by George Peters

A remembrance of two young wannabe horsemen

First thing when he opened his eyes that morning was a horse turd three inches from his nose. But being Joe, he just flicked it away with his finger and slept a little more.

We had shown horses the day before and had a good day, then a great time that night with the other contestants at an all-breed show in Syracuse, With no money for a motel, I slept in my pickup, Joe got the horse trailer.

I got to know Joe when we met and both were members of the same fraternity at Cornell in the fall of 1969. Next summer we were going out to do what 19- and 20-year old guys do, look for young girls.

Joe rides his motorcycle to my house, then we would go out in my old ’58 Plymouth known widely as the Turdmobile. (I promise that is the last time I use the “t” word in this tale!) Joe dressed in shorts and sandals and as he arrives, I’m still riding a young colt in the round pen. Joe watches a minute and says, “that looks cool.” The colt was quiet, so I said get on. I still have another one to ride before we go out.

Joe rode like he was a natural. He was instantly addicted, or obsessed, if there is much difference in the two. From day one, all Joe wanted was to ride more and learn more.

In the next few years if you saw one of us you saw the other. Ride to and from Cornell as we grew up in neighboring counties about 15 miles apart. Listened to great rock and roll, had long hair and mustaches as the early ‘70s rolled by. Went to a lot of shows and did our best to pass our classes, but party on. Joe was the smarter, but we both graduated from a great college. Go figure.

The year after our college graduation, we both were hired to teach at Cobleskill College. We rented a house trailer not far from campus and filled in while two professors were on sabbatical leave. A great experience and way too much fun.

Soon the spring semester is in full swing and our one-year tenure is soon to be over. The conversation now turns to what next? Joe sends out a resume to a lot of people who have ads in the major horse magazines. This is pre-internet as it is 1974. One evening Joe gets a phone call and after a minute says, “Hang on a second,” then covers the receiver and asks me “Ever heard of Howard Pitzer?”

I go “Ever heard of Two Eyed Jack?”

Joe goes, “He wants to meet me Saturday at the fairgrounds in Lincoln, NE.” Road Trip!

We pack a few things, dig up some cash and drive Joe’s ’72 GMC half-ton, six-cylinder, three-speed on the column, yellow truck called the “Lemon” to meet Mr. Pitzer. (I guess we named our vehicles back then.)

Howard is great, likes Joe and invites us to his ranch in Ericson, NE, where I got to see Two Eyed Jack and 450 other beautiful horses in the flesh. Joe got hired and the rest is history. Three years with Pitzer Ranch, then onto work with Bob Loomis, the Hall of Fame Reining horse trainer.

Joe stayed with Bob for eight years, then, with 11 years of being around two of the greats, goes out on his own, setting up in Gainsville, Texas.

We stayed friends, Joe judging AQHA shows back east a lot and would stop to see his mom and we would go out to dinner. I travelled his way some and stayed at his place.

I’m sure his dairy farmer parents, Tom and Mary, thought he was crazy but Joe was driven to do well, and boy did he ever. Trained, bred, judges and traded great horses. Judged and did clinics in 24 foreign countries and all the major AQHA and NRHA shows in the U.S.

The two young wannabes both became horsemen. Unfortunately Joe Hayes was killed in a car accident this past June. Godspeed my good friend Joe Hayes.