correct lead for the directions she was going. It wasn’t so bad that lesson kids couldn’t canter on her. The main thing was that it was sort of a rough ride and didn’t look so pretty.
Run Of Bad Luck
Towards the end of her life Lily most certainly had a run of bad luck. She abruptly started getting very skinny and coughing. Not a tickle in the back of her throat cough, but an awful cough from down deep. She was diagnosed with cancer. When she came back to the farm, we had to give her big fat syringes full of pink cancer medicine every day. It must not have tasted too bad, because I don’t remember having to fight about it. Maybe she was just too sick to fight, though I certainly hope that wasn’t the reason.
Turnout Injury- Shoulder Fracture
She also had an accident in the field after a thunderstorm. After a stormy night, she was non-weight bearing on her one front leg. She looked awful. Bev, her owner, was still just as committed to the best for her horse, so off the Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center we went.
She was hospitalized there for a while. A few weeks if I’m remembering right. It took them a while to determine the cause of her lameness. It, of course, would be too easy if it was straight forward! As it turned out, after multiple diagnostic imaging tests it was determined that the fracture was in her shoulder. I can’t remember exactly where in her shoulder, but I can still see her plain as day standing in that stall at New Bolton. Bandaged from shoulder to hoof.
Oddly enough, when she was hospitalized and obviously in pain, she never seemed to act any grumpier than usual. I guess if you have your ears back all the time, there isn’t much else you can do!
Honestly, I may have the timeline wrong, she may have had the shoulder fracture and then cancer. No matter how you look at it, she had a rough go of it at the end of her life.
When It Was Time
Lily continued to get skinnier, and just when we thought it might be gone for good it came back even worse. This way my first experience knowing a horse who had cancer. I didn’t realize that the chances of her recovery were not very good at all.
Mrs. Bev was dedicated she did everything she could for Lily. All those trips to the vet were expensive, she never seemed to think twice about it. If that was what Lily needed that was what Lily would get.
Mrs. Bev decided that it would not be fair to have Lily linger any longer. She obviously felt bad and looked dreadful. She made arrangements for Lily to be euthanized at New Bolton Center. Then she asked me if I would take her there for her. She just couldn’t bear to do it. I can totally understand that and of course, agreed to take her. On the drive up there, I realized that I was just about as upset as Mrs.Bev was.
Realizing At The End How Special Lily Was To Me
I had known Lily for a long time. Maybe since I was 11 or 12 when I first saw her. Then years later I was teaching lessons on her to my students. Despite the grumpy look on her face, I spent a lot of time defending Lily from comments about her grumpy demeanor. Telling everyone don’t take it personally, that is just how she is. I promised all concerned parents that rest assured, Lily was a safe child’s horse. Once they watched their kid ride her they realized it too.
When I agreed to bring Lily to New Bolton to be put down, I hadn’t actually thought much about the putting down part, as weird as that may seem. I was more upset about Lily’s condition. About how I hated to see a horse like Lily, despite her personality quirks, going through pain and suffering. She worked hard for us, and it was the least we could do for her.
Our Last Walk Together
When I arrived at New Bolton and check her in, they asked me if I wanted to put her in the stall and go or to stay with her until it was time. I unloaded Lily and took her off the parking lot to graze. She hadn’t been eating well at home because of all of her medication, but she was tearing into that grass like it was the best thing she ever tasted.
It seemed like I hand grazed her forever. I’m sure it was no longer than 10 or 15 minutes. It was long enough for me to see how content she was at that moment. Despite all her troubles, being skinny and sick. At that moment, she was happy.
She Went Peacefully
I was with her when she went. She went peacefully and it was quite clearly the kindest thing for her. I managed not to cry at the hospital. Now on the way home, that is a whole different story! There were a lot of tears on that drive back home. I really didn’t realize how much I had learned from Lily, and how much I had been through with her until the very end. Something about her going was like being hit with a ton of bricks.
So what if she made grumpy faces and cross cantered? I taught many a lesson on her. Many a student claimed that Lily was their favorite. In fact, at summer camp the year when she had been hurt, the campers made a welcome home banner to put on the front gate for her!
Life Lessons From Lily
Horses put their ears back. Some more often than others. To say all horses with their ears back are mean or threatening is just not the case. Some horses, for whatever reason do it more than others. Not to be threatening, but just because it is part of their personalities.
That is what makes horses so fascinating to us right? That they are so big and strong. They are prey animals that are the exact opposite of us. Yet we can learn their personalities and they can learn to trust us. Don’t judge a book by its cover or should I say don’t judge an Arab mare who prefers to hold her ears back all the time!
The Biggest Thing She Taught Me
The biggest thing I learned from Lily, is a huge lesson to anyone who loves animals. In my last few moments with her, while she was grazing. She was more content than I had seen her in months.
She had known me for years, I took her on a drive no big deal. Lily was content. She did not know what was about to happen. She wasn’t scared. Despite her sickness and injuries, all she was thinking about was right now and eating that grass. When she left this world, she left it with dignity and peace. She was content. Really, what more could we want for an animal at the end of its life?
Moral Of The Story
A content horse is a happy horse, all they know is now! Then there is, of course, don’t judge a grumpy looking Arab mare by her outer demeanor. Lily was one of many horses I have had the pleasure of learning from. We never did anything exciting, no big shows or fancy prizes. That didn’t matter! Even grumpy little bay mares have a lot to teach us if we just stop and listen.