"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Farewell Lily


It is life, marking the beats of a heart on the EKG.
It is the expanding of our chest with every breath.
It is the bass beat that we move to on the dance floor.

It is the patter of falling rain, the sound of a cantering horse's footfalls, the purring of your cat curled up on your chest, the sound of your fingers over the computer keyboard, the song of the birds singing outside your open window.
It is the wind rippling through the trees with an incoming storm. It is the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
It is in the solidity of that which you touch, as molecules vibrate together ever so tightly to form rock, earth and iron.
It is in the light, each color in its spectrum determined by its individual frequency.
Rhythm is everything. It is in everything, within us and surrounding us.

Harness a rhythm and you can do anything: with rhythm you can continue life, you can create it, you can celebrate it, and you can sometimes even bring it back. Control the rhythm of your heart and your breathing, and sometimes you can make your feet go on forever.

I found my rhythm two weeks ago as I ran through a chilly misting drizzle in downtown, one foot in front of the other. I keep saying I'm not a "real" runner: "I'm not a real runner because I run-walk." "I'm not a real runner because I won't run in the rain." "I'm not a real runner because I won't run in the cold outside."

On this day, I became the lifter that also runs by all of my self-imposed definitions. On this day, I hit three miles without stopping and still didn't want to stop so I continued on into a fourth mile, despite the cold and the rain.

And it was all because of the rhythm of the music playing through my headphones as I continued. A conspiration from the Universe: Pandora played song after song after song with the same metronomic beat that allowed me to pace to the bass and percussion so seamlessly that I felt like I could go on forever effortlessly.

There is something beautiful about feeling your body working at what once upon a time felt like max effort but is now a breeze. Blood pumps through your arteries as your heart remains at a steady, comfortable beat, thanks to measured breaths and an even, relentless pace.

I was thinking about all of this in wonder as I ran, when Pandora suddenly started to play this song.

Something about the beat and the voices and the imagery made me pay attention. And then it got to the chorus:

"We can do anything if we put our minds to it
Take your whole life then you put a line through it
My love is yours if you're willing to take it
Gimme your heart cause I ain't gonna break it.
So come away, starting today
Start a new life, together in a different place
We know love is how these ideas came to be
So baby run away, away with me."

I got goosebumps. I've talked before on here how music sometimes is a multi-sensorial experience for me, and this song literally struck a chord. I continued running, accelerating my pace to match the slightly faster beat of the song. It finished and I hit "Repeat." And again. And again. And that is how not only did I complete four miles strictly running on this day in both the cold and the rain, I also did them in negative splits, all thanks to this one song.

Once I was back in the car, I flipped over to Sound Cloud and looked for the song so I could continue playing it whenever I wanted.

I ran again to it the next day, still on repeat.

I kept listening to it because I couldn't figure out why the chorus made me want to cry. I finally pulled up the video and that made me start bawling, but I couldn't understand why. The video is wistful, not sad. So I continued listening to the song...and then figured out that the beat reminded me of a very specific canter beat on the trail, belonging to one very specific mare.

"So baby run away, away with me."

The song reminded me of Lily.

And once I figured that out, it was like someone had opened the floodgates and all the grief over her that I've been carrying around silently with me for the last two years suddenly came pouring out.

You see, we spend our lives trying to fit in boxes, defining ourselves by what we do for a living or what we do outside of work or how we look or what we went to school for or what we hope to be someday. Sometimes the best part is deciding we don't want to be defined by any one quality: we can be anything and everything we want to be. We can be multiple things at once that sometimes aren't even compatible with one another, like me being both a runner and a lifter. We just have to put our minds to it.

As horse owners though, we so often become defined by our equine partners.

And I have spent the last seven years defining my life by one mare named Tiger Lily.


Lily sold on September 8, 2018, exactly seven years and two months right down to the day from when I bought her.

I started talking about selling her back in October of 2015 when she tried to rip her face off.

There came a time when I started only posting about her major injuries here. All of the minor ones: the abscesses, the cuts that blew up, the cellulitis episodes, the mystery swelling in her hind legs for two weeks the fall of 2015 that was the cause of us cancelling our participation in the Nationals LD, the stone bruises, the puncture wounds, the fungal infections: I kept all of those to myself. I was tired of rehashing all of that on here. Just reading other bloggers' accounts of their injury-prone horses is exhausting to me after all of the struggles with Lily.

