Lessons from Ruby


Over the years, I’ve learned something from each and every horse that has resided in our barn. Regardless of whether it was a short-term boarder or a long-term equine family member, each one has taught me something special.


One mare in particular—a chestnut Welsh Mountain Pony mare named Ruby—has been an exceptionally good teacher. Ruby has been with us for fourteen of her twenty-three years, and she lives by several very important rules—rules that are as suited to human life as they are to equine life.

1. If you’re usually nice, people will forgive you when you put your hoof down
Ruby is the type of pony that will do whatever you ask, whenever you ask, with no questions asked. Small children love her because she’s easy to handle and just their size (11.1hh, on her tiptoes). Ruby loves competing in horse show classes such as showmanship and lead-a-pony trail. She enjoys being groomed and fussed over. So where does Ruby draw the line? Being bathed with a hose. She’s made it, um, clear that it’s not something that she enjoys. Since she doesn’t fuss about anything else, we try to humor her in this area. The lesson? If you’re nice to people over just about everything, they are much more likely to cater to your wishes when it comes to important things like hoses.

2. You’re not bound by your past

Ruby was born on a ranch in Iowa, and when she came to us at age nine, she had earned the reputation of being hard to catch. “She’s all right once you catch her,” we were reassured. “It’s just catching her to begin with that’s the problem.” Once she came to live with us, she quickly learned that being caught resulted in her own cozy box stall with grain, hay, and water. Nowadays, Ruby is always the first one waiting at the gate to be brought back to the barn. If she’s particularly anxious to come in, she will stand at the gate and call until we come for her. The lesson? Your past doesn’t have to haunt you forever. You can start afresh and create a new reputation.

3. Never give up hope

It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried something a dozen times and failed—keep trying until it happens. These characteristics of tenacity and determination are the cornerstones of Ruby’s personality. Who cares if the gate is always locked and latched? Check it again, just to see. You never know when someone may have left it unlatched and you can escape from your pasture. How about the grain bucket? Of course it was empty two minutes ago, but you never know when the grain fairy might have suddenly and magically refilled it. Which brings us to lesson #3: Always maintain a positive outlook and keep hoping for good things.

4. You’re never too old to have fun

At twenty-three, Ruby isn’t exactly over the hill, but she’s climbing steadily towards the peak. Most often, Ruby spends quiet days at pasture, grazing peacefully with her best friend (incidentally, her daughter) until it’s time to return to the barn for the evening. This routine is rarely varied—Ruby is fond of her schedule and rather enjoys this era of retirement.

Hence my surprise when I went out to the pasture recently and saw a speeding chestnut blur—a speeding and bucking chestnut blur. Was it a bird? Was it a plane? No—it was Ruby, galloping at full speed, blowing and snorting and kicking up her retired heels. I called her name and grabbed a lead rope. Ruby paused in mid-gallop to look at me.
“C’mon, Ruby, let’s go,” I said. Ruby looked, tossed her head, and snorted. “No, thanks,” she replied. “I’m having fun.” Then the hard-to-catch mare turned and resumed galloping in the opposite direction.

Ruby’s fourth lesson just might be the most important of all: It doesn’t matter if you’re nine, twenty-three, or ninety—you’re never too old to have fun.

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. Follow her on Twitter: @miraclewelsh


  1. We also have a Welsh Mountain Pony, chestnut and white, 14 years old. She is easy to catch but very opinionated and can be ornery. We adore her – loved this story.


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