Saying Goodbye to Lilly Pie

Lil stood tied to my trailer, shaded from the late afternoon July sun by a stand of pine trees along my west property line. I sat a few feet away, sipping an ice-cold beer but not enjoying it, fighting back the tears that I’d soon not be able to contain.

They had already streaked my face at various times throughout the day: her (last) morning feeding of grain laced with Gabapentin and Phenylbutazone (Bute), her (last) pasture turnout an hour later, preceded by the daily routine of picking debris from her specialty “corrective” shoes, bringing her in from the pasture for the (last) afternoon, and watching my wife groom her mane and tail, before…

It was Almost Time to Say Goodbye

I only had a short time left with my sweet Lilly Pie, a buckskin beauty registered as Rona Flip Fritz with the AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association).

In the stillness of the hot afternoon, I reflected on the journey that had begun on an equally hot day in the summer of 2012. I needed a second horse and learned about Lil through a cowboy friend of mine. My daughter, Randi Jo—fifteen at the time—and I went to see this beautiful buckskin mare that was said to be good on the heel side in team roping.

A couple of years prior, Randi Jo and I had gone from Idaho to California to look at a horse, and we brought home three. So our track record at horse sales was or wasn’t a good one, depending on how you saw it. But nobody would have bet against us bringing her home.

When we pulled up and saw the buckskin standing tied, groomed and ready to ride, Randi Jo said, “She’s beautiful.” I knew then that we’d be driving away with her as long as she didn’t buck me off during the test ride.

Saddle her Up

Doug Cook and his two wonderful boys, Kirby and Kelsey, prepared the roping cattle and, after I warmed up the stunningly beautiful mare, the boys roped and turned about a dozen steers for me to heel.

The author on Lil at the Payette County Rodeo

She was a seasoned rope horse and she didn’t buck—as Doug assured me she wouldn’t—so we sat on the deck and had a cold beer while haggling over a few dollars. We shook hands and Randi Jo and I drove home with Lil in the trailer; clear evidence that the two of us shouldn’t be allowed to look at horses for sale without adult supervision.

Over the next eight years, Lilly Pie and I competed in team roping events from Kalispell, Montana, to Winnemucca, Nevada, and from Vale, Oregon, to Rexburg, Idaho. We competed at rodeos from Council, Idaho, to Riverside, California, and we rode up and down the mountains, through the streams, and across the deserts of Idaho and Oregon.

We covered many miles and made memories that I will always have.

About that Bucking Thing

I was at a jackpot, and the first steer we came out on ran like a scalded dog. I kicked Lil into high gear, and we were off to the races. But my header couldn’t catch that little black screamer before he made it to the stripping chute at the other end of the arena. Lil, now highly excited, pranced and snorted as we made our way back.

Lil and Baby Doll

A short time later, it was our turn again, and Lil felt like a bundle of explosives beneath me as she anticipated the next run. My header nodded and the chute popped open, and the steer stepped out—rather than ran out—and stopped.

He was the complete opposite of the steer we’d drawn before. But Lil had jumped out of the box in anticipation of another scorching run, and I had to get ahold of her before she ran past the steer. I pulled back on the reigns and she came to an abrupt halt. Then the steer took off and I gave Lil her head. She ran about three strides, then decided she’d had enough of my shenanigans, and she started to buck.

Lil and Baby Doll

A month or so later, I ran into Doug at the ACTRA (American Cowboy Team Roping Association) regional finals in Winnemucca, Nevada. I said, “Hey Doug, I thought you said this horse didn’t buck.” He said, “Well, she doesn’t buck very hard.”

That was true enough, because if she had bucked hard, I would’ve come off her—I’m no bucking horse rider.

Still, I protested, “Did I ask you if she bucked hard, or if she bucked?” He laughed a little and I went on to tell him how good she had been for me and how much I liked her.

Falling Off Like a Fat Man

One day my good friend, Riley, and I were roping in his arena, just him and me and two nice horses, a pen of decent cattle, and a cooler full of beer.

The author on Lil, her filly “Baby Doll” following along.

At the time, I was suffering a bout with positional vertigo, something that would come and go unexpectedly, and with some regularity. We had roped a steer and were slowly making our way to the stripping chute where Riley would be removing his rope from its horns.

The heeler’s rope comes loose once you let the steer up, so my rope was dragging behind us and I was coiling it up as we meandered to the end of the arena.

I looked back over my shoulder to check my rope, and my vertigo struck me. Everything suddenly spun wildly, and I fell off my horse like a drunken fat man, though I had only had one beer by then.

I hit the ground like a sack of you-know-what, and when I looked up from the ground, Riley was laughing and Lil was looking down at me, her pretty face a mask of confusion.

Navicular Disease

The author on Lil, Randi Jo on Ally.

From the time I bought Lil she suffered from a degeneration of the navicular bone in both of her front feet, an unfortunate syndrome which causes varying degrees of lameness.

There are several ways to treat navicular disease: medication, corrective shoeing, and surgery among them. Over the course of the next eight years, we did it all. We even took her to Clark Equine in Eastern Idaho, where one of the best leg veterinarians in the northwest resides.

Surgery provided relief for a year or two, but soon she was lame again.