Case in point: that one time I was lunging her over a 2'6" jump in the arena and she managed to nick a small artery in her left hind (always that godforsaken left hind.) She didn't stumble or falter in any way; I wouldn't have even noticed if it hadn't  been for the sudden gushing of blood to the beat of her pulse. Her entire leg was covered in blood within seconds and she left a trail of blood behind her as I walked her back to the barn where I had my first aid kit. She was started on antibiotics to keep the leg from blowing up with cellulitis and had to live with this Elastikon bandage on for a few days.

After she had healed from her torn face, I had put out feelers among people I knew and trusted to see if they knew of anyone looking. There had been no takers so I left it at that at the time, figuring that there was a reason for me to keep her.

And there was a reason for her staying: we had a fantastic endurance season in 2016. Until the fall at the river. One of the few things I clearly remember about that day without having to go back and read the post with the details, was looking up at Lily's saddle on her back and thinking, "I need to get back on. I should get back on," but I was in too much excruciating pain to even be able to think of swinging a leg over. I had known that even if I managed to get back on, I would stiffen up and then not be able to get back off.

I had wanted to cry because I had just been so happy before, right before that happened. Everything had been so perfect. We had been going on a 20 mile round-trip conditioning ride on the C&O Canal with a stop at Harper's Ferry halfway so we could all have lunch before turning around and heading back to the trailer.

There was something so magical about idea of riding on horseback into this little Civil War town in WV. It was also supposed to be the last long conditioning ride before Ride Between the Rivers.

But I had also wanted to cry because deep down inside, I knew it was the end. It wasn't just the outside of me that broke that day, something on the inside also broke. And while my body healed, my insides did not.

The bruises are long gone on that leg two years later, but there will always be some remaining swelling/edema from the extensive tissue damage. It is a constant reminder, as well as my matching scarred elbows.
I did eventually get back on though. Jess competed her for me at Lily's last two endurance rides because I was still too injured to ride a trotting horse. But once I was sound of body, I swallowed my fears, pushed through them and got her back on a consistent work schedule over the winter of 2016-2017.

I pushed through my fears enough to haul back out to the same part of the C&O where the accident had happened.
And then I stopped riding as much because of everything else that was going on: because of politics and their repercussions both here and at home and my heightened anxiety over all of that and over close American friends at the time that said I was "overreacting" which made me borderline crazy. I have never been one to "get political" over stuff. In the past I would be mad about decisions I didn't agree with both here and in PR. I would discuss my opinions if asked, but never ever ever to the extent I do now. Dubya sucked; I moved to the States when he was president and as a Latina with a heavy accent at the time and all of my work experience in Puerto Rico, I got introduced to American stereotypes against "others" real quick in part thanks to that administration's anti-immigrant views. (Let's not get into the fact that legally Puerto Ricans don't immigrate to the US; we migrate here...) Even then though, things were not anywhere near what they are now.

So I was not emotionally in a place where I wanted to deal with Lily on top of everything else. I ran away into the gym. And then I was prepping for my first show. And then, after what turned into months of not riding her, when I finally got back on Lily in August after the show I realized that all of the PTSD that I had accrued from years of one disaster after another had snowballed into an avalanche.

Our ride ended with me dismounting and hand-walking her most of the way after what can only be described as a full-blown panic attack.
I realized then that my anxiety over needing to keep her in consistent work all the time was not just because of her: it was also because of me. Deep down inside I had known that if I had stopped riding her for a long enough period of time, the bad painful parts of our relationship would catch up to me to the point of no return.

Beka once commented on one of my many injury posts something along the lines that it was hard to decide whether Lily or I had the worst luck, since either one or the other was always getting hurt. I had tried to brush it off at the time but it had stuck with me like a burr that you can't dig out of your clothes...because it had rung true: it was like the mare and I had this horrible karma together. I mention the comment now in a positive way because it might have saved my life...but I will never know for certain.

The trailer door incident at Fort Valley, where Lily sent the door flying and I ended up with a split lip that really should have been stitched back together but no, I had to ride 50 miles the next day on Gracie...that day, as I held ice to my broken face, I had looked at Lily and had been so grateful that I was not going to be the one riding her in the race. I had had no qualms about her and Jess at all; I knew that they would be fine. But I had also known that if it had been me on her, it would have been a different story.

