At about 4 pm on Christmas Eve, Ruhlmann died. He came inside from his daily paddock time and laid down for his afternoon nap. He passed away in his sleep, peacefully and with the same class he showed every day.
Ruhlmann was a big, handsome horse who ran against and beat some of racing’s greats, including Easy Goer, Sunday Silence, Bayakoa, and Criminal Type. In 1989, he set the track record at Santa Anita Park for one mile on the dirt, a record that still stands. (It is a record that could last forever, as Santa Anita is now a synthetic track.) A millionaire, Ruhlmann was owned by Ann and Jerry Moss and ridden often by Gary Stevens. His “people” are among the best in the industry.
Ruhlmann was a very smart horse but he had a long-time reputation as a tough customer. Indeed, he was not the kind of horse upon whom you lavished love and kisses. He didn’t have patience for such foolishness and unless you had treats, he really didn’t want to be patted or fussed over. Try it, and you would most probably receive a good nip; Ruhlmann valued his personal space. However, he mellowed considerably of late, and became more tolerant toward those of us who just wanted to admire him. His nips became more of a threat than a guarantee, and he sometimes allowed a quick stroke on the nose or pat on his face with no repercussions at all. Ruhlmann loved his treats and there was nothing picky about his tastes. Carrots, peppermints, horse cookies, and apples were all good. But his absolute favorite was gingersnap cookies. Ruhlmann could have eaten an entire box—if he could talk, he would have said, “Keep ’em coming, people.”
At Old Friends, the horses have run-in sheds in their paddocks that each horse uses differently. Some use them as windbreaks, some to get out of the rain, and some don’t use them at all. Ruhlmann was different. He used his shed as a place to get out of the hot sun. I always suspected it was because he didn’t want his shiny black coat to bleach and fade. He knew he was our very own “Black Stallion,” and he had an image to uphold. It worked for him too, because of all the dark horses at the farm, Ruhlmann faded and bleached the least.
As Ruhlmann aged, his feet tended to bother him more and more. He wore special shoes that eased the ache and allowed him to be comfortable enough to trot around his paddock when he felt like it. To allow him time to lie down and rest if he chose, Ruhlmann spent about half his day outside and the remainder in his stall. Ruhlmann and Wallenda were next-door neighbors, their stalls side-by-side. The two black stallions struck up a friendship, often napping with their heads just inches apart. They were separated only by the stall wall, able to see one another through the gaps in the boards. I know Wallenda misses his friend.
Last weekend, my husband and I were at the farm for a Christmas potluck. As we headed home, we went through the barn where Ruhlmann was in for the night. We walked to his stall, flicked on the light to say hello and woke him up. He blinked a few times and then took a few steps over to the stall door. I didn’t have any treats, but he nickered hello and let us pat his nose. I don’t know what a horse dreams of—sunshine and green grass, or the roar of the crowd after a winning race–but Ruhlmann closed his eyes and went back to his dreams.
I hope all your dreams have come true, Ruhlmann.