JOE the Wonder Horse
JOE THE WONDER HORSE
This is an thread about a horse - a very special horse called Joe. No he didn't win anything; he didn't really achieve much in his life but to me he became something special. He taught me more about horse care and management than any of the other horses in my life.
He is an object lesson perhaps for anyone who takes on willingly and knowingly the 24/7 responsibility for what is invariably a magnificent creature.
It is appropriate to start off with a description of him
A Description of Joe
When I acquired Joe, he was an 11 eleven year old tough 15h2 dark bay/black cob gelding with lots of coarse feather. Put a Dales stallion to a Shire mare and you might produce a Joe. Most likely he was what used to be known as a “Galloway”.
His chest was almost as broad as his butt and his croup was slightly higher than his wither.
He had the depth of bone for two horses but his feet were not over large.
His jet black coat, shined up brilliantly in the summer.
He was a good doer and whenever food was about he would eat until the food was eaten. The head never came out of the bucket. Left to go native, he’d come to look like a shaggy bear.
Not an alpha male, but it was noticeable that few horses tried to boss him about.
He was his own horse and seldom showed any sign of affection towards a human adult.
He had no interest whatsoever in becoming a father
He had a broad back, a powerful rump and well set shoulders.
Joe was up to any weight of rider, over any terrain, at any speed, except perhaps race horse gallop
In company with other horses, on say a fun ride, he was hard to keep under control
- he was always up for it whatever the bit used on the day. He could be a thug.
He was very surefooted uphill or down hill even on loose stoney pathways.
He was very nervous on boggy soils but he would wade through quite deep water
You could sit on him up by a cliff edge and you would feel safe.
Likewise he was excellent in traffic. He could be ridden straight at traffic of all types.
I could have taken him down into the town centre
He’d drive if taught but his forte was carrying safely a rider out in open country over uneven terrain.
He was good with people, easy to shoe and box. He was very good with children
His paces were surprising and rhythmic:
Joe might have done well in the classical dressage arena.
He was an extremely good doer and had lived out although he preferred to come into a stable in the winter months. He put on weight easily.
This turbo diesel powerhouse was not for the novice, he called for the firm sensitive hands and legs of a confident rider.
He had worked in a trekking centre but was found to be unsuitable for inexperienced riders. He had been known to go down on his knees, and slowly but surely roll over even though he still had a rider on his back. He never crushed anybody, because they always had time to dismount.
Joe made an excellent companion for a day long hack.
I rode him ‘English’ in a simple snaffle, either loose, one handed on a long rein - or collected up in contact. He had a soft mouth. He could have been ridden ’Western”.
He was no schoolmaster - he would have seen such a description as an insult..
I never ever jumped him over painted fences.
He was born 600 years too late, he would have made a superb knight’s charger.
But he had a dark side:
He was not frightened of humans. Over his lifetime he had been ridden by a couple of hundred riders of all abilities. Within 5 minutes under saddle he had his rider sussed out. He would test his rider continuously and he knew every evasion in the book although I never saw him bite, kick or strike. He was the only horse I have known to balk - he’d stand still and absolutely refuse to move.
He had a couple of other evasions which he developed to perfection - more later.
Joe was a one off. Not exactly the cut of a modern day riding horse but not a cart horse either.
To know him was to smile.
That was absolutely lovely to read, i also like that this has been posted in "Famous Horses", very lovely indeed
That is a wonderful tribute Barry.
Hi Barry. Another fan who finds everything you write on the forum. Came here from your Classical Training thread. Keep up the tremendous writing -- I feel like you're telling a story face-to-face :)
Joe has landed Part 1
Joe was the cob which the stable manager, had used as her own mount at the trekking centre but he was currently living rough up a mountain. I had made a deal with her about Joe.