And I remembered Beka's comment then and thought, "Even when doing the most casual inane things around her, this mare still manages to hurt me without even meaning to. I...I can't do this anymore. I just can't."

The day after, quite drunk after the ride, with my swollen lip (the split was on the inside) and bruises on my arm from I don't even know what from the same incident.
Could I have forced myself to work through it yet again in order to ride her consistently? Of course. I had done it a million times before: start out slow, get through lots and lots of positive rides and experiences, and your guard goes down, the anxiety disappears and you get lulled into a sense of security. I never really posted in detail about that side of working with her. This blog started out as, and for a long time was, a conscious effort in me finding the ray of sunshine in owning Lily.

The difference this time around was that I didn't WANT to go through with forcing myself to ride Lily because I knew how it would end: with me injured again. The time had come where I was resolutely not willing to do that again, mainly because I need a functioning body to do my job, to make a living. Major injuries like the river incident can be career enders in my line of work. I had been lucky that time. I was done with tempting fate. If I had not had Gracie as well, I would have been done with horses forever, period. That's how far I had strayed from the horse-crazy girl that once wanted to spend every waking hour at the barn.

I moved the mares to the new barn in the hopes that having access to two decent arenas would help ease my fears: maybe Lily and I could just abandon the trail and stick with dressage. But I found myself grumpy from anxiety every time we headed for the barn to ride and I kept finding excuses to not get on. As the months got warmer, I started dreaming of the trail again.

But I didn't want to do it on Lily.

Carlos was the one who offered to ride her so I could go on Gracie instead. I was not 100% comfortable with that idea but they had gotten along fabulously in the past.

He is so solid and calm in temperament that I thought it would be beneficial for the mare.

We tried this experiment and it went well in the beginning. We stuck to the arena so Carlos could get the swing of riding Lily again and even ventured out onto the barn trails once. It all went really well and I started talking of hauling out with the mares again. Except that when the opportunity arose to haul out, I woke up with this unexplainable and really bad feeling. Given that the previous evening I had been super excited about hitting the trails on this day, we listened to my gut and chose to stay instead. We went to the barn to ride anyway and that's the day that the Carlos incident happened. It was yet another freak thing around this mare, except this time he was the victim. He was none the worse for wear but if things had gone even slightly differently, he would have ended up dead. I later sat in the car a trembling nervous wreck just looking at him, because it had been so close that I couldn't believe he was unscathed.

And that is how three years of looking for excuses to keep her came to an end. That was the final straw.

I'm not going to go into the details of my thought processes throughout those three years and later the four months after the Carlos incident. Long-term readers know that I don't make decisions lightly and I research the crap out of everything I do; I have explained on and off on here where my brain has been going with Lily throughout the last 3 years. I don't expect readers to remember, but I'm not going to rehash it again. To note: My family and I are big believers in that pets are family. You don't sell them or put them up for adoption or quit on them without exhausting every other option first.

I have never sold a horse before. I have rehomed horses in the past with people I knew and trusted, and two out of those three ended up being passed along out of my reach, which was extremely upsetting at the time. But once a horse is out of your ownership, what happens to them is beyond your control because that horse does not belong to you anymore. You don't get a say in it. This is why it took me so long to arrive at this decision and why every other option was contemplated long and hard beforehand: more training, leasing, lessons, etc.

I will not go into details of the sale. I originally wasn't going to say anything about this until the Year End Review since I've barely talked about the horses on here for the last year and a half, but this blog started because of Lily and she meant too much to not say anything.

I need to write some sort of tribute to her.

All you really need to know about my thought processes is this: My one other remaining way of keeping her would have been to retire her but we don't own horse property nor are interested in doing so. I debated sending her to a retirement farm but that then left me with the whole, "If she tries to kill herself I still have to pay for it" part, which I had been done with long before the part where she always ended up hurting me. Plus the type of retirement farm where I would have wanted to send her would have cost more than field boarding two horses.

