How the Right Horse Made a Huge Difference in a Girl’s Life
When she was eight, Ruth V. and her family moved to a home that bordered a property with a horse. Ruth and her sisters went to the fence every day to see if the horse would come close enough for them to pet her.
“Ruth has always been interested in animals,” says her mother, Kristie. “It was cheetahs for a long time, then dogs, then owls. I thought horses would just be another phase, but it stuck.”
Kristie, who homeschools Ruth and her sisters, Allie, 18, and Jojo, eight, even created a horse-themed lesson plan, pulling from 4H websites and other sources.
Ruth loved horses from an early age and often drew them.
“It should have taken her three months to finish, but Ruth flew through it in three weeks,” says Kristie.
Ruth, now 12, has been begging her parents to adopt a horse ever since.
Coping with Challenges
“My family has been through a lot in recent years,” says Kristie. “Ruth suffers from tremendous anxiety, and then suddenly, we were in the midst of a pandemic and forced isolation. Ruth spent most days either pacing or crying.”
Kristie’s husband, Jack, lost his job as a graphic designer, and the campground they operated on their 10-acre Tennessee property had to close.
“Visitors could no longer rent cabins,” says Kristie. “We tried to sell it, but it was a hard predicament. Everyone was super stressed.”
The family moved to Louisiana, where they spent six months with Jack’s parents. Once Jack was re-hired, the family moved back to Tennessee.
“We took up life again,” Kristie says. “But Ruth was still suffering."
From Doubt to Determination
As much as Jack and Kristie wanted to adopt a horse for Ruth, they were hesitant.
“Neither my husband nor I had ever owned or spent any significant time with horses,” says Kristie. “Most of our knowledge of horses came only from Ruth, who couldn't talk about anything else.”
The family has a dog and three cats, but they knew a horse would make a bigger difference in Ruth’s life.
“We decided to try to learn about adoption and figure out if we knew enough to take on a horse,” Kristie says. “Money was tight. And space was limited—or so we thought.”
Kristie describes the family’s property as unique and mostly wooded, with a clearing in one area.
Diva foundered twice before being rescued.
“We thought we’d need more acreage in the clearing, but I learned that some ponies don’t need a lot of space and do better on a dry lot because they’re a higher risk for foundering.” (Founder is a disease that causes the destruction of the blood-rich structures called the laminae that connect the horse’s hoof to the soft tissue of the foot.)
Kristie soon learned from a friend about a horse named Diva, a 14-year-old paint pony being fostered by a volunteer at Hickory Hill Farm, a partner in the ASPCA’s The Right Horse Initiative (TRH) a network of equine industry and welfare professionals and advocates working together to increase equine adoption. My Right Horse, an online adoption platform and extension of TRH, helps connect horses in need with people with the interest and ability to care for them.
Armed with new information, Kristie and Jack built a horse shelter with existing materials from their property and purchased supplies such as a waterer and fencing. They then submitted their application and photos.
An Enchanting Encounter
In mid-October, Kristie visited Hickory Hill to meet Diva.
“When I first laid eyes on her, I was struck by how beautiful she was,” Kristie says. “I walked into her space, and she leaned back like she was going to move away but didn't. I stepped closer, and she stayed put. I put my hands on her neck near her mane, and she relaxed. I believed she was the right pony for us immediately.”
Ruth and Diva meet for the first time.
Still, Diva came with challenges. She had already been adopted and returned twice, had foundered twice, and was dangerously overweight in her last home. She needed a special diet and someone who knew how to work with horses who are fearful of new things.
Undeterred, the family returned with Ruth, and two days later, on November 2, 2020, they adopted Diva.
Adjusting to a New Normal
At first, Diva challenged the family’s inexperience, but Kristie solicited information and advice from experienced horse owners as well as Diva’s foster caretaker. They also hired a local expert to help train her.
Ruth tends to Diva up to four times a day, rain or shine; both Ruth and Diva love snow. Ruth feeds Diva, cleans her paddock and exercises and grooms her. She and Jojo also read to Diva, which Diva seems to love.
Left, Jojo with one of many books she and Ruth read to Diva. Right: Diva after getting her first bath from Ruth.
"I work hard for her,” Ruth says. “And she works hard for me in return.”
“Diva sees Ruth coming and, instead of hesitating, she runs toward her,” says Kristie. “It’s the sweetest relationship ever.”
“A Switch That Flipped”
The impact of Diva’s presence on Ruth is immeasurable.
"She's taken away a lot of my stress,” Ruth says. “She has a humorous side and likes to smile a bunch.”
Diva, who “likes to smile a bunch,” has helped ease Ruth’s anxiety.
“I almost forgot that my daughter has anxiety,” Kristie says. “Diva has made such a difference. While Ruth’s condition was once crippling, it’s now only an occasional stress, and doesn't last long when she’s with Diva. There was a switch that flipped. It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Those of us who have horses in our lives know the power they have to keep us centered and help us heal,” says Dr. Emily Weiss, ASPCA Vice President of Equine Welfare. “There are now many peer-reviewed studies proving just that.”
Ruth exercises Diva multiple times a day.
Diva herself is now at a very healthy weight and is thriving.
“She was healing at the same time as Ruth,” Kristie says. “It’s been a magical transformation.”
The family is always looking for ways to enrich Diva’s life, from the quality of her nutrition to exercise and activities.
“We provide quality time like driving,” she says. “Diva seems so proud, happy, and confident in herself. It makes me feel like we’re doing right by her.”
Under Ruth’s attention and care, Diva has gained confidence.
For those considering horse adoption, Kristie’s advice is two-fold: “Take the process slowly. If we had rushed into it, we could have missed the right horse.”
“Second, talk to horse owners,” Kristie adds. “Everyone told us how stubborn ponies can be. Diva definitely lives up to her name at times, but she is infinitely more of a blessing.”
Kristie hopes their story encourages others to find the right horse for their family and adopt, and she and Jack consider Diva’s adoption an investment in both Diva’s and their daughter’s future.
Ruth often braids Diva’s mane; both Ruth and Diva love the snow.
“Diva never burdened us,” Kristie says. “Instead, she took away a burden and gave our daughter the love she needs to become a more responsible person. I’m convinced horses will be a part of Ruth’s life forever.”
Feeling inspired and ready to adopt a horse of your own? Visit myrighthorse.org to browse hundreds of adoptable horses nationwide by breed, gender, or discipline.