Nova Scotia

'I call him my therapist': An 83-year-old rider's special bond with her horse

The Appaloosa gelding named Leonard has been with Judith Hubbard since he was six months old. She says he's helped her through some of the rough patches in life, including the death of her husband.

Leonard, the Appaloosa gelding, has been there when Judith Hubbard needed him the most

Although she's had offers, Judith Hubbard says she'll never sell Leonard. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

For Judith Hubbard, her Appaloosa gelding Leonard is more than just a horse.

"I call him my therapist. I call him my boss, I call him my friend," she said while brushing his thick white fur, dappled with large black spots. "He owns me. I don't own him."

At almost 84 years old, Hubbard rides better than most people half her age. It's due in part to the special bond she has with Leonard, who she's had since he was six months old.

A lifelong passion

Hubbard is one of the oldest members of the Nova Scotia Equestrian Federation who is still riding.

Horses have always been an integral part of her life, from learning to ride in England when she was a girl and into her working life.

Judith Hubbard has had Leonard since he was six months old. He is 17 years old. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

She was a groom for the Swiss show jumping team at the 1956 Olympics and even met Queen Elizabeth II.

"The Queen Mother was with her, and the Queen Mother she loved horses. They were all there. Princess Margaret, the Duke of Edinburgh," she said in an interview this week at Galloway Stables in Port Howe, N.S.

Special bond

Horses have carried through her life, but with Leonard it's even more extraordinary. She said she wouldn't part with him for any amount and she's had offers — such as the time a man tried to buy him at a show.

At close to 84, Judith Hubbard is one of the oldest horseback riders in Nova Scotia. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"So I said well, a thousand dollars a spot. And the next day he came and said, 'Well last night, I went into the barn and I counted the spots,' I think he said 38. And I said well, 'You didn't count the freckles,'" she said, giving Leonard a kiss on the nose.

It's a special bond because Leonard was there when she needed him most. He's helped her through some of the rough patches in life, including the death of her husband.

'It's a good feeling'

"If I come and I am not feeling all that great, I come and I put my head right into Leonard ... I don't choose a messy spot ... and smell him," Hubbard said. "It's a good feeling."

Maybe that's why she continues to ride — and she's good. She competes in the discipline of dressage — a sort of equine ballet.

Judith Hubbard was the was a groom for the Swiss show jumping team at the 1956 Olympics. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A recent highlight was getting a special award for showing at a combined horse and rider age of 100. 

Dawn Helm, owner of Galloway Stables, calls Hubbard an inspiration.

"When I think about it, I think well ok, if I can ride as well as Judith, even into my 70s, I am going to be very happy and very lucky," Helm said.


After spending more than a decade as a reporter covering the Nova Scotia legislature, Amy Smith joined CBC News in 2009 as host for CBC Nova Scotia News as well as Atlantic Tonight at 11. She can be reached at or on Twitter @amysmithcbc