Would I have kept her if we had had our own farm? I wondered about that. The answer is probably not.

a) There was a factor of unease in keeping her but not working her: I felt like to just keep her retired would have ended up badly for her because keeping a perfectly sound TB with mild herd-boundness issues out in a field with other horses for years is to that horse's detriment if circumstances change and you need to rehome her. I did not feel comfortable with this answer, especially given how often the idea of leaving the mainland gets periodically tossed around in our house in the current political environment. Gracie has a soft landing place no matter what happens: she goes back to her previous owner if circumstances change for us, and if she couldn't take her, it is not hard to sell a gorgeous registered KMH with trail experience that anyone can ride.

b) The other conclusion that I came to through all of this pondering is that, regardless of the scenario, I think if I had kept Lily longer I would have started riding her again at some point because of point a) and also it seems stupid not to ride a perfectly sound horse that loves to work. It would have been a waste not to.

And that was why I couldn't keep her in my life. My reaction to her was that of someone who has been in a toxic relationship for a long time and is afraid of letting go. I had to let go.


Fast forward to her last week with me.

It took me two days to finish trimming her feet because I was afraid of getting underneath her to do her hooves. Not because of anything she would do deliberately. No, I was afraid of some other freak accident where one or both of us would get hurt, right at the end of our journey together. 

But I trimmed up her feet beautifully and uneventfully, with her standing loose in the grass outside of the mare field and patiently keeping each foot on the hoof stand while I worked on them. Just like she had always been for having her feet trimmed.

I worked her twice that last week, just to see where her brain was at and to check her soundness during the home stretch. If you followed along during our endurance era, you know how superstitious I was about our last week before a ride: half the time some random shit would happen to Lily to keep us from going, especially if I announced in advance that we had plans to compete. This was the same thing. 

She was absolutely fine, and she was absolutely lovely. That first day we started out in the round pen with ground work. 

She was so quiet that we both eventually got bored. She was going to another indoor situation so I worked her in our barn's indoor arena at liberty a bit. She would go out and trot and canter and change direction when I asked her to, and of her own volition confronted some of the random trail obstacle-type things the BOs have in the indoor, cantering right up to the obstacles and then darting past playfully.

I had never seen her be so brave on her own.

She finally asked for permission to come in to me and I let her. All she wanted to do was follow me around, so I gave up on working her because it wasn't necessary. I just stopped and danced with her, having her move her hindquarters or her shoulders away from me at the point of a finger, just like I'd taught her, or letting her follow me in turn. 

I stood still and she came to a stop in front of me, and then looked around and behind herself at the arena door and she just looked so pretty that I snagged a picture.

I didn't realize then that it would be my last photo of her. I mean, I knew she was going to a new home, but I didn't think about the fact that I wouldn't be taking another picture of this mare whose persona was 100% of my contribution to social media not that long ago. 

This photo.
I hosed her off because it was so hot that day, and then set her free in the field. 

I returned to the barn two days later with Carlos and worked her in the round pen again while he watched us. Just walk/trot/canter for about 10 minutes because that was really all she needed. Afterwards I gave her a bubble bath. She stood quietly in the wash stall for once, letting me scrub the dirt off of her forehead and trim her mane and make her white sock sparkling again and condition her tail. She didn't fidget nor call for Gracie: she was present. It was just her and me again.

I then let her loose in the long grass outside of the mare field and sat down close by to watch her in silence. I was silent both on the outside and the inside and Carlos made a comment about it.

"I had missed this part of you, the part of you with the horses," he said.
"What about it?" I had asked quietly, still looking at Lily.
"Your confidence around them. The fact that you go through the motions without having to think about it because they are so familiar and known to you."
I thought about that. He compared it to me in the gym, where it's the same confidence but it manifests itself in a different way: I am fierce and bold when it comes to lifting.

"I go to the same place inside though. In both instances, I am quiet inside. I have to be when lifting or I get in my own way. The difference is that with the barbell, it's just me. With Lily, anything even slightly off about me affects her. I just don't need to worry about that with the barbell. Nor Gracie for that matter. It takes an enormous amount of effort for me to be this way around her," I said to him, indicating Lily. "She is this quiet and calm right now because I am forcing myself to be this way around her. It's why I can't do this anymore: it's such a huge effort. I just don't have it in me any longer."

We turned her back out after, leaving everything ready for delivering her the next day: it was supposed to rain all day and we didn't want to be delayed by the weather.

