To tell her story fully, I'll have to start with the story of Bella.
Bella came to us for reschooling as a naughty five year old pony who had an established habit of bucking, resulting in a complete loss of nerve in her fifteen year old rider, E. The YD was three years younger than E, but had way more experience riding all kinds of ponies and she quickly clicked with Bella. Bella tried to buck her off regularly, but failed every time, and eventually stopped bucking (mostly). E, meanwhile, was enjoying herself riding our elderly schoolmaster, Pepper, and was steadily rebuilding her confidence.
The arrangement suited both parties, E got to take Pepper out to a clear round competition and the YD was just about ready to take Bella out showjumping when tragedy (and I really mean tragedy) struck.
E was severely injured in a car crash and died shortly after.
Her family, needless to say, were devastated and the last thing they needed to think about was the pony. We assured them that we would take good care of Bella for as long as they needed us to.
That's how the YD ended up campaigning Bella for four years. After the first year, Bella's owner started going to shows to watch them compete, and although the first few shows were very emotional for everyone concerned, she came to enjoy watching Bella and the YD as much as I did. Bella was frequently naughty, and could throw in a series of bucks between fences "just for fun", which often resulted in a pole on the ground, but she enjoyed her jumping nonetheless. Any ribbons which came their way went to E's grave, and I liked to think of them brightening up the graveyard and causing people to stop and think about the pony-mad young girl whose life was cut so short.
When the YD was sixteen, the age-limit for pony classes, we all got together to decide what to do. Selling Bella was not an option - she is a last link between her owner and E. We considered having her re-measured and rated as a horse - she was right on the height limit for pony classes and this was a definite option, but we were not convinced it was the right option. She was comfortable jumping up to 1.10M, but any higher seemed a bit much for her, and she would have struggled to cope with horse distances on a technical course.
An alternative was to find another young rider for her, but she was not an easy pony by any means, and we couldn't think of any sympathetic youngsters who would be able to cope with her occasional histrionics.
The YD was still as keen as mustard at this stage, and was making regular pocket-money taking in horses and ponies to school. It seemed unthinkable that she would lose interest, so we discussed the possibility of breeding from Bella, with a view to producing a nice little horse for her to train and hopefully compete on in the future. The foal would be co-owned, and we would split all the costs along the way. This would also gave us a bit more time to find a new rider for Bella.
Her owner liked the idea and we liked the idea of keeping a part of Bella - in four years, we had grown pretty fond of her! We rationalised the idea by saying that even if the impossible happened and the YD stopped riding, the market was still pretty good for quality young-stock, so we reassured ourselves that we would be able to sell the offspring easily enough.
A suitable stallion was chosen (a son of the great show-jumper Cruising), Bella was inseminated and went in foal straight away. A full year later, Marshall hit the ground, a stunning chestnut colt. Bella was a great mum and all was well.
I had previously discovered the pitfalls of breeding - you breed one cute little pony foal every year, and in four years time you've got five ponies to keep, so I was quite certain that I didn't want another foal. I spoke to Bella's owner and told her this, and said if she wanted to go again it was up to her.
Unfortunately, I wasn't clear enough in what I said, and although I'm pretty sure I said I didn't want another one, what Bella's owner heard was "we'll go again if you want to." After a couple of weeks, she decided that yes, she'd go again, thinking I was once again involved as a full partner. This confusion didn't emerge until Bella was confirmed in foal, and we were discussing vet and stud fees.
What could I do? Bella's owner was upset and genuinely apologetic, but couldn't afford to pay all the bills by herself. I agreed to go halves on this foal too, and the following year Lilly arrived.
Marshall was all "Boy" from the moment he arrived, rough, tough and rambunctious, but Lilly was the complete opposite, sweet, gentle and curious. She welcomed human contact without ever getting pushy, and happily accepted her place at the bottom of the pecking order.
Despite this, though, I just didn't like with her - as far as I was concerned, she was unplanned and unwanted, the result of a misunderstanding which I felt was not my fault. I had no interest in her, and over the following three years, I'm ashamed to say I neglected her. Her co-owner didn't have enough of a horsey background to train or even handle a young horse, so it was my responsibility to do all the early work with her. Although she was fed and stabled as necessary, I failed to give her the all-important handling a baby horse should get. She just about learned to lead, but as for teaching her to pick up her feet - I just couldn't be bothered. She's only had two hoof-trimming sessions in her life, and although she tried hard to behave, she wasn't properly prepared and didn't understand what was going on.
As a yearling, she showed signs of sweet itch, which became even more apparent the following year. I should have introduced her to a rug, so she could get some protection from the flies, but I just didn't want to spend the time on her. I did invest in an ointment which was supposed to soothe her skin and keep the flies away, and I put it on her sporadically, while her co-owner made sure she applied it every time she saw her.
It had become clear to us that the YD's equestrian career was over. It was also quite clear that the market for leisure horses in Ireland was in its death throes. We were fortunate to sell Marshall as a three year-old, but I was convinced we would never be able to sell Lilly. I made a few half-hearted attempts to advertise her as a two year old, but she stayed right where she was.
In an added twist, her registration was also mixed up. The couple who owned the stud split up while Bella was pregnant with Lilly, and our payment of the stud fees got lost in between them. This meant that no foal registration cert was sent out to me, but I never noticed its absence - at the time, we were tied up with the a very stressed out Youngest Daughter (long, complicated story). The first I knew about the lack of registration was when I was contacted by one half of the couple, requesting payment of the stud fee. Thankfully, I had paid it on Visa and I was able to find proof of this, but I never received the registration cert, and to be honest, at the time, I just didn't care.
Because no foal certificate was sent off to the registration body, DNA testing was required to prove her parentage. In my eyes, Lilly was worthless, and I felt that DNA testing and registration, along with the vet visit they would require, was a pointless waste of time and money. Despite the fact that I knew all horses (by law) should be microchipped and passported, I never did it. Don't ask me why, maybe I thought that if I ignored the problem long enough, it would go away. It didn't.
I now have a half share in a three year old unwanted, untrained, unregistered filly with sweet itch. I also have a deadline. I have to rehome her before I leave in October. She deserves a home where she can learn how to be a good little riding horse and is wanted, loved and trained. She deserves better than me.
I was skipping out the paddock yesterday, assisted by our troubled and hyperactive rescue dog, Cookie, and I was lucky enough to capture this video. Lilly is demonstrating just how good she could be someday.