Sometimes when I think of my daughter Lilly I wonder what kind of a cowgirl she would have become if only… But then I stop myself. She has accomplished so much more than anyone would have thought possible after her accident five years ago. She has competed on a swim team, competed in hoopfest, and competed at the 4h horse shows last summer. She has accomplished more than most children today who have no challenge before them; but she has done this all by defying stereotypes and getting out of her chair, literally. Lilly is a paraplegic and is confined to a wheelchair. She sustained a T2 – T4 partial spinal cord injury in 2008 at the age of seven. Even at that tender age she had been competing in the local gymkhanas on her pony PJ. When she found out that her legs weren’t going to work anymore her first words to me (her mother) were, “I won’t be able to ride my horse anymore,” it was her biggest fear. With strength and determination she did get back on a horse. Although she outgrew dear PJ before she could. She was inspired by, of all things, a two year old stud colt. I had purchased this little dream of a pony for my father. It was to be his new cart pony. Instead he became Lilly’s inspiration. Zip was as full of personality as he was colorful. A bay paint with blue eyes, he was the most amazing animal I have ever met. As I was breaking him Lilly often asked when she could ride him. I always told her she could not. One day while riding this little horse, with an old saddle I grew up on, my chinch broke. The saddle slid off as if in slow motion. I cradled my two year old daughter as I curled in a ball around her fearing this young horse would explode in fear and hurt us both. As I sat on the ground on top of my saddle curled in as tight of a ball as I could manage, nothing happened. When I finally looked up this little Zip stood looking at me wondering what the heck I was doing on the ground. This from the same horse, that two months earlier had full on attacked the “scary” things that were presented to him. I thought then that this little horse could possibly be a candidate for a future horse for Lilly. He had come so far in such a short time. She started visiting him every day and soon she could catch him and put his halter on, all from her wheelchair. They formed a bond so strong that I knew this little girl needed to ride this horse. At the end of that summer I gave in and I put her on him in the round pen. She taught him to go forward when she rocked back and forth in the saddle, she was thrilled. For a year she rode Zip but I was not brave enough to take him anywhere for her to ride and she was only independent in the round pen. I absolutely would not allow her to go down the road off of a lead line. Then a friend gave her Blueboy and the super green Zip got put on the back burner. Blue Boy gave Lilly the gift on true independence on horseback. He was old, slow, and reliable just enough so that I felt comfortable letting her ride on her own. They rode down the road with the other kids. Lilly figured out how to get on with the help of her sister and the kids were off on many adventures on their horses. Lilly went to the horse shows where she was only allowed to compete with someone on the end of a lead line and side walkers. This was a disappointment but I was glad they finally let her compete so I ran beside her for all of her speed events and arranged for her sisters and other 4h kids to help with the horsemanship events. It was a thriller of a summer for her. This fall we sent Zip to a trainer with high hopes for next summer. Blueboy had horrible ground manners and was getting old. He was easily lamed and I knew it would not be fair to ask him to work so hard again. In a tragic turn of events we lost Zip at this trainer’s house and he has promised to make it right. We are heart broken and are full of anxiety for what the future holds for this amazing little cowgirl. I know that whatever my Lilly could have become has totally been replaced by this amazing brave, strong, determined young woman. No matter what this summer brings I know Lilly will make the best of it. She will take what comes and turn this horrible thing into something incredible. Zip was only in our life for a few short years but he gave Lilly the gift of believing and he will forever live in our hearts. He has been and always will be Lilly’s Angel.
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