Many years ago, I opened my riding school and needed a few horses with the correct temperament for teaching children to ride. This was more difficult than I expected it to be. One of my searches took me to a “dealer barn” where there were hundreds of horses to choose from. But I again thought I would be leaving without finding a prospective school horse. Then, a little blue roan Mustang caught my eye and I asked to see this horse. The owner stated that he was a nice horse, somewhat green, but possessing of the temperament I was looking for. The horse had no name, only a freeze brand. I put a deposit on the horse and needed to wait for the veterinary exam in a few days. During this time I decided to call the horse “Joe”, after a horse my family owned during my childhood. It turned out that “Joe” was a “Josie”- I had not questioned the statements of the owner but was equally as delighted to take the little mare home. This part of her story is mentioned only because it affirms that in addition to having no name and no home, no one really knew her at all.
Josie was aloof and seemed lost, with no apparent interest in getting to know any of the horses or humans on my farm. The dealer had purchased her at auction, and I wondered how many auctions she had been to, how many “homes” she had been tossed in and out of. She appeared to be depressed, and I hoped that time and some TLC would change her outlook on life.
Josie was relatively easy to train and after a few years, one of our students wanted to buy her and take her home to her farm. I agreed, believing that Josie would love all of the one-on-one attention. However, the buyers would need to agree that in the event things did not work out, I would buy Josie back. And, as it turned out, they could not keep her for the long term, so I did bring her back home.
By this time, we had new instructors at the farm, and they had very impressive credentials, particularly in regards to the horse show world. When I brought Josie off of the trailer, they reacted by demanding that I take her right back to the barn she just came from, or take her to the next auction. They pointed out her short neck, compact body and unrefined head, stating she was an embarrassment and they would never consider using her in the program. They had previously made it clear that they wanted thoroughbreds or warmbloods for the school and taking this horse to a show was unthinkable. I kept Josie, and worked with her until the inevitable point in time when these instructors moved on to further pursue their personal goals and dreams.
The instructor who took their place also liked thoroughbreds, but she was open to teaching on this little mare. Shortly thereafter, a little girl in our program went to her first horse show, with Josie as her mount. They won the reserve championship of the show. At Josie’s second show, she and her rider won the reserve championship, and at her third show, Josie and her rider won the championship. Suddenly I was getting offers from other barns wanting to buy Josie. But this time, she was not going anywhere.
Josie became our most popular school horse. Whenever a show was in the planning, there would be a line-up of people wanting to show Josie. Her smooth sitting trot, her sweet, kind demeanor and adorable presentation- she was always winning the blue ribbons. By now, Josie had a large fan club.
Well, she has now been with us for 22 years, and, with a special group of young men in our program, we finally shaved her freezebrand to learn more about her past. She is 29 and from Nevada. Josie’s stall is adjacent to the front door of our barn, and through her Dutch door window, she greets visitors every day. She is now a valuable partner in our equine assisted therapy program, where children and adults find healing through exercises with our horses. Children in the foster care system are especially drawn to Josie. She captures their interest, engages with them, and when they eventually hear her story, she provides them with hope, such an important feeling for those who need to heal.
I don’t know how long we will be blessed to have Josie with us, but I am exceptionally happy to have found her so many years ago. This beautiful mare has helped to change the lives of so many people, and I cannot imagine our school without her.