I had been working at Sheepcote for about a year by the time Joe came into my life. Serena had bought him for her daughter, as she had had a coloured cob on loan and been devastated when she had to go back. Joe was designed to soften the blow. However, as the child was only about 9 and Joe was nearly 14.2hh and VERY wide, he was a little too much for her to begin with. For the first few weeks he was ridden by a very novice working pupil in our daily lessons. He had been in a riding school for a couple of years and had probably come over from Ireland before that. He was opinionated and very strong, but he had a lovely eye and a very generous temperament. He couldn't canter in balance and used to poke his nose out in a typical riding school fashion.
When the girl who was riding him left, Joe was passed to me. The idea had apparently always been for me to school him, as a kind of project. The yard was amazing, but there weren't going to be many chances for me to compete, as the schoolmasters were too old and I wasn't really brave enough to ride and compete the youngsters. Joe was the perfect solution. The first time I rode him I couldn't believe how wide he was. I couldn't use my legs! However, I managed to ride him really forwards in trot, and by the end, we had managed an outline (of sorts!) At that point, I realised we were going to have a lot of fun!
I started riding Joe in September 2004 and in December, we went to our first show. He was beautifully behaved, but it was my first real experience of competing and I didn't have a great deal of 'ring-craft'. We came out of it with a 2nd and a 6th - I was absolutely thrilled. We competed through the winter, doing pretty well and qualified for a riding club championships held in August 05. I stopped working at Sheepcote in order to go and train to be a teacher, but David and Serena were very kind and allowed me to keep riding Joe, as they were quite short-staffed and didn't need him for the lessons. By the time of the championships, Joe and I were schooling at roughly medium level, perfecting our canter half-passes and starting to work on changes. I am absolutely convinced that if I had asked him to stand on his head, he would have tried. He put absolutely everything into his work and was desperate to please me. I will never forget our partnership.
When we went to the championships, I was confident that we could do well. I was doing a test before the championship one and this did not go terribly well. Joe was not very enthusiastic and I couldn't get him off my leg. However, we came out of it with a decent percentage and I realised that we could do so much better than that. Before the championship test, Serena helped me warm up, then told me to gallop him round the outside of the arena before going in. I was worried that this would blow his brains, but it was the perfect thing to do. He trotted down the centre line with determination and impulsion, and the rest of the test was brilliant. I came out of the arena knowing that we couldn't have done much better. It was agonaising watching the score board while the next 6 or 7 riders went. However, I won the class with 70% and I have never been so proud. The photos of the day do not show how smart he looked - I hadn't realised there was a mounted prize-giving and so had taken his plaits out. However, we got to do a lap of honour, and since all Joe had really done was an extended canter for the last year, the chance of a proper burn around the field was very exciting. He set off at a collected canter, then suddenly realised that he was allowed to go. With a buck and a squeal, we set off at top speed - it felt fantastic!
When I started my teacher training, Sheepcote got more staff and so they needed Joe for the lessons. I also then bought my yearling and so I stopped seeing so much of him. The following spring, Serena phoned me and told me Joe had suddenly gone down with acute laminitis. I was devastated and went to see him immediately. He was in a lot of pain and the vet didn't really know whether anything could be done. It seemed that the laminitis had probably been caused by something in his past - possibly ragwort poisoning or worm-damage. Either way, he was past help. He stopped eating and had lost the will to carry on. I will never forget the phone call when Serena told me that he had died. I missed him so much.
I have such fantastic memories of Joe. He was the most honest, hard-working and generous horse I have ever met in my life and he will always hold a special place in my heart.