The forecast had called for thunderstorms at the time we were planning on arriving at the barn to load up Lily but when we got there the sky was just a solid steel gray with no sign of actual rain on the horizon. We hitched up the trailer and I went to get Lily. She came to me in the field as usual and stood while I put her protective boots on her legs. I gave her a full dose of Gastrogard, just like when we used to haul out before: I didn't want to send her to a new home already with ulcers brewing from the stress. She jumped in the trailer like it was any other ride. It took her a second to realize Gracie was not in there with her and she whinnied a couple of times but then settled.

It was an uneventful drive to her new home. 

The person that would now be in charge of her was already at the barn. Once I found them, I went back outside to fetch Lily. She unloaded calmly and looked about. I think she had expected to be at an endurance ride. I removed her boots and her rope halter and put her regular breakaway halter on instead. I touched the charm Karen had made for her on the rope halter, the one she sent us after Lily ran away with the hitching post, and wondered if I should put it on the nylon halter...it was hers after all. But I don't know why, I chose not to. 

I think deep down inside I hoped that now she wouldn't need it. That with me out of her life, her own karma would rearrange itself for good. I had barely ridden her this past year and she had sustained no injuries with my presence being minimal in her life. I hoped that this would continue for her once I was permanently gone.

I removed the bridle tag with my name and phone number from the nylon halter too, and brushed the tears away. That same tag had brought her back to me when she ran away the day of the hitching post.

I then led her into the barn, Carlos following behind. I put her in her stall, where there was fresh hay, water, shavings piled deep, and a gorgeous view of fields and mountains through the window. She nuzzled the hay and then became nervous. She wanted to follow me back out of the stall. 

"Lily, you have to stay," I told her, sliding the door shut between us. 

I said my good-bye to her person and started to walk away...then turned around and unapologetically walked back into the stall, where I grabbed her face and kissed her nose one last time. "Please be good," I whispered to her.

She whinnied as we walked away.

I started sobbing when we got back in the truck. I heard her whinny again as we drove away. Horses are only supposed to do that in movies.

I made myself stop crying once we hit the highway back home.


We dropped off the trailer at the barn right as it finally started to drizzle. 

It rained for days. It was almost a full week before I made it back out to the barn, this time with the intent of riding Gracie. I had not ridden either horse since May.

It was a strange ride. I rode in the bareback pad under overcast skies and involuntarily kept looking towards the mare field to see what Lily was up to, whether she was pacing the fenceline like she did when she was in heat and I took Gracie away, or grazing peacefully. I'd look for her and then remember she wasn't there. I realized then that I had never really been fully present while riding Gracie: my mind was always on Lily. What was she up to while I was riding, what I needed to do with her after, whether it was ride, work or just groom her. What would I do with Lily in the future? What were my goals with her? Should I keep her or let her go? All of these things would flow through my mind while riding Gracie in the past. 

And here I was riding G-Mare, the constant buzz-buzz of "Lily this, Lily that" suddenly silent. 

The sun came out while I was still riding, right when my brain went quiet. 

I returned the next day. It was drizzling again and I was wearing my glasses. I hate riding in the rain because I hate it, period (one day I'll tell you guys about all my rides in the rain down the street in front of our house when my grandfather was dying, over and over and over so Abuelito could hear the paca-paca of Lucero's shod hooves on the pavement in his sleep. But that's one reason why I hate riding in the rain now.) Plus I can't see when my glasses get wet. I had not ridden in the rain in two years because I had had no need to; I don't ride endurance anymore.

But the rain didn't touch me on this day. I walked out into the mare field where Gracie greeted me. I fed her a handful of grain while tacking her up with the bareback pad again. Mareface is fat; the grain was more for positive reinforcement for coming to me. 

She didn't care that it was raining. The indoor was being used so we walked right past it to the outdoor, where I hopped on as it started to rain harder.

"Just 10 minutes," I thought, as water dripped off the brim of my helmet. "Just ride for 10 minutes."

That was all it took. Within 10 minutes the rain stopped and the ride lengthened into 35 minutes, where we worked on collection and lengthening within the gaits, shoulder-in and leg yielding into and out of circles, and then putzed around outside the arena while I reminded Gracie that puddles are not lava. 