Joe walked up to me and the horse which I had known and ridden over two years previously was unrecognisable - the four legged creature in front of me was a brown shaggy bear walking on four legs instead of two. His mane, in any season always thick and coarse, drooped down heavily over both sides of his neck. His furry coat was dense and matted with dirt, body fat and other gunk. His feathers filthy with encrusted mud, smothered the hooves. His shoes had been taken off months ago and his feet were uneven. I went up to him and tried to do the best with a small brush to groom him ready for tacking up with saddle and bridle. He submitted meekly. I laid the saddle on his back and stretched the straps of the bridle over his head. He accepted the bit into his mouth. I mounted him and he supported my weight without a murmur. We turned about and walked and then trotted around the arena. We rode right into the corners with pace regular and rhythmic. We did a figure of eight or two and the occasional circle. He’d forgotten nothing. To me, everything felt familiar. As one sits down on Joe. there’s no tightening of the stomach muscles. He’s steady, his paces are regular and he’s safe. Wherever you feel you want to go, you know you can go.
It had already been agreed that Joe could come home, a far kinder environment than the harsh, cold and wet high moors hereabouts. The deal, initially as a loan for six months with an option perhaps to purchase, was done. Joe would be moving on to pastures new.
Joe was made ready for his new lifestyle. The farrier paid a visit and Joey’s feet were shod - country style. The protective warm and snug, hairy coat just had to go but it took two sets of clippers to complete the job - the first set broke down under the strain of removing such dense and dirty body hair. The somewhat severe clipping out was eventually completed with another set of clippers by Monday evening . Joe was now refurbished, suited up with a new turnout rug and ready to travel.
On Monday BG started the process of turning Joe into a member of the family. First he had to be insured, just in case he came to need the protection of the system and to make sure that he got whatever treatment he might need as and whenever he got into trouble. A key question in arranging insurance is: “What’s he worth” - how does one arrive at a figure?
Another question is : “What’s he for” , the answer has to be : - “giving pleasure and companionship” although that is not a classification recognised by those white collared chaps down in the City.
“How much does one get paid when he is sent on his way to pastures in the sky?”
- “I don’t want my money back” was the answer.
Eventually, the news came that “Joe was on cover“.
He arrived after the sun had set and in the dark he was unloaded into the courtyard of the livery yard to a flurry of expectation. Joe indeed shone and looked very smart - if a little short shaven. Joe himself just did not know what to expect - he’d travelled 30 miles facing the walls of the trailer and he had absolutely no idea of where he had arrived. All he’d felt was the jolting discomfort of the trailer and the noise of the unseen traffic. After he had come down the ramp, I gave him a little hug and popped a carrot or two into his mouth - which were gratefully received.
“Welcome to your new home”, I whispered in his ear. He looked around trying to make out what was in store for him. Do horses know about knacker’s yards. I wonder?. Was he at all frightened or was he just very curious. I hope he was just curious and above all pleased to be with us. We are taught that horses have long memories so had he in fact recognised me from the old days, when he and I had ridden together?
Joe had arrived wearing a nice fancy New Zealand rug, but he needed it, because the lower half of him was completely bald. Horses like Joe, known as cold bloods, don’t live in a stable - they live out in a field, whatever the weather. It matters not how cold it is or how hard the wind can blow, what matters is that it does not rain too hard for too long. A wet horse will eventually succumb without shelter to constant rain, whereas against a cold British wind, he has some defence, so long as he has a woolly coat either natural or fitted. But luckily it was not raining and it was not forecasted to do so. What every horse basically needs is security, equine companionship, water to drink and ample food to keep a big body warm. Those essentials Joe now had. But on that first night whilst almost all of the other horses slept in their stables, our Joe made his bed out in a dark field, kept warm only by what he could generate from his own bodily resources, his new flock overcoat and a large dollop of hay. I went home which is located close by Joe’s field down in the valley. In the meantime Joey had mooched off around the field looking for a cosy spot on which to lay, preferably close by a hedge and out of the icy wind.
BG had already made enquiries as to who would give the boy a medical once over. A nice vet from Devauden would come and give the newcomer an inspection. Joe’s new rug did not look so good as it had been torn in several places around the neck. We still don’t know if that was the result of an over exuberant welcome from one or more of the other resident horses or whether it was our Joe scratching himself against a post with a protruding nail. But the rug, after just one night, was already in a sorry state Not concerned with apparel, the vet opened his bag, took out the tools of the trade, prodded here and there, whilst Joey stood patiently and without concern. To whatever the vet wanted to do, Joe submitted. Even the big needle as used for the numbering chip was OK, although the vet had warned BG that many pansy horses respond violently to such an injection. Joe took it all in his stride. Never having been subjected to the needle before, somehow he knew that this was part of the process of being “privatised”. The vet expressed a concern that this fellow, who’d lived up a mountain for the past 8 months was too fat - the horse would have to lose 3 stones. Luckily Joe, hearing the words, did not understand exactly what that opinion meant for him. No pony nuts, no mashes, no oats - just grass from the field or as hay from a stack was to be fed - or so the vet said. “Ribs have to show”. The feet were bad and some dead flesh was cut from the area of the frog between the shoes. There was evidence of thrush, which had to be treated with a bactericide. A mark on the cheek could be a sarcoid or it could be scuffing from a badly fitting bit - only time would tell.
