Little Joe

For my daughter and her Little Joe…
When I look out in the corral of horses and mules, I admire each and every one; their honesty, strength, and individuality. But there is one horse in particular whom owns a big piece of my heart… Little Joe.  One of the most difficult things about teaching your children to ride is finding that horse that helps to build their skill sets and confidence simultaneously. It is even tougher when you, the adult, struggles to find that confidence within horses and yourself, to help your child find theirs. Sometimes, you realize that YOU can not teach your child. Sometimes, they simply learn better on their own. And sometimes, well sometimes, it is the animal that teaches them best…

Little Joe came to the ranch at the age of 4 years old, green broke and full of spook and snort. He stood all of 14.3 hands and was about as wide as he was tall. Part Percheron and part Paint, he had stout legs, wide back, and crested neck; he was solid-built, and black & white in color. His face was honest; unsure but kind. Little Joe was full of quirks, but my brother, Cory, loved Joe from the first day. A young boy developing his skills, and a horse developing his, together for several years, they traveled many a mountain trail. They lead strings of pack mules, gathered in horses in the mornings, played around in the corrals, rode bareback, and were pals. They had a strong bond. But as boys do, Cory grew, passing on Little Joe to the next generation. For a couple years, we used him in the string of guest horses. Sometimes he worked well, and other times his quirks would cause people to shy away from him. It left me wondering where Little Joe would fit in the operation from here.
My daughter had a desire to ride horses, to love them, and to braid their manes and tails, but she was intimidated and fearful. Finding a horse that fits your child’s personality is difficult. Sometimes, you have to let the horse find you. Little Joe found Kiley. From the first day, Kiley and Little Joe fell in stride together, and just like an old pair of comfortable boots, it was a fit. Starting slow, they rode trails and played in the arena. He carried her over steep mountain passes and streams flooded with spring snowmelt. He built her belief in herself and him, slow and steady. They became inseparable. I could see Kiley’s confidence blooming in her horsemanship skills, and that flowed over into other corners of her life. It did my heart wonders, and I knew that he would take care of her. I had no doubts. She spent time grooming and bathing him, riding bareback, and learning to gallop. He tested her when she needed it. Gathering in horses from the meadow, he would frequently crow-hop, causing her boots to occasionally fall off. Anything more than a jog trot, was a waste of energy for Joe. But nothing deterred her from loving Little Joe. 

Even now, years later, with age showing in his sway back and a little gray in his face, her smile is never so bright as when she greets him in the mist of the summer mornings. She calls his name from across the barnyard, and he lifts his head in recognition. I look at the young lady growing in front of me, and I know without Joe, we would be in a different place. Little Joe did more than build her strength and confidence, he made unforgettable memories for me with Kiley. I got to watch her go from a little girl in a big hat, braiding daisies in his mane, to helping guide trail rides and lead guests with the poise of a young woman. There will undoubtedly be other horses that come along, but none will fill the space made for Joe. Little Joe, thank you. You are the best…

6 thoughts on “Little Joe

  1. I love it! Little Joe is to you and Kiley much like my childhood horse is to my Mom and Me, Levi. Horses really become best friends and partners. Thanks Again for another heart felt story. Love ya!


  2. What a poignant story. What a gifted writer. How you tug at the heartstrings and memories of those of us reading this story. Everyone has a Little Joe in their past. A pet that taught us the lessons and confidence of life rather than our guiding them.


  3. Heather this ones really touches my see I also remember a horse named Dallas and a big eyed brown haired daughter…beautifully written Love Mom


  4. Heather you brought tears to my eyes. It is sad to know that people go through life without those important relationships to help them grow. How wonderful it is to feel so proud of your daughter and be able to see her grow and have a friend like Little Joe. Makes the heart feel good and long for those days when it was as simple as just you and your horse (best friend. Amazing how they can make you feel. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Miss you and think of you often even though I am bad at letting you know. Carisa


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