I drove home afterwards playing Pandora. The drive is only 10 minutes but Pandora played that song again, Eastside. 

I got in the shower at home, the song still playing in my head, and realized that I had not thought of Lily once during my ride on Gracie. 

So I thought about her now. 

One of the very first photos I ever took of her.
I worked with her for 3 months and she never set a foot wrong. One of the things that impressed me the most about her back then was that I could just take her out on the trails or the field next to the barn in Florida and ride without fear of her losing her mind. I had not had that luxury with Rhythm before her. She was nervous sometimes, yes, but she wanted so badly to trust someone. She needed her own person. And in the wake of losing Cloud and then Rhythm, I needed so badly to find a horse to give my heart to. So when she was offered to me, there was no real valid reason to say no. We were mirror images of one another.

"My love is yours if you're willing to take it
Give me your heart 'cause I ain't gonna break it..."

I thought of one sunny July afternoon when I arrived home from the barn to our townhouse in South Florida, and giddily telling Carlos that I could have Lily for a dollar. He had run to his wallet and so happily produced that dollar. "Now I can finally say that I bought you a horse!" he had joked. 

The most informal bill of sale ever. Her barn name back then was Mystery.
Lily's anhidrosis was one of the catalysts for us leaving Florida. I took a second job so I could pay for her shipping north because we didn't own a horse trailer yet. I then sent her to the nicest barn I could afford in Maryland before knowing we would be stationed in Northern Virginia. 

The day she shipped north.
"So come away, starting today,
start a new life, together in a different place..."
I looked for jobs in Maryland despite having a Virginia vet tech license so that I could at least work close to the barn where she was at. We then moved to Maryland so that we could be closer to Lily.

We live in Maryland because of Lily.

Our first real fall together in the north.
One of my favorite memories is the first time Lily and I galloped on the trail at Tusculum, winding around the soybean fields, riding into the wind with a speed that made the tears run backwards from my eyes, an enormous grin plastered on my face, my brown mare with her ears pricked in front of me as we flew together. 

I thought of that time we were riding in one of the turnout fields at BF, the barn where I met Gracie. The song "Rude" by Magic! was playing on Pandora and I just dropped the reins and put my arms out like Alec did with the Black on the beach as we cantered around and around the field. That song still makes me think of that moment. 

Then there was the time we went to Wye Island and cantered through the water. It was the one time we got to ride on the beach to fulfill a lifelong dream, and it happened on the shores of the Chesapeake.

Lily said, "You're nuts." And then, "As you wish."

We spent so much time on the trails, just her and I alone, practicing and training and conditioning for endurance, through crunchy leaves under flaming trees in the fall, cantering through sparkly powder in the winter, slogging through mud in the spring and trotting endlessly through the vibrant green of summer. 

(Photo by Kathy Lipton)

(Photo by Michelle Mayer)

(Photo by Becky Pearman)

Season after changing season for the three years that we dedicated exclusively to endurance. There was so much hope and joy during that time as I learned to read her and what she needed with a precision tha I'd never had with any horse prior to her. And in turn, she learned to read me with the same accuracy. We were one entity, like the toruks and their riders in Avatar. Her and I together were invincible. And everyone that read about her during that time fell in love with her, because when I wrote about her they could see her as I did. 

(Photo by Hoofprint Images)
"We can do anything if we put our minds to it
Take your whole life then you put a line through it..."

My life both revolved around her and was defined by her. 

I was sent home one day from work because I was so upset after her most recent injury that I couldn't function. I stopped going to the gym that spring that she came up lame after the rain because I had to go treat her feet twice a day and just didn't have time for anything else other than her. And I was okay with that. I spent every spare minute that I wasn't with her, at home reading about endurance and horse care and hoof care and barefoot management and equine nutrition. When I wasn't reading for her benefit, I was writing about her here. 

My mind flashed to the mountain of Old Dominion, that terrifying soul-crushing mountain on our first endurance ride ever, when I just leaned over her neck and gave her the reins and said to her, "I am so sorry for putting us through this because I had no idea, and I can't tell you when it will end because I don't know either."

And she said, "Don't worry. I will go for as long as you need me to go to wherever it is that we need to get, because it is what you wish."

And she did. She got us to the vet check. She was not okay, but she got us there. And I told her, "I will pull if you want me to. We can stop. Just tell me what you want me to do."