Otherwise, the lad was “fit for purpose” ie that of a gentleman’s riding horse. The vet did remark on Joe’s temperament - “a kind horse”, he said. Indeed that is just what Joe represents - a kind and genuine horse. Did our Joe know that his newly injected chip gave him a number, which gave him a passport, which meant like all of us humans, that he was on the HMG’s list and that he, Joe the Galloway, actually existed - officially . The other jabs of course only mean that if flu was about, he shouldn’t catch it and that if he scratched himself he would not get lock jaw.
Joe had made it.
Joe has landed Part 2
The first task of the next day was a short walk with Joe in hand around the estate. Joe was kitted up and led down the somewhat steep drive and out onto the lane running up from the village. He even got to go down to that noisy, nasty, building site with all those busy workmen. True there was some curiosity on the part of the lad but it was mere curiosity and certainly no apprehension. There was no bogeyman lingering about to cause a scare and maybe a buck or two. After the stroll, it was time to see if Joe still remembered how to carry his rider. But why was there even the slightest doubt? Horse and rider made a quick expedition to the road below and back.
His feed, his hay, his saddle and all the other accoutrements that a horse has to have even though he does not realise they are his to own, had to find a place to rest in the yard. BG started on getting things sorted. The American rope head collar felt nice and soft but it resembled a teasing puzzle rather than a practical item of equine restraint.
By Friday it was time to introduce Joe to the neighbourhood. One of the other tenants had agreed that BG & Joe could ride out with her group around the lanes. BG & Joe started out placed carefully in the middle of the string of four, but in no time they had moved, as has been our custom, up to the front of the line. It was immediately apparent that Joe’s lack of exercise over 8 months did not mean that he could not keep his end up in such company. Our boy after all had been a professional, whereas these country hacks were mere amateurs in his presence. Joe showed these poofters how to step out. Earlier BG had tried to set the scene by explaining how he just wanted to gradually introduce his new mount to the area but that myth was dispelled when Joe trotted quite smartly up what was really quite a steep hill. The other horses got left behind. We reached home without further incident.
The other horses, all bar a lone tiny Shetland always went into back into cosy stables at night whereas our Joe had to brave the elements along with his shaggy companion just 8 hands tall. He and his little mate were left with a mound of hay to keep the inner selves warm. Of course, Joe shared his carrots with his new companion of the night.
It had been arranged that on the following day BG & Joe would make another excursion in company. The boy stepped out smartly right from the beginning. To him everything was new. Look here, look there, look right, look left. Joe looked everywhere and took everything in. Oh yes, the wind was blowing a bit and yes, here and there was a stretch of icy surface but if one kept down behind the hedges and rode wherever the sun had shone, it was in fact quite pleasant. In the woods it was truly magical with the sun shining down through the trees. The circuit comprised of going up through the woods to the car park, along to the picnic area and then down to the reservoir. Throughout the ride our Joe never put a foot wrong. He was so easy to ride, very responsive to the leg and light to the hand. You asked, indeed merely hinted, and he did what he felt you had asked him to do. We walked, we trotted, we cantered. We did it all. It was a lovely day. We stopped and gossiped to passers by and we mused. One man and his horse . Eventually we made our way back to the yard. There had been no spooking, no startling, no hesitation on Joe’s part. He had made his mark this day and he was home and dry. He was well on his way to being declared “a gentleman’s hack“.
Hopefully never again would he have to suffer the indignities of carrying strangers who would pull at his mouth with rough hands and make his back sore from bouncing about in the saddle. All Joe had to do now to earn his keep would be to take his master off to wherever the fancy might direct. There would be no rush and no hassle. Joe would come to realize that this work of that of a private hack could be a good life.
