Joe is still wonderful. I love a big horse, I really do. And I think I do prefer geldings, even though sometimes their work ethic can be questionable. I know all my mare-loving friends always gush about how a mare will lay down her very soul for you sometimes, but maybe I haven't been riding the right mares, because I have never had that experience. Oh, I've had mares tolerate me and do what I asked only because they sighed heavily first and got on with it, and I've had mares scare the ever-loving hell out of me by telling me how the job is supposed to be done, regardless of my input, and I've had mares for whom the word 'consistent' just doesn't seem to be a part of their working vocabulary. The only consistent thing about some of the mares I have ridden was that I had no idea what kind of day it was going to be -- smooth, excellent working relationship, great work, or crazed terror, dump-you-on-the-ground-and run-like-hell, or hell no, I ain't doing any of that no matter what you say. That, for someone who likes to be prepared and organized, can be something of a nightmare, especially when riding alone, or going to a horse show.
Joe, though, he is consistent. He consistently kicks out if I use the whip too much or too hard. He pins his ears when I hug him around the neck (even though I have told him I'm a hugger and he'll just have to get used to it). He can get cranky and kick and buck (a little, nothing too major) when I ask him to do work, especially if he's not warmed up, or if I've taken too long of a walk break and he thinks we should be done. He can be stupidly spooky about really dumb things, but he doesn't run off in a panic.
But he's also consistently a beautiful mover with a lovely, easy to ride trot and canter. He understands his job, even if he doesn't always feel like doing it. He bends like he is on rails, and can cross his legs in the leg yielding as though he had ball bearings in his joints. He likes apples. He does listen to my voice and seems to like being talked to and sung to (poor Joe, I can't sing worth a damn). He enjoys having his picture taken and actually hams it up for Travis' camera.
Today's lesson gave me a few more insights into this guy. I realized the reason my reaction to all the pictures I have of me riding him has been "OMG, just shorten your reins!". He needs a lot more contact than I had been using. Today when I really asked for balance and flexion and attention, he gave it to me. And that outside rein? Yeah, that's the one that tells him to carry himself. We even worked on some trot lengthenings and actually got some glide. I sat through a tantrum and a period of backing up, and once I yelled at him, he actually got his act together and moved on. I feel like I turned a huge key in one of his locks today, and when I did, he was so gorgeous. Rideable, comfortable, smooth. I hope I can keep that key and find more. He really is fantastic. And I do know what to expect from him. There's really no brilliance without some quirks.