Lilly must have attracted my stepfather because he was always frugal with money and as long as I knew him, J. W. (Jesse Walter) never purchased horses. Until Lilly. He bought her in about 1993. She was eight-years old.
J. W. had married my mother in 1951, worked for Texas Power & Light Company and kept watch over two parcels of land in central Texas: a 35 acre area near Goldthwaite, Texas, and a 13 acre plot, called Salt Creek, near Brownwood, Texas. Lilly stayed, from time-to-time, in both places. Star, her colt, was born at Salt Creek.
Lilly is a black and white tobiano paint horse. Tobiano indicates a color ensemble of paint horses that is not speckled, like paint that is thrown from a paint brush, but rather broad swatches of color that can be interpreted as representational figures on the horse, as American Indians were wont to do: woman lying down, warrior standing up, galloping horse, and so on. She stands about 14.5 hands, fairly short for a horse, but good for easy mounting and fast breaks and stops. Crazy Horse would have liked her, as he painted hailstones on his mounts and Lilly had broad patches of black.
Lilly was J. W.’s trail horse. She would be his ride on daily trail rides around central Texas and may have, on one occasion, gone with him to Colorado for an elk hunt. J. W. did not hunt elk in his later years, preferring to stay back in camp, taking pictures on a Kodak camera and conversing about the fire. Lilly may not have gone with him, but I think I remember her being framed in a photograph in the high country.
I first saw Lilly at Salt Creek. She was beautiful. Still is. My daughter rode her when young. Brenda has ridden her and so has Olivia, my granddaughter. I never rode Lilly. For some reason, Star was my steed and when my family rode with me, they chose Lilly and I rode Star. I don’t regret not having ridden Lilly because I am always around her. I have been her keeper since September 2002, when J. W. was diagnosed with leukemia. Twice a day after I moved her and Star to Mingus, I have tended her, groomed her, had her feet trimmed and doctored her bruises and scrapes.
When J. W. fell ill and I went to Goldthwaite to feed her the first time, Lilly saw me coming down the pasture road in my little Mazda sedan. She munched a few more bites of grass and then followed me to where I parked. I had a bucket of oats in my hand and when she saw the oats, or smelled them, her head shot up and she rolled her head slightly, giving kicks of delight (I know now) as she walked beside me on my right side to the feed bin. I had not been around horses that much and the kick seemed out of place to me. Horses kick because they are threatened? What is going on with her, I thought? I knew that I was not threatening her and was in the process of feeding, so what was going on?
I was a bit fearful of her and moved away. I stopped walking and reflected. Lilly is happy she is being fed, I reasoned, not apprehensive, so, the kick must be a behavior of delight, not attack.
A cold, sharp wind cut across the hill to the stock pen where the feed bin was located. She needed her oats, I thought, and I need to become acquainted with her because J. W. can’t come out to Goldthwaite anymore. Lilly stopped when I did. I started walking again and she walked right beside me, a 1,000 lb. sentient being that could hurt me. The whole process of feeding and my stepfather being ill and I had sheep to round up at Salt Creek and I had mother to worry about now since she was in bad health too and I had to drive back to Mingus and teach in Abilene the next morning, all this was on me and now I have Lilly to contend with. I thought I can’t do all this.
Cold wind or not, Lilly and I stood together. She wanted her oats. Fair enough, let’s continue. She went down the walkway of the pen and stopped near her bin and I walked between her and the stock fence, inhaling scents of her and the fall season, grasses dying and wind from across our neighbor’s pasture to the north. I poured her oats into her bin and she chomped. Simply ate. And I stood there looking at this beautiful animal. I reached out and touched her, caressed her and she continued to eat, letting me stand beside her. The event of feeding Lilly turned from apprehension to friendship, a subtle first-step in getting acquainted. Because Lilly allowed me to be with her, I reasoned that in the coming weeks I could manage the end-state of my family’s affairs. I would come to the stock pens and feed Lilly and be lightened.
J. W. never saw his horses again. I would narrate to him what I was doing, but he was concerned about other things, but I told him anyway about Lilly and Star and rounding up the sheep to sell in Goldthwaite and Star helping cut the sheep into the pen on his own, a naturally penning tendency in some horses. J. W. let me manage the horses and livestock for the first time in our family.
In J. W.’s personal effects, there are ribbons and medals and trophies of trail riding with Lilly. They are just courtesy awards given to every trail rider, but the awards signify a bond that goes back in time, back in prehistory when humans approached horses and the horses allowed the touching to occur. Lilly has been a part of our family for seventeen years and I have been her keeper for eight. She’s family. I know now she kicked that first day out of delight for oats and for me. Rest assured, I’ll be with that old girl, all the way to the end, be it a cold day or hot.