09-14-2009, 09:10 AM
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JOE, a horse in sheep’s clothingWell today Joe showed his true colours - he had a lovely day - the thug. When writing this at the end of the day, I was knackered. It all started with the pair of us leading Jackie and Speccles up to the Car Park in the woods where Paddy’s Ride, as sponsored by the Hunt, was to be held. When we arrived, horses were milling about everywhere, almost 240 we were told later. The Pleasure Ride is a 9 mile trek backwards and forwards through the woods over a route which had been laid out previously by the Hunt supporters, Up, down, right, left, earth, grass, mud, stones - oh and a few sets of jumps. But Jo and BG don’t do jumps because the Old Man might fall off. We signed up, got our number plate (204) and set off down the hill. I should have guessed what I was in for when Jo started to roar - that is a horse’s call at the top of his voice to other horses. Whom he thought he knew I just don’t know, none of his mates live anywhere nearby. When eventually we did catch up to a couple of horses whom he did know, he showed them his heels in no uncertain manner. He started to resist going down this first hill along a newly cut path. Nose right up, nose down, flicking of horse spittle, bending left, bending right - anything to get me to drop the reins. Since at the beginning the idea was theoretically that we stayed neatly in line in order of set off, I fought for him to be good. The fight got to be onerous. For a bit we stayed behind a group who were motoring on but at one stage I found myself gently cantering alone up to a check point where I persuaded a nice lady to give Jo part of her apple. Then we turned right down the hill and trotted briskly down it. We caught up again with the two nice ladies one of whom was riding a retired race horse of which she was slightly nervous. We stayed together in the line until two older male riders came up behind us. When these men moved on, I put Jo in behind them, We were to stay with them for the rest of the ride. At first the two men, who came from the mountsins, were polite and followed within reason the understood rules for the ride. At various intervals we steadily overtook the groups in front of us. At this stage we were still in the main taking it easy with much of the pace as a steady gentle walk with the occasional trot uphill and downhill Eventually we moved up a gear into cantering. I’d been fighting Jo all the way until this point. He wanted to get a move on and literally he’d got the bit between his teeth. At some stages I’d got the left rein double wrapped around my wrist so that if I lost him, at least I could turn him At last we came up to a long straight stretch, where there were some small jumps off to the left side, but I saw the opportunity and pulled Joe off to the right and then stepped on the pedals. Joe roared away at a very fast gallop, his first since he’s been living with me. My idea was to tire him - but in hindsight this is the moment where he got his second wind. We did slow for the left hander at the top of the slope but that was one of the last bend we did slow at. On we went over to the east, round the twisting narrow paths, cantering wherever we could. The three of us took it in turns to take the lead and keep the pace moving. We came up to and overtook more groups of slower riders. We’d come up behind, trot through and then accelerate away Finally we got back to the path which I knew would be the home stretch and I told the boys that we did not have long to go. “We’d better make the most of it then” was the response - so off we galloped. Joe is quite fast over uneven ground. He’s not got the long legs of a thorobred but he is not a cautious ride and he knows where to put his feet down. He doesn’t like wet boggy ground so get ready for the swerve but otherwise he’ll barge his way through the bushes on most terrain. By this time, the head shaking evasions had stopped. Whenever he’d got his wind and the space was clear, then we were off, which is exactly what he’d wanted from the very beginning. We were coming to the final track which is uphill, along up the slope we roared and we were still cantering at the finishing line. I started at number 204 - we pulled into the finish amongst the 160s & 170s. When I think that we had dawdled for the first 20 minutes, I wonder what time we could have made if we had pushed on from the beginning. I reckon we did the course in about an hour and a half although we could have done it much quicker. At the end The Boy was not even sweaty. Yes under the saddle there was a bit of moisture but here was no heavy breathing whatsoever. He’s fit. But Joe showed his true colours this day. OK, out on his own with me he is mostly on best behaviour but when he does that calling out, then watch out. He’s getting ready to run. He’s ridden in a very mild French Link snaffle bit. He has a responsive mouth but have no doubt when he wants to ignore that bit he can. He’ll almost snatch the reins out of your hand by throwing his nose right up into the air and he knows that down hill trotting over uneven ground is the way to weaken his rider’s resolve. The only answer the rider has is brute force. Have no mercy. I had both reins double wrapped around each hand at one stage and still I could not hold him back. He only goes, when he thinks his rider can take the pace and he is not nasty, he doesn’t try to dump you. The point is that he has no manners and no sense of etiquette. “I’m here enjoying this” is his motto, “let’s get on with it“. When is blood is up he is also tireless. Only deep sand will slow him and then be careful for he might fall. But as a short legged but big chested cob, his top speed is still rideable and that’s the saving grace. We made our way home alone back down the hill and through the woods. The Boy behaved as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. As I rode along I wondered what he’d be like out hunting. That guy with the red jacket and the horn would get the Boy’s blood racing for sure. I’ll just have to get fitter. Maybe I’ll have to think about that fixed martingale too - or would that make Joe buck? Here endeth a fabulous day on which our Jo earned his green and purple rosette. Roll on next year’s Paddy’s Ride.