And she looked at me and recovered.
"I will take you to the finish."
And she did.

(Photo by Dom)

I thought of that glorious hand gallop around the fields on the last loop of Fort Valley. She had been eating and drinking on trail like a veteran and she was asking to go, so I let her. It had felt like we could go on forever. All I had wanted to do at that moment in time was stay frozen in that instance as the sun set over the brilliant fall-colored Virginia mountains, flying effortlessly over the bright green grass. 

We completed.

(Photo by Becky Pearman)

And then afterwards Lily ended up on a potassium IV drip. 

That first ride season I learned to never let the horse call the shots and to not let others pressure me into going against my gut feeling.

I almost never competed again because I beat myself up so hard about the end of Fort Valley. 

But we did compete again and I am so glad that we did, because that was Our Time.

It was such a glorious time. 

(Photo by Mike Turner)
(Photo by Becky Pearman)
I thought of our last loop at No Frills, when Gracie was pulled for lameness and I had turned to Lily, "It's just you and me girl."

And off we had trotted together, just her and I on the remaining 9 miles of trail.

Nothing remarkable or out of this world happened during that final loop, but it was my favorite ride ever on her because for those 9 miles it felt again like we could go on forever. And I loved her so, so, so much back then. We were, again, invincible. 

I wrote at the time:
"There is something so incredibly wonderful about a horse that knows, understands and loves her job. The entire day, all I felt flowing from Lily was this intense joy. This happiness over being on this tough trail all day long, going, going, going on and on and on, pacing herself and taking care of herself. In hindsight I never once had to tell her what to do: she clearly understood and gave her all. If she needed to walk, she walked. If she felt good enough to canter, she did. If she felt confident trotting downhill, she did so. I let her call the shots because I 100% KNEW that Lily knew what she was doing. I never doubted Lily's ability one bit because she never gave me a reason to."

We came full circle during that ride. 

I didn't know then that it would be my last endurance ride with her, my last competitive event on her of any kind. 

But maybe deep down inside I did know and that's why it was so very special.

And all of that died one day when I was slammed against the ground at 30 mph when she ran from the quicksand at the bottom of the river. 

I thought then of the strength I discovered because of her. The mental and emotional strength I had to have in order to function around her, the physical strength that I developed in order to be her equal when on the trail. The same physical strength that has taken me on this whole other journey that I never would have dreamed of before. 

All because of my $1 mutt.

All of that flashed through my mind in the blink of an eye,  one moment blending into another kaleidoscopically as I stepped into the shower that day after riding Gracie in the rain.

I leaned back against the wall as the hot water poured over me and it was like the water was the physical manifestation of this unstoppable grief being doused over me. I sobbed like I never have before for a horse. 

I cried over the depth of losing her, of failing her, of all the "what ifs" in my history of owning her and the never-ending self-blame for all of our troubles, of having to let her go, of having to put myself through a year of slow emotional detachment in order to be able to let her go, over the escalation of my fear of her, over the relief I felt about not owning her anymore and the tremendous guilt over feeling that relief. I cried because I had created this Super Mare that could do anything, that was so perfect...she just wasn't perfect for me. I cried because her and I had done the impossible: the little mare that no one wanted, that once upon a time was afraid of everything, that at one point had problems with heat regulation, had let me turn her into a successful mountain-climbing 50-mile endurance horse despite all the odds being lined up against her, including her own genetics. 

"We know love is how these ideas came to be..."
I poured an endless amount of hard work into turning her into what she was. But none of that would have been possible if her response to my crazy ideas had not always been, "As you wish."

I cried then because it was the end of an era with a mare that at one point had meant everything to me. It is still hard for me to comprehend how everything could trickle down to nothing, now that her destiny is beyond my control.

Maybe one day I'll see her at an endurance ride, just killing it on the trail where she was happiest, with her person who adores her. 

(Photo by Dom)

And that moment in the shower after riding in the rain was when I understood why Eastside's chorus made me want to cry: it was because that had been our story:

"We can do anything if we put our minds to it
Take your whole life then you put a line through it
My love is yours if you're willing to take it
Gimme your heart cause I ain't gonna break it.
So come away, starting today
Start a new life, together in a different place
We know love is how these ideas came to be
So baby run away, away with me."