As BG untacked the boy it was apparent that there were two remaining chores to sort out. The French-link bit was ½ inch too narrow. The brow band was also too tight. Maybe these were the reasons why he shook his head from time to time. The old reins had a loose keep, why not swop them for the leather reins in BGs tack box! The bulky leather head collar can be left at the yard but some form of restraint is needed for the outings to the pub. After Joe’s first ride out in this new and strange country, BG fed him some carrots and a few nuts and then led him back into his field. That night it blew hard but he had some shelter and enough hay. He‘s after all a hardy chap. BG must not molly coddle him but sometimes that‘s a hard policy to stick to for Joe is such a “kind“ fellow and he deserves to be comfortable and warm.
Following just a few days of companionship, BGs handling of Joe is one of a man with complete confidence in his horse’s integrity. Horse and man jostle each other with much familiarity. The relationship is very physical with lots of touching, shoving and nudging. There’s no way that this horse will knowingly hurt his master. It is a great pity for the riding fraternity that there are not more horses with Joe’s temperament.
Whatever, BG must never betray Joe’s trust. There can be no anger, no shouting, no aggression on his part. This creature just needs understanding and some regular issues of TLC. He‘ll do fine, indeed, BG could not have chosen better.
Let us hope The Boy feels that way.
PS Later on, I discovered Joe’s weakness - he is absolutely terrified of donkeys - yes, donkeys.
I am completely charmed and absolutely riveted to the BG and Joe saga. I cannot wait for the next installment...and where are the pictures of this wonderful creature???? :)
that is a nice story i am enjoying reading them keep up the nice work.
The imagery is beautiful!! Now tell me about the donkeys!!! :)
JOE, THE BOY WHO LOST HIS MANHOODExactly 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 perhaps the last of his kind. His pedigree was uncertain. He could well have Shire blood, he could have relatives in the Dales but there again he could have been a Welsh/Shire crossbreed. My strong suspicion was that he was a remnant of the Galloway breed - now extinct. For sure his blood was cold and not warm.
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 to the dairy in the local town for the job of pulling the milk cart. Back in the 19th century maybe he was a drover’s packhorse, carrying produce on his back up and over the moors. In medieval times if he wasn’t pulling the carts, then maybe he carried a Man at Arms wearing heavy armour, 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 was far too hairy for that job.
In modern times at a trekking centre 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 trial 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, then he was ridden up front only by the more experienced trek leaders. 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 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 right 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 odours - unsmelt by humans - may represent mountain cats lurking and waiting to pounce? Joe obviously had also had bad experiences 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 seeks the ownership of a horse for a reason, sometimes specific, more often undefined. Many hopeful horse owners seek a pet, some animal to fuss over and for sure there is a lot of fussing a horse can provoke. Joe would make 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 prefered 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 undeniably 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, he was not good at tight turns and he did not 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 try to train Joe, but one suspects 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 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 round corners. Joe’s nose went up in the air as soon as he moved on from the halt position and it did not come down until he spotted a tuft of tasty grass. By all means try to collect him up - but he still would not bend at the neck, even if he would accept the bit. One thing about Joe though was that you never had to wash the bit because Joe did not ever moisten it. No, if the name of the game to be played was modern dressage, then the rider should have chosen a warmblood. It was not Joe’s forte. However later on, I changed my mind about Joe’s capabilities in the dressage arena when a Classical dressage trainer appeared on the scene. Although in the long term, things did not go smoothly.
Long distance riding was a possibility, for The Boy had undoubted stamina. But whether the rhythm of his heart would beat the 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 he was never been taught to pull so there is an undoubted gap in his training. Joe would manage to pull quite a heavy cart, perhaps a four wheeled Phaeton but he would not look right pulling a lightweight two wheeled governess’s cart.
Some, who know how kind The Boy was, suggested 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. Joe knew 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 bore on his back the scars of that period of his life in 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 try, have had 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 have felt that all was not well. It took the sensitive hands and the 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, although there were some other tricks which he kept quiet about. 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.
BG’s idea was that with a little polishing, Joe might make a superb “Gentleman’s Riding Horse” but only time would tell.
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