JOE, THE BOY WHO LOST HIS MANHOOD
Exactly at what age Joe lost his manhood may never now be known but at sometime a breeder decided that horses of Joe’s stature were no longer fashionable and out came the scissors. Joe had no obvious defects in his conformation and he would not have passed onto his progeny any deformities but whatever the breeder’s reasoning, Joe was the last of a kind. His pedigree was uncertain. He could well have Shire blood in his veins; he could have relatives in the Dales but there again he could have been a Welsh/Shire crossbreed; indeed he could be some equine blend from Ireland. For sure his blood is cold and not warm. His mane was coarse almost the texture of straw rather than of cotton or sill and therein lay the clues to his breeding.
The career for such a horse before WW2 would have been to work on the farm as a ride and drive horse. During the day he would have pulled a plough and on Saturday nights he would have carried his master down to the pub. Alternatively he might well have made his way daily to the dairy in the local town for the job of pulling the milk cart. Back in the 19th century maybe he would have been a drover’s packhorse, carrying produce on his back up and over the moors to the towns in the distance.. In medieval times if he wasn’t pulling the carts, then maybe he carried a Man at Arms wearing heavy armuor, into battle. In any era Joe would never have made his way into a posh stable for the role of a gentleman’s gentleman, he’s far too common for that role.
In modern times at a trekking centre in the Black Mountains Joe had particular value in that he could easily carry a fully grown man up a steep path to the top of ridge and then bring him safely back down an uneven and slippery path. Joe was sure footed and immensely strong and, for those reasons alone, he was ideal for such work. He could be controlled by voice, so a trek leader at the front of a line of horse and riders, could trust Joe, on most occasions, to follow the leader, whatever Joe’s rider might think otherwise. Unfortunately, the trek leader also discovered that he/she could not always stop Joe laying down on the trail and politely but firmly insisting that a heavy handed rider dismounted. Joe did not suffer fools gladly and he could be very stubborn. When eventually Joe had made his point to the managers of the stable yard, then he was ridden up at the front of the line only by the more experienced trek leaders. There were to be no more novice riders for Our Boy. Joe could then make use of the turn of speed which undoubtedly he had over rough terrain. The big problem was always that once Joe was motoring he was difficult to stop.
The undeniable attribute of Joe was that he was a working horse. If given the opportunity, he would always earn his keep as a beast of burden and that in Joe’s mind, meant that he was entitled to some degree of respect. Joe also saw that he had a responsibility to make certain decisions for his rider, after all why should a mere human rider realize that fine odours – unsmelled by humans - might represent mountain cats lurking and waiting to pounce? Joe obviously also had experienced bad incidents with goats and donkeys, for they too were just not to be trusted. Joe knew when something smelt “off“. But it was when Joe was brought into the world of the private owner/rider that the onlooker had to dig deeper to find Joe’s undoubted talents.
The private rider sought the ownership of a horse for a reason, sometimes specific, more often undefined. Manyhopeful horse owners seek a pet, some animal to fuss over and for sure there can be a lot of fussing which a horse can provoke. Joe would made a good pet, he’d eat without a qualm everything put in front of him and he absolutely adored his own stable, of which he was meticulously proud and which he kept remarkably clean. Noticeably he preferred to dump his load outside of the stable perhaps in the lane rather than to leave a smelly pile on the bed of chippings in his stable. He even selected favoured spots on which to mark his passing by. Joe was undoubtedly a good doer, so in truth he did not really need much molly coddling because he was a tough & healthy creature. Neither did he need special foods nor fancy supplements as he would thrive on an unsophisticated diet of meadow grass.
As a competitive horse, the owner had to think very carefully about which sector of the equine sporty world Joe might fit into. He could not do jumping that was for sure. Joe did not pick his feet up; h was not good at tight turns and he id nott do “bouncy” short strides at the canter. Such movements are those which are essential for a horse to perform well in the world of show jumping. Of course, a rider might have tried to train Joe, but one suspected that the instructor might be trying to train an elephant to do the quick step. No, for Joe competitive jumping, in all its forms, was out.
The term “dressage” brings to mind, elegant light movements, with the horse responding to the lightest of touches from the rider. Dressage is all about sensitivity and delicacy. It is against the rules to talk to one’s horse during dressage competitions but unfortunately one of the more effective control aids over Joe was always his master’s voice. Oh for sure, Joe might be able to do a passable but very basic dressage test although he would never get to the top of the judge’s points list. Joe simply did not bend and stiffly straight he shuffled around corners. Joe’s nose went up into the air as soon as he moved on from the halt position and it did nott come down until he espied a tuft of tasty grass. By all means try to collect him up - but he would not bend at the neck, even if he might accept the bit . One thing about Joe though was that the rider did not ever have to wash the bit because Joe never ever moistened it. No, if the name of the game to be played was dressage, then the rider should have chosen a warmblood. It was not Joe’s forte.