09-25-2009, 06:00 AM
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JOE and his OatsWell I had glimpsed another side of The Boy. One had to bear in mind that Joe’s ancestors may well have been horses of note. A knight’s charger was recognised to be a superior creature and in times of war, his food came first because he had to carry his lord (me?) into battle. It is accepted that dogs inherit the genes of their forbears and no doubt our Joe inherited the genes of his forbears. We must ignore, of course, the interim period when maybe one of Joe’s antecedents was pulling a plough across a field. That of course was a period when the family had fallen on hard times. Up in Joe’s field it was a bit nifty. Joe, had decided to take a breather and he had been lying down. He had seen me coming across the field, as he always did, and once I had waived to him with an apple visible in my hand then he ambled over to the gate. I fixed his halter and led him down the track until we got through the second field gate from whence he could make his way freely at my shoulder to his stable. He went unerringly into his stable and checked his pile of hay, his bucket of water and, most importantly, his feed bowl. You see for me, feeding Joe was always a constant dilemma. In the Spring he was not allowed too much fresh grass because of the risk of laminitis but if he did not get enough nourishment then out on the hack he was sluggish. His feed had to be a mixture according to what was perceived to be Joe’s nutritional needs. Whilst in the Spring Joe was able to nibble constantly at grass, it was important to keep up his nourishment throughout the year.. You never know, any day he might have been called up to go to the Holy Land on a crusade. To remain healthy he had to be fed a balanced diet. He needed those vitamins which he could not get solely from grass especially grass which had suffered from too little rain. He was entitled to “extras”. I had previously tried “slow release mix” - a blend of cereals and supplements. Joe ate that mix happily enough. Then there was the stallion nuts: 40% protein but probably a bit too rich for the boy after all Joe did not have to keep his end up. Joe had lost his tackle, or rather had had it taken away, years ago. But someone suggested oats to me - rolled oats, the supplementary feed which horses have been fed for centuries especially those working hard. Nowadays the feed compounders don’t push natural products like oats after all there is no added value in feeding oats is there? The traditional image of oats is that they heat a horse up and make him disobedient and hard to control - hence the expression “oated up”. However I had decided to give pure natural food a try so I bought Joe a sack of rolled oats. The big risk of course was that Joe would go prancing down the lane and be ready to do a runner at the slightest provocation. (I should be so lucky to get such impulsion from our Boy). Now Joe probably had never previously been fed oats in his life. Over in the Black Mountains, there were no fields of oats since the soil and the climate were both wrong. Farmers don’t buy in luxury feed for horses, even during the hunting season. Joe would have grazed on grass in the summer but in the winter he would have munched on whatever was growing, all topped up by a bale of hay, if he was lucky to get in first. Oats to Joe was what might have been fed to a Scotsman for breakfast. Well I decided to introduce oats to Joe gradually. I thought he might be a typical youngster in that if it didn’t come from a branch of McDonalds then he would turn his nose up. On the first occasion I scooped out a handful from the sack and offered them to him. He sniffed, then licked, then slurped up as much of the handful as he could and as quickly as he could. On the second occasion I partly filled his bucket with some chaff, a few carrots and again a handful of oats. Joe woofed the lot down Then it seems Joe became an addict - not to alcohol, not to nicotine but to oats. He spilt a few grains on the ground but he had quickly become very adept at picking out even a single grain from amongst the dirt on the barn floor. After the brief introduction to oats, things changed quickly. I was well aware that when Joe went anywhere near his stable he was anxious to check out the feed cupboard opposite so as to see whether the bag of oats was open and accessible. Indeed my getting Joe past the cupboard door was quite a chore. Joe expected his oats to be part of his feed at teatime and what’s more he expected to have that teatime feed - every day, no messing. Sometimes teatime for Joe came a little earlier in the day. On that day, Joe had come in at lunchtime for an afternoon of shelter from the wind. He would not be hacking out ; it would be a day off. I fed him his ”tea” and then left him all snug in his stable. Later, in the early evening, I went back to the yard to let him out for the night. I put his coat on and tried to lead him out to the field. However no way was the Boy moving until he had had his “supper“, of course, laced with oats. There was no option so I bribed him with a handful of oats and I dragged him out into his field for the night. This was to be the new routine. Joe was now oat happy. We all knew that Joe was never going to be charging across a field with a knight in armour on his back but I had no doubt that tucked away somewhere in the corner of Joe’s brain there was an inherited memory of why in the olden days, war horses were fed oats. For sure, if war horses were still in fashion, then Joe would be up there in the front rank. So just maybe, The Boy might have needed his oats on a regular basis just in case we ever ran out of fuel for the tanks. Joe knew that it would be oats every day from now on. Barry G
10-02-2009, 11:46 AM
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JOE’S GOOD DEEDS.
