The Old Man and His Horse

Background Info/Context:

My friend was reaching out to USC students to get them to fill out surveys for a company called Tik Tok. The company wanted to collect data and get feedback from first time users, and they went about this by setting up a competition– the people who are able to get the most, second most, and third most surveys filled out under their name win cash prizes. So after a week of nagging friends and classmates to download the new app, browse through it, and fill out a Google Form set up by the company, my friend later found out that she won third place, receiving $150 as her prize!

I was thrilled for her and insisted that we go out for dinner or a celebratory dessert, but she sternly said that she shouldn’t splurge her new found money, because of a story her dad told her years ago. The story made her feel more optimistic, because it helped her to see situations beyond the myopic level.



“This old man lives in like, what do you call it… not suburbs… but like the outskirts of China. And then, he owned a horse, but then one day, it just ran away. So he lost it and it was like a big loss right? Cuz horses were so, um, important back then.

So then his neighbors came and said “Oh I’m so sorry to hear about that,” and “If you need any help” and blah blah blah, and then the old man was just like, “How do you know this is a bad thing? I just lost a horse, we don’t know if it’s good, we don’t know if its bad.”

And then, um, a few weeks later, the horse came back with a bunch of other wild horses that it made friends with. So basically, the old man gained like I don’t know, 15 other horses, after losing one. So then, the neighbor comes over again and then says like “Oh congratulations! You have like so many more horses! This whole thing got spun 180 degrees!” And then the old man again, was like “How do you know this is a good thing? Just cuz I got more horses.”

And then one day, he was riding one of the wild horses, and it sort of acted out, and he broke his leg. And so, the neighbor again said “Oh, um, so sorry to hear you broke your leg.” And the old man goes, “Oh! Why are you sorry? How do you know this is a bad thing?”

Time goes by, and the emperor is recruiting for more people in the military, and getting able bodied people to join the military. And guess what! The old man is not able bodied anymore, and he couldn’t go to war, and he just like stayed at home. And I guess that was seen as a good thing, since he doesn’t have to sacrifice himself for his country.”

The lesson my dad was trying to tell me through this story is that whatever happens, I shouldn’t be immediately affected or put down by something bad, and if something good happens, I should always be cautious about it. So I don’t want to get ahead of myself and spend the money I won.”



The story structure is somewhat similar to those in America, in the fact that there is a 3-time repetition in the narrative, but then there is a plot twist that plays off of it. I think that the man’s skepticism to everything that happened in his life is somewhat pessimistic, because he isn’t able to live in the moment, or accept things the way they are.

Because the old man in this story has the same reluctant attitude throughout the story, it shows that this proverb can be used in multiple scenarios. It could be used as a way to console people who are going through a hard time, or be used to warn people to not get ahead of themselves. Either way, patience and prudence seem to be the overarching themes in this proverb.