Long distance riding was a possibility, for The Boy had undoubted stamina. But whether the rhythm of his heart would beat the vet’s stethoscope remained to be seen. Pleasure riding was definitely within Joe’s remit, if the rider could keep The Boy under control.
As a ride and drive horse, Joe might well have made a splash, but had never been taught to pull so there was an undoubted gap in his training. Joe would manage to pull quite a heavy cart, perhaps a four wheeled Phaeton but he would never look right pulling a lightweight two wheeled governess’s cart.
Some folks, who knew how gentle and kind The Boy was, suggest that maybe he would make a good training horse for the novice. My feeling after getting to know him was that he did not make a good mount for the trainee. Although he did prove more than once that he could be used to give a young child a safe ride on a ‘real’ horse. Joe knows instantly when a novice rider had sat down on his back and from the start of an outing Joe would be working on evasions of which he had a considerable stock. In the past undoubtedly Joe had carried too many novices and he still bore on his back the scars of that period of his life at the riding centre. Old open saddle sores, long since healed, had left white hairy scars on a Joe’s back. The novice might, should he ever try, have serious difficulty in getting Joe to leave the yard on his own. A more capable rider might get Joe to leave the yard alone but might be incapable of stopping Joe from cutting short the ride should Joe feel that all was not well. It took the sensitive hands and firm seat of an experienced rider to get Joe to leave on his own the safety of his yard. Joe was undoubtedly prone to nappiness. If Joe got the notion that it was time to go home, then for many inexperienced or weak riders it was indeed time to go home. No, after further consideration, rider training was not what Joe was bred for.
Having said that riding Joe called for strong horsemanship, there were undoubted benefits to the rider for going out on The Boy. One literally could put one’s life in Joe’s care. He did not drop a shoulder, nor buck nor rear. Joe’s preferred way to get a rider off his back was to go down on his knees and slowly roll over. This unsociable but slow move could be instantly recognised and countered by any experienced rider but there again it was unlikely that Joe would try it on with an experienced rider. All Joe needed was to have confidence in his rider and then he would go anywhere and would make his way without the company of other horses.
It was Joe’s occasional nappiness which was harder to counteract. He had a system of planting all four feet down and refusing to move. Only voice and cajoling worked to regain his cooperation because regardless of how much the rider beat the Boy with a whip, his pain threshold was probably higher than most rider’s willingness to inflict pain. However when countering forcibly the “freeze” move remember that Joe has a long memory and any infliction of unwarranted pain would be recorded and marked down in Joe’s mind against the rider. Joe would not turn on or snap at an unwelcome rider but he might well try the “freeze” again at the slightest provocation.
So who would want to own this stubborn strongman? Well Joe, apart from being safe, was incredibly “kind” in all respects. He was also for such a big boy very gentle. One could safely take liberties with this equine which it would be very foolish to take with most other horses. Ask the farrier, the vet, the dentist for their opinion of this creature. A warning however: just keep out of the way of his feet, there were almost three hundred and fifty lbs of pressure bearing down on each steel shod foot. However in the stable Joe did have any vices. He would not kick nor bite nor barge. He also had impeccable manners whilst on the yard.
He was a hardy horse too and with or without a set of rugs Joe could live out providing he had access to hay. But make no mistake, Joe did love a warm stable and he seemed to enjoy the privacy of his own space. Out on the road, Joe was traffic proof. You could ride him straight at lorries and expect them to get out of his way. Planes merely flew noisily over his head and caused him no concern at all.
He was very fast over uneven terrain but the rider should be careful not to abuse that skill of his. It must be remembered at all times that Joe was a very heavy horse with relatively short legs. If he were to fall, then the rider might suffer a severe injury were Joe to land on the rider. Joe was not agile and he did not go around tight corners quickly. For this reason, fox hunting on Joe was perhaps questionable.
Joe did have one big fear in that he was frightened of bogs. If wet soft terrain loomed out on the trail, then Joe should be directed away from it, because he might well have taken sharp evasive tactics at the last moment as he approached any obviously damp patch of ground. Joe was sensitive to his rider‘s mood. He was very responsive in a positive way to a soft voice; he was equally responsive in a negative way to a harsh voice. Always talk to him to get the best from him.
Joe was not an alpha equine and he would avoid all pushy aggressive horses.
Joe was not overtly sex orientated and mares, even when in season, did not seem to have much influence over him,
Joe was always interested in food - anything edible and food undoubtedly was the way to his heart.