It had already been a good weekend for Joe. The sun had shone, the temperature had risen and the ground was dry even after all the rain earlier in the year. We went out up into the Wood with a huzzy of a Welsh Cob mare. She proved to be a little flighty for our Boy on the soft ground but Joe could keep up well enough. She wasn’t quite so keen to get a move on over the uneven stoney tracks though and Joe had to show her the way. The Joe was, if nothing else, very sure footed and his broad hooves were just about right for making good speed over uneven stoney tracks. With his stubby legs and well muscled hind quarters the Boy was in his element on woodland hillsides.
We all had a good Saturday and Joe came back into the yard well exercised. The mare was a touch sweaty after her jaunt, but Joe, and I, suspected that she’ll come out to play with us again if we ask her to. The rider was tired but exhilarated. She was pleased to have overcome her initial nervousness.
On the Sunday, the sun shone again so there was no way that we could take the day off from riding but after the exertions of the previous day it would be a day for ambling. Anyway I wanted to spend a bit longer brushing the Boy down so that I could try out the baby oil. Joe’s winter coat does glisten naturally but his very full mane and tail are always a touch unruly. It had been suggested to me that what the hair needed was a drop of Johnsons and I must say that the oil worked. Joe began to smell like a poofter but his hair absolutely sparkled and for once lay down in an orderly fashion A proper Brylcream Boy.
We mosied down to the village. The pace was very different from the day before. There was no hurry and to be honest I still had a few aches and pains after yesterday’s exertions. Joe was content - on a loose rein he was doing his “look-around” thing. It took us 15 minutes or more to get to the church and then after just two chats with locals we headed off for the Rock & Fountain Pub.
Together we took in the rays; we listened to the birds and we ambled along.
Down at the pub car park we came across a tallish man in his mid fifties who was coming out from the bar to get into his car. He looked up, saw Joe and immediately called out:
“ What a magnificent specimen! Doesn‘t his coat shine”.
I replied on Joe’s behalf: ”Thank You”. (The baby oil obviously worked).
The next thing I knew was that The Man had reached across and was, in a slightly hesitant manner, stroking Joe’s neck. The Boy stood still and enjoyed the feel of the man’s fingers. At this time I was still sitting up on The Boy but as the conversation progressed I slipped off him and tied him up to the hitching point.
The Man was curious as to whether Joe would be content to be tied up whilst his master went off into the pub for a glass of wine. I explained that Joe was well trained, indeed, his role in life was to take The Old Man down to the pub and back. Joe would always stand and stare so long as, when his master came out of the pub, Joe got his carrot and half a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.
The Man told me about his sister who had the idea to provide over in the Valleys holiday accommodation for both horses and riders. We talked about the possibilities of the venture. In the meantime Joe was standing by, patiently, as was his way.
The Man and I got round to talking about carrots and eventually I fished out the one I had in my pocket. I broke it in two and showed The Man how to feed it to The Boy. The man dropped the carrot on the first attempt but I showed him again how to hold the carrot on the palm of his hand. I thought no more about the fumbling hand.