Then We were Done

I eventually had to quit riding her. For the last several years of her life, we pampered her and kept her medicated in an effort to make her as comfortable as possible; her performance days were behind her. We kept her in corrective shoes and continued her medication until neither offered any relief.

My daughter, Jami, on Lil, Baby Doll following along.

The last six months of her life, Lil was in constant pain, in spite of the fourteen pills and four scoops of Bute she received daily. It was time to do the humane thing and relieve her of the pain and suffering. She was twenty-one years old.

The Cycle of Life

We had bred Lil, hoping she would produce a nice colt who could someday take her place.

In the spring of 2016, she gave me a dandy one indeed. In fact, that’s what I named the adorable little filly: Flippin Dandi Fritz. I call her Baby Doll.

The author with Baby Doll just hours after her birth.

She is sweet like her mama and she will remain with my family for all of her life, reminding us all of the wonderful mare, our Lilly Pie.

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Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will share it with your family and friends.


18 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Lilly Pie

  1. I’m writing this through tears, Danny. I lost my last horse five years ago. The feeling of loss never goes away. I rode him the day before and he was fine but in the twenty two years we had together, I nursed him through plenty of colics, infections, and such that I was sure would do him in. In the end, it was a twisted gut and he removed that awful “choice” I would have to make. There was no recovering from this one.
    I still ride a friend’s horse once a week and can’t help but compare him to my old boy, Casey. It’s clear you valued Lil and gave her the best life she could enjoy.

    1. Thank you, Thonie. Yes, such difficult decisions at the end and such a heartbreaking thing to go through. If going through that doesn’t make you cry, you have no heart. Same with dogs or any other family critters.

  2. Danny, I’m so glad you & your mare had so many good experiences together!
    You did the right thing by her.

    Non horse people don’t understand how hard it is to make the “final decision” for our equine friends. We also have to face the disposition of 1,000 lbs of remains — requires some real stoicism — the crane or other heavy equipment required just doesn’t provide the last memory we’d prefer!

    Hope you enjoy “Baby Doll” for many, many years to come!

    1. Hi Danny,
      Losing these big boys and girls and so much harder than losing our dogs and that is bad enough. They are such gentle giants (most of them) and become such an integral part of the family. We had horses mules and a 14 hand mammoth donkey, all just for trail riding and packing . We have been known to have six at a time and even babysit some (sometimes a bad decision!). We have sold some, traded some and sadly had to put some down. The hardest by far was our mammoth donkey, Baby Girl, she was the funniest, sweetest thing and would shake her giant donkey head and ears as if saying ” ooooh uh uh”, just like those hard nosed girls in the ghetto. She’d point her hind end at the horses and mules, knowing full well she was the lowest on the totem pole and kick at those boys. She would sing to us in her full “donkey howl” when we were pulling corn stalks from the garden. She had bone cancer in her front feet at only 4 yrs old. We had to make the hard decision to put her down. My husband used his tractor and buried her in the pasture. We sobbed like two year olds. Feeling your pain my friend but God blesses us with the special relationships. Take care.

      1. Oh my, that is heartwrenching. We too have a pair of donkeys, a mama and her baby boy (Momo and Max), and yes they are wonderful, loving animals with fun personalities. Thank you, Alissa.

  3. Our animals truly become a part of our family and saying goodbye is so hard.
    It was 6 years ago yesterday I had to put my furry Pomeranian, Taz, down. He was my faithful little companion for 14 years. I still miss him.
    My heartfelt condolences on the loss of your beautiful Lily Pie.

    1. Lil was amazing! A beauty inside & out. She gave everything for you & you repaid her with tender loving care. She was in good hands & could not have had a better home. I’ll miss her with fond memories. Love Mom

    2. Im a retired 27year veteran cop and former Marine. I have truly enjoyed your books and read about Lilly Pie with interest
      My wife, also a retired cop, lived in North Idaho for 10 years after retiring. My best friend was a dog named Santana, mostly Australian sheppard, who followed me everywhere.
      We had to put her down, due to illness. But six years later I sill think of my loyal friend. Isnt something how our animals become such a big part of us.
      Thanks for the books and for reminding me of my friend.

      1. Thank you, sir. I appreciate your sentiments and kind words. Like Santana, I have two cattle dogs myself, and I know what you mean about them always being at your side (or, on your heel, more often). It’s awful losing them, but better than never having had them in our lives.

        Thank you for the comments, and moreover, thank you very much for your service.


  4. Lil gave you all she could under saddle…..and then gave you Baby Doll. They don’t come any better than that buckskin mare.

  5. I am so sorry on your loss Lilly Pie! 😢
    I have owned a special cat for almost a year now, and the bond that comes from owning any special animal of any kind goes beyond words! In essence those special animals become more than companions, they become cherished family members whose joys and even pain become our own, and there is No Shame in shedding tears when those beautiful companions are no longer with us.

    To this day I can never comprehend how people can sometimes be so evil to just dump their beloved companions/pets without remorse or sympathy of any kind. I hope that raising Baby Doll will make the pain over losing Lilly Pie easier over time.

    I Hope that in this difficult time, that you and your family are strong and united as well.

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