Joe would accept being tied up at a hitching rail at the pub - just save some salt & vinegar crisps for him.
It was essential to keep Joe listening to his rider at all times. If the rider lost mental contact with him, then Joe was in charge. Harsh bits and ties downs would not help if Joe was not listening for then he would just do things his way. To get Joe back under control; it was essential that the rider got Joe to listen. If Joe did withdraw cooperation then the rider had lost the game. Joe could be a very strong and stubborn mount. Be advised that Joe, when really frightened would also stop listening to his rider.
Joe would sometimes stop listening when he became excited in the presence of other over excited horses and in such circumstances the rider should be wary, since he had no brakes, of low branches. Joe had a very hard mouth - if he wanted the reins out of his rider’s hands, then first he would stretch down and then stretch up until his nose reached over the height of his ears. He would attempt to snatch the reins from his rider’s hands.. The only counter measure, if the rider got adequate warning, was to wrap the reins around one’s hands but then the risk was that the rider was pulled out of the saddle. The tussle became a serious trial of strength. If eventually you could get him to listen, then you would get him to stop being difficult but if you lost then you would be taken home forthwith.
If Joe wanted to go home, he would whirl around to the left and take off from whence he came. If the rider were caught unawares in such circumstances, then it might prove too late to stop the beast. The rider must turn Joe through the full 360 degrees to the left, Joe‘s neck muscles were too strong to attempt to pull to the right and against him.
The experienced rider will come to know when Joe is about to spook, the signs were all very obvious but the key to not losing control was a calm voice, strong and firm hands and legs before the spook became a bolt. Avoid the use of tie downs and fierce jaw cracking bits - if Joe were ever to come to fight with his rider, then the rider would lose out not only over the short term but more importantly over the long term.. Joe if subjected to severe long term punishment through pain or inappropriate bitting might well turn off and become a stubborn, lifeless & sullen creature.
So what did we have in Joe?. We had a horse fit to ride in extremis only by a competent knowledgeable strong rider possessing a firm seat. Joe needed to have respect for his rider. The question was whether such a rider would choose to own what was obviously a solid old fashioned heavy cob with limited sports potential. Joe was not fast, nor agile neither does he have much development potential, although maybe he could have been taught to pull a cart. Joe was a no fuss, good doer, who could live his life out in a field or in a stable but a horse which was suitable for hacking only. Sadly, Drovers don’t drive to market these days and men at arms go by tank.
For BG, Joe is, on balance, a good match and if only it took a little less effort to ride him on those days when Joe was being stubborn, it might indeed have been a match of horse and rider made in heaven. Joe was an affectionate creature to those humans that he warmed to. One came to like him a lot. He would willingly carry his rider as safely as he could over rough or difficult terrain. Joe performed his professional role as a mount in return for the human adhering to the role as a considerate rider. Which reverts to where we came onto this subject originally. Perhaps the breeder who had bred Joe, had recognised from the very beginning that our Boy was an acquired taste, which is exactly why he gave Joe the snip some ten years ago. Joe needed experienced management and he needed to feel that his rider knew the rules of the game as well as Joe did. Joe did not fit into the typical role of the pet horse in the modern equine world in which agile sports horses and snazzy coloured horses are all the rage.
It eventually came as a surprise to realize that the softest hair on Joe’s body is that which grew just above his hooves. His mane was unruly and coarse; his tail was crinkly and coarse but his feathers, those hairs, which usually are quickly snipped off by fashion conscious young ladies, were as soft as silk - as were those which readily grew around his chin and his bum. Fashions change. It all goes to confirm that Joe really belonged to a bygone era, when the horse was valued for its capability to work as against its ability to prance about to music and to jump multi coloured poles against the clock.
Joe was well proportioned, sturdy and up to weight. Groomed thoroughly, he could look magnificent with a shiny coat and long tresses of mane and tail At times during the year according to how green the grass grew, Joe put on weight and his well muscled frame became covered by an inch of flesh - but that under lying muscle never lost its power. Above all Joe made a good companion and the more one experienced his company, the more you came to appreciate him for what he was: - an honest, strong, tough, no nonsense, reliable, down to earth and, above all, kind, hack. It really was a pity that his balls had been chopped off although if he still had a full set of tackle then he might well have proved to be a handful to control. The real sadness for me was that he did not know Joe when he was an impressionable young colt, however in all probability the nature of Joe’s character arose from his breeding and not overwhelmingly from his environment.
As was said earlier, Joe was the last of one of a kind.
As was said earlier, Joe was the last of one of a kind.
I think of him often.