"So baby run away, away with me..."

My one regret is that I didn't tell her that I loved her before I left. 


  1. I'm so sorry. Sorry that the relationship that built you up so much ended up letting you down in the end. I'm sorry your heart was broken. I'm sorry that your partnership had so many lows and wore on your heart. I'm sorry that those moments of flying high were followed by moments of being run so far down into the ground. I'm happy for you too. I'm happy that you took a step back and found the strength to let her go. I'm happy that you found her a home that she will hopefully thrive in. I'm so very happy that you have Gracie and that the spark for horses is still there. I hope Lily thrives in her new home with her new person and I hope you thrive with Gracie or any other endeavor you attempt.

    1. Sara, I was so touched by your comment that it made me cry. Thank you for the kind words. <3

  2. THis resonates with me on so very many levels. That is all I'm going to say.

  3. You had so many grand adventures, and so much love. It just wasn't enough to overcome all the bad. I hope you both heal and go on to new things, but still remember your partnership was something special. I'm sorry.

  4. Well this post made me cry. Good for you for making a brave yet obviously very difficult decision. Lily knew you loved her, even letting her go you made all of your choices with her best interests at heart. Thinking of you <3

    1. Thank you Kate. And thank you for being honest on your blog when you were struggling with the possibility of similar decisions. Hearing that from someone else whom I respect as a horsewoman made a big difference. <3

  5. Wow. I saw the original cached partially written post in Feedly and then it was gone on your blog. Glad that it was finished and posted. Bittersweet. *hugs*

    1. <3
      The original post was supposed to go just like that: it was going to be my one truly Wordless Wednesday because at the time I wanted to let people know but I didn't want to talk about it. Then I realized that people would think she had died so I took it down...and then I realized that I really did need to talk about it, so this is the result.

      Thanks L. *hugs back*

  6. "Lily, you need to stay."


    1. It was a tearjerker in real life, and again while writing about it. It was strange and sad to notice all the symbolisms in everything that was happening as it was happening.

  7. Yes, that line, "Lily, you need to stay." and the subsequent nickering sent me straight to tears.

    A beautiful ode to a most incredible relationship.

  8. I'm sorry it ended this way, but it sounds like it's for the best.

    1. I admire you for what you do with Levi but I could not continue to do that to myself.

  9. Beautifully written post about a relationship full of both good and bad memories ❤️

  10. Your series about Puerto Rico and now making this decision for Lily have really resonated with me. Not because I can necessarily relate specifically but because you speak to such powerful human emotions and choices. I also made the decision to sell my horses last year after 20 years. I used to love to write but have felt a block for several years now. You have inspired me to try to find my voice again. Thank you for sharing, truly.

    1. Rebecca, your comment gave me goosebumps! I'm happy to share, especially when I know it makes such a difference. <3 Comments like yours are part of what keeps me going. Thank you!

  11. Hugs and a lot of respect for doing right by her in the end. And perhaps another mareface in the near future? Because I can't see you or Carlos not doing doing this horse thing together

    1. I can see ourselves having two again (especially if the second one can be a Paso! OMG I would love that...) but at the moment I really, really want to just have one. I want to dedicate myself to this mare and get to really know her without distractions. Financially we have a lot of catching up to do on several things that have needed attention, including Gracie's arthritis management. Owning an injury-prone mare, even one that was insured, limited so many other things. I recovered from Lily physically, but there is a lot of psychological, emotional and financial healing that needs to happen now.

      But yes: totally not against having two again in the more distant future. ;)

  12. I am crying too hard to leave a coherent comment, but I love you...

  13. With horses, isn't it just the way? They teach us and continue teaching us, long after they leave. Big hugs to you

  14. I missed this until just now (off getting married!) and here I am crying at work. I loved you and Lily in the good times and ached for you both through her injuries. When the river incident happened, I remember thinking "if only she'd just stopped on the bank." Something in her just... couldn't. I hope that her drive and determination serve her well in her new life. And I wish you much peace and healing as you and Gracie look more to each other. You were the best owner Lily could have had at the time, and you prepared her for her next chapter so well, that when the door opened for her, you could send her through. And she knows you loved her.
    All the hugs.
    Betsy in WI
    PS. I have experienced that weather thing, too. Universe listens.