VERONA, Wis. - If you judged only on enthusiasm, you'd think Bella Bartley had been riding horses for her entire life, even though her first ride was just back in March of this year.
"I just love horses," Bartley said. "It's fun!"
The seven-year-old saddles up on one of her favorite horses, Sport. The 30-year-old mare trots around the ring with her instructor, Linda Devoe, close by and shouting out directions.
"It always came real natural to me how to handle them and work with them," the veteran horse trainer said. Devoe has more than 25 years of experience with horses.
Just as Devoe stays close to her students as they're high on the saddle, another horse shadows Sport as he gallops around. Her name is Lily, and the two are rarely far apart.
"She bonded with him so much that it's like she's joined at the hip," Sport's owner Sue Bader said.17545484
The two even sleep next to one another at the Stables at White Cross in Verona. Even though the change of environment was enough to change Lily's temperament for the better, Devoe wouldn't have the stable arrangement any other way.
"Ever since she's been blind," Devoe explained, "that's the only horse that's ever been actually with her in a paddock. No one else has been. I wouldn't trust another horse."
Lily was once a perfectly healthy show horse, but then an onset of diseases took over.
"As the years went by, she started to have these episodes in her eyes where they'd get all cloudy," Devoe explained.
That turned into numerous shots, multiple medical treatments, and rare bacteria that nearly took Lily's life. Thankfully, the horse fought through it all, but lost one of her eyes and went blind in the other.
"She is a fighter," Devoe said. "Definitely a fighter."
Devoe now counts on Sport to keep Lily calm and says she will often get nervous if she's not within close proximity of her companion.
"If he hears her getting excited or something," Bader added, "he goes over to tell her, 'It's OK, I'm here.'"
Maybe with recovery and survival like Lily's, friendship is much more than the eye can see.
"She has more gall in just everything that you'd ever want to see in an animal. She's just that tough," Devoe said.
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