You don’t know me, but I know your horse Joe. And when I happened upon the happiest picture of you and dear old Joe—whose face is a little grey now, but has clearly not lost his love for cowboy kids—I wanted to share some of what Joe would tell you if he could talk.
Joe is one of the horses who helped raise my sons, Lane and Taylor. He was not alone, and when some sweet old horses joined our family late in their lives, I would sometimes hug their necks and whisper in their ears about how I wished they could tell me their story and all about where they’d been before blessing our family.
Our friend Joe Beaver found an old, funky-gaited sorrel horse for Taylor when I lost the wrestling match about whether Taylor should breakaway rope again in seventh grade or move up to the tie-down. I begged old Butter—which Joe dubbed for his smooth, sliding stop—to tell me about his previous life and the roads that led him to our barn.
Along the way, an old sea captain who’d roped calves in his youth ran across a picture of Butter and Taylor just like I did you and Joe, and reached out to reminisce and ask about his beloved horse. Then World Champion Tie-Down Roping Champ Herbert Theriot saw us at Roy Cooper’s place when we laid over between Taylor’s Junior High Finals and Lane’s High School Finals, and stared awhile at Butter before shaking his head in wonderment and telling us he’d known him in his past life during the time Butter spent roping calves and hazing down in Herbert’s Mississippi home country. But old Butter is another story, and I want to tell you about your brown (and now grey) buddy Joe.
Joe’s American Quarter Horse Association-registered name is Seans Fortune, and he was born on April 5, 1992—which makes him 29 now—in Red Oak, Oklahoma. The most recognizable name in Joe’s family tree on his papers is Easy Jet, who was known for “blistering speed” and made his way into the AQHA Hall of Fame as a racehorse.
Joe left Oklahoma and went to a lady in Lawson, Missouri, before joining our family in Creston, California in 2001, when Joe was just 9. My big brother, Blaine, actually found Joe in Iowa. He remembers trying and buying Joe in a little county fair indoor arena that he rented for $100. It was the dead of winter, and was 5 degrees inside and snowing outside.
A few different people brought horses to that barn to show brother Blaine on that miserably cold day. The man who brought Joe had his teenage son heel on Joe to show him. Blaine’s six-horse trailer was loaded full when he left, and due to road closures, Blaine was stuck in that truck and those horses in that trailer—thankfully blessed with body heat—for 10 hours.
Blaine says he headed a few steers on Joe when he got back to California, and had him “sold to a rich dude who was about a #1.5 roper and #1 rider. He missed a couple, then caught one and made me wince and holler, ’cause he’s trying to dally with his left hand and shoulders pointed at the hot dog stand, got locked off and gave Joe a bad jerk.
“I let him rope one more, then pulled him off of Joe and scored a couple. He was ready to buy him for good cash money. Joe was sound when he got in that trailer to go across town for the vet check, but when the guy came back an hour later poor Joe could barely get out of that trailer and limp back to the barn. I think he pulled something on that run, but Joe was a tough son of a gun. I turned him out for a few months, and he was fine. You know the rest of the story.”
Yes, I do—for those next 10 years anyway. Like almost every horse Lane and Taylor grew up on, Blaine scouted Joe for us, then gave us the family discount that was basically profitless for him. When they weren’t on a basketball court or a baseball field, my boys could be found about every afternoon after school out in our arena with Papa Frank and Uncle Blaine. Those were the best of times, and I loved every minute of loading cattle and getting the gate.
In baseball, they say Luis Sojo is considered to be “the classic modern utility player,” because he could play shortstop, first, second and third base, and even left field. That was Joe. Lane and Taylor headed, heeled, breakaway roped and calf tied on Joe, and even won their only outing in the team penning at the California Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles with Lane on Joe when Miles Switzer double dog dared them to enter on his team one time.
I’ll never forget the day Lane and Taylor and I were out gathering before the branding at the Twisselman Ranch in Carrisa Plains. We were sent a sketchy route on a goat trail with a steep mountain on our left and a very scary canyon cliff on our right. By the time we got around the bend and I realized the only way out was to continue on, as backing out was not an option, Joe decided to get Lane out of there by scaling that mountainside that would have tested a wild goat.
I have never prayed so hard or held my breath so long as I did watching that mini nightmare play out before Joe scrambled his way to the top of the mountain with my boy on his back. I made Taylor get off of his pony Paint Brush and walk her out to the other side, and told him if she fell off the side he had to let her go. I’ve never stopped thanking God for all three of us getting out of there without a scratch that day.
Joe was aptly named, because if he was human he’d be what they call “a good Joe,” which by definition is “a kindly obliging, good-hearted person.” Miranda, just as Joe was happy to help Lane and Taylor do whatever their hearts desired in the arena, I see he loves barrel racing, trail riding, trips to the beach and brandings with you and your big sister, Elsa.
Joe is responsible for the rubber mats in our barn. He slipped and fell on the concrete one day, and tore his stifle. We were crushed, but we babied him back with rest and lots of TLC under Dr. Papa Frank’s watchful eye, and Joe returned to the arena yet again.
Ten years ago—when he was 19—we decided it was time for Joe to take it a little easier. We handed him down to a friend of a friend in 2011, so the kids in her family could enjoy Joe at a slower pace than he’d helped prepare Lane and Taylor for. It’s my understanding now, Miranda, that those people passed Joe along to another family—the Hansen girls, Hailey and Kinzie—and that Joe has lived with your family for the last five years.
I also now know, Miranda, that you have been Joe’s favorite person these past five years, since you were 2. This is the happiest possible last chapter for a huge-hearted horse like Joe that I can think of. It thrills me to have stumbled across that joyous picture of you and Joe—you wearing a Creston T-shirt of all things. This is one small and wonderful Western world we are lucky enough to share.
Perhaps we should consider a 30th birthday party for Joe next spring. Happy to have it here at Joe’s old house, maybe even when Lane and Taylor are home for the spring rodeo run.
In the meantime, thank you for loving Joe like you do, Miranda,