When Joe had eaten his carrot The Man broke off the conversation to make his way to his car.
As he went he called out :
“Thanks for introducing me to Joe”.
“You’re welcome, see you again some time”
Then he said :
“You really have made my day - I’ll have to tell my sister all about it. “She’ll never believe I fed the horse a carrot, she knows I am terrified of them”
“Surely not”, I said, truly quite surprised,
“Yes“, he replied.
“That was, in my life, the closest I have ever got to a horse’s head. Normally I am too frightened to get near. Somehow your Joe did not frighten me”
"Your Joe is quite a horse”
Indeed Joe was.
He had done two good deeds that weekend - one for the Welshie Girl, and one for the Man at the Pub
10-08-2009, 11:25 AM
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Joe & Geoffrey - chalk & cheeseI was watching The Boy being ridden by Geoffrey. Geoff was used to riding Thorobreds and impulsion with his own four horses was never a problem. He was obviously not at all comfortable on Joe, a cold blooded cob. Three of Geoff’s horses: Crick, Magic & Woody were all narrow bodied, long legged, tall, warm bloods. They lived indoors in stables permanently and only rarely did they get to frolic freely around a grassy field. Geoff’s constant problem with them was to contain their exuberance (or perhaps their frustration?). I was beginning to understand why he got thrown off them quite so often and perhaps those forcible ejections of the rider were not just because the horses have been startled by a plastic bag - it may have had something to do with Geoff’s way of permanently holding them in check. Because of their power and youth, his need when riding his horses was generally speaking to hold them in, whereas on this day with Joe, his problem was to make him go on. Joe was always a laid back horse whereas Geoff’s equines were rarely relaxed. Worse, for Geoff in my mind, was that perhaps his horses, which undoubtedly he doted upon, did not like him in return.
For Geoff, Joe was far too lethargic. Yet Joe was, in many ways, a far more powerful animal than any of Geoff’s. However Joe’s power lay in his dense bone & his muscular structure whereas the power of the Thorobreds lies in their agility, lightness and speed. Joe was a bomber plane, Geoff’s horses were fighter planes. Joe’s body was heavy and his cobby legs were shorter than a Thorobred’s. Joe’s legs were for supporting, or even pulling weight. His centre of gravity lay forward of that of Geoff’s Thorobreds. However whilst being heavier on the forehand, Joe was not a carthorse. Joe was a ride and drive horse, although one which to my knowledge had never been put to the cart. Geoff liked to jump and Thorobreds are bred for speed and jumping ability. The sum total of these differences in the two types of horse dictated that Joe needed to be ridden with a different technique from that practised on a Thorobred. Also, Joe, being a cold blooded horse, lived out in a field, always needed time to warm up. Petrol engines run from cold, diesels give their best performance once warmed up.
To manoeuvre at speed Joe needed to feel flexible and taking him into an arena and expecting him to be agile without a short spell of limbering up in walk and trot was asking for trouble. Undoubtedly Geoff ‘s big mistake was to ask too much of Joe too soon and within an a confined space, which Joe is not used to. As a result, I watched The Boy strongly resist Geoff, whose usual technique would be to try to force his will upon any horse which was not showing instant compliance. Geoff’s first difficulty was to keep Joe at the canter but if he’d not been pulling back with his hands trying to get Joe’s nose down maybe Joe would have kept going. But on this occasion with Geoff on board, bouncing about on his back, all Joe wanted to do, was to leave the ring.
It seemed that Geoff needed for his sense of self worth to be seen to be the master over any horse at all times. He demanded instant obedience. BG, on the other hand, sought compliance and only punishes a horse’s overt disobedience. To BG always the first question must be: did the horse understand the original request? In this episode I think not. With the benefit of hindsight I must ask myself: just what was Geoff trying to prove? It had become very obvious that Joe did not want to play the same game.
I believe that Joe was not compliant because he did not understand exactly what was being asked of him. Geoff had mounted him, taken him into the arena and demanded a short walk, then a short trot, then almost immediately a canter. Geoff had asked, or rather demanded, the canter too soon. Joe had just 15 minutes earlier been munching grass in a field on a very cold day. The inevitable outcome was resistance from what could be a very stubborn horse. Joe’s nose went up into the air and whilst the horse did go forwards, the last thing he intended to do was to relax into the exercise.
