She was one of the most loving, generous beings I’ve ever been around and I still miss her with every beat of my broken heart – I’m sure I always will.
After all, she was the one who made my dream come true.
Although diminutive in stature – she was barely big enough to be classified as a horse rather than a pony – it was her spirit, her good nature, her trust that was as large and genuine as any Clydesdale’s. She was so much a part of our lives these past three decades, it’s difficult for me to put into words just how much I loved her. It’s at moments like this I wish I were a better writer … but I owe it to her to give it a shot.
She stood just a tick over 14 hands tall, but was bred from giants of the American Quarter Horse Association. Her great grandfather was Zippo Pine Bar, a Hall of Fame stallion who many regard as the greatest Western Pleasure sire of all time. Locally, she was the daughter of Zaxon and the grandchild of Zippo Cash Bar.
Owned by respected horse breeder Gerald Neubauer of Pleasant Township (think Locust School), Zaxon’s “Lily” came into my life in the early 1990s when Jerry’s son Jayme and I became the best of friends. Jayme was dying of lung cancer at the time but it didn’t stop him from “cowboying up.” Not wanting to waste a minute of his time left on Earth, Jayme loved to ride so that’s what we did … day after day after day.
It was during one of these forays into the wild west of Northeast Iowa that I met Lily for the first time. Despite her obviously small size, she was a beautiful specimen and, more importantly, had a pleasant disposition to match. As my 92-year-old Greek mother is fond of saying, “She wouldn’t hurt a canary” (whatever that means).
I asked Jayme if I could give her a go so we threw a saddle on her and headed out. She never took a bad step that day or any other day for nearly 30 years. She was a sweetheart and she was perfect.
When I was a young lad growing up in Illinois, I loved to watch all the “Westerns” on TV and at the movies. I fantasized about the day I would own a small ranch and have horses of my own. I never thought it would actually happen – but life can be funny that way.
Enter my wife, Sarah. We married in 1987 and I immediately told her we had to go horseback riding. An inexperienced and apprehensive equestrian to say the least, Sarah did have a lot of “want to” in her, but insisted that I had to find her the right horse. A horse she could rely on, a horse of true character, a horse with “a good look in its eye.”
I made Jerry an offer on Lily the next day. He accepted and the dream became closer to becoming reality. Jayme succumbed to that terrible disease shortly thereafter, but before passing to the biggest rodeo of all, he sold me his prize mare, Jackie, for $1. I tried to talk him down to 75 cents, but he’d have none of it. With me astride the magnificent Jackie and Sarah aboard the little one, we rode the trails at Forestville State Park in Minnesota, the Volga Lake project near Fayette and many more.
We couldn’t get enough, and watching Sarah evolve from a skittish “cowgirl” to a confident rider remains one of the great pleasures of my life. I’d often go ahead of Sarah on the trail just so I could turn around and see that huge smile on her face. I swear to Ty Murray (look him up) Lily was smiling, too.
Over the course of the next few years, Sarah’s ability on horseback grew by leaps and bounds. Extremely confident in Lily (as well she should have been), Sarah was soon galloping as often as she could, and Lily was more than happy to oblige. It was a match made in heaven, and I’m sure Jayme had something to do with it.
Long story short (It’s too late for that, right?), when Jayme passed, Jerry and Shirlee decided to build a place on the Pole Line Road, and they were kind enough to give me first crack at buying their place (about 70 acres). We remain there to this day. The dream has become a reality … and it was all because of that small, sweet quarter horse named Lily.
She was so good, in fact, we could put our young grandkids on her back and never give it a second thought.
Last winter, Lily had a tough time of it and I knew this winter would be difficult for her. I was right. Despite our best efforts to feed her special “senior” food, she deteriorated rather quickly in recent weeks. On Saturday morning, Feb. 4, we found her lying down when we went out to do the morning chores. She was no more.
Thanks to the compassion and friendship of our neighbor, Dick Wise, we buried her on our land and it’s somewhat comforting to know she’ll be there as long as the grass grows, the river flows and the sky is blue.
We’d like to think she’s running around in a beautiful meadow with Jayme on her back. God, I hope so. As the dream-maker, she deserves it. Happy trails little one and thanks for everything. I’ll think of you often until the day I die – then we’ll be together again. I’ll bring your saddle.