For the sidelines, I was horrified at the spectacle. I even asked myself if that was how Joe might look when I was riding him. I hoped not and I thought not. Joe did not resist me, although just sometimes, he took his time to respond to my requests. He rarely spooked. But there again I did not ride with my hands; I rode on my fork using my weight on the horse‘s back. The reins, often held in one hand only, were mostly left in loose contact with the mouth, and only rarely did I feel the need to hold the reins with both hands, but there again we did not often train in the arena Never did I attempt to bring Joe’s nose down by pulling back on the bit. I would feel for contact with both hands and waited for the neck to rise and the nose to drop. In this exercise Geoff was using both hands in an attempt to pull Joe’s nose down. The more Geoff pulled, the more Joe resisted and in a way Joe had the advantage because the bit in his mouth was a very mild French link snaffle. Geoff’s policy was always to try force and that was not Joe’s way ever to give in to force readily. If Joe was not a kind horse, then he might on this occasion have even bucked. Geoff had a crop and he used it to punish not to aid communication.
But Joe had, in his years at the Riding Centre, met with riders like Geoff before. Eventually if Joe did not feel happy with the rider on his back then sometimes the result was a broken saddle, for Joe had gone down on his knees and rolled with rider still on board The rider then dismounted quickly enough. The Moral of this episode :- Geoff could not be allowed to ride Joe again. But there were lessons for BG too:
Firstly Joe needed to be loosened up before being exercised in agility.
Secondly, Joe was a sensitive beast and he needed to be understood.
Thirdly, to get Joe agile would be a challenge - but probably an interesting one.
PS A few weeks later when checking out whether of not a saddle fitted, BG went back into the arena on Joe. Getting The Boy to take it gently was a problem , he wanted to trot on and at an ever faster pace.. This could have been the effect of the saddle, which sat on the back in a slightly different position from the old saddle. It could also have been the effect of Geoff standing on the sidelines. The gate had been left open and on one occasion he even made a dash for it, just in case Geoff was standing there with a view to mounting up. But Geoff was not to be allowed anywhere near Joe - ever again.
10-25-2009, 08:18 AM
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Joe and Tormentor Tony
Joe has to go to Tony Clark’s place for lessons - that’s because when he was a young sprightly thing he never went to school. The Old Man has to go to Tony’s Teaching place too because he is now well past his sell by date and he rides in his own style instead of the proper way. Teacher Tony used to be a mounted policeman so he knows how things should be done properly.
Tony’s tools of the trade are a collection of 3 metre wooden poles laid down on the sand in a schooling arena, but Tony’s craft lies in the pattern in which the poles are laid. Tony knows that when Joe gets a bit peeved during a lesson he throws in a wobbly and Tony also knows that when The Old Man is tired he gets careless.
So Tony had laid out six poles across the short side of the arena, around which Joe was to canter. Well, this can be a tough task because there is not much room to manoeuvre. The Old Man had succeeded in getting Joe round the poles three times and was trying for the fourth attempt. The pair were coming up to the fence, all was set up, right rein short, left rein a little slack, right leg pushed in against Joe’s right flank, Joe’s neck bent into the turn when whoosh - Joe whirled off to the left. Now at such moments the rider is subjected to Newton’s forces of gravity and motion. The Old Man almost got to sit on the fence.
The Old Man’s description of Joe’s parentage was not polite, especially as ladies were present.
As horse and rider came round again, it was to be a moment of truth. If Joe got to the left for a second time, then he would have won but this occasion The Old Man was ready with shortened right rein, raised left hand, right leg hard in, left leg thumping down, neck really bent and some impolite words of encouragement. There was indeed a moment of confrontation but this time The Old Man won. Round to the right they went.
However this one little success is probably not the end of the story. Tormentor Tony now knows that The Old Man has learned a lesson but the question is whether he will remember the lesson on the next occasion, that Joe will try to work a wobbly.
Of course we all know that Joe is going to try his luck again.
05-23-2011, 05:14 PM
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I received many requests as to whether I have written a book about Joe.
Eventually in May 2011 the chore was finished - or rather the first draft.
To publish such a book involves a significant expense on my part but if you would be interested to review a copy then I would be interested to hear from you - perhaps by pm.
But whatever, many thanks for your interest in my writing - it has been a strong encouragement for me to continue.
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