|You KNOW When a Horse Has Been Trained By Joe Bullard|
Joe Bullard is one of those rare people who have "the gift."
A renowned equine judge once told folks: "I can tell in a show ring or on a working farm if a horse has been trained by Joe Bullard.
"Joe doesn’t break horses; he trains them. And his quiet discipline is evident in the responses you see when they obey with all their hearts because they have a true desire to do so."
Joe’s training of Percheron and other horses, and the relationships he has with everything from his laying hens to Nubian goats, ducks, Guineas, Blue Heeler dogs, kittens and possibly the largest hog in Blount County, is the same.
"We’d probably have a lot better life if we just acted the way the animals do," Joe explained. "If you sit and watch them you can learn an awful lot. They never worry. They generally go about their lives like they should, working hard and then playing hard. You can learn a lot about human nature just by watching animals for an afternoon."
Joe now concentrates primarily on the Percherons; selling, training and working them. But he is equally particular about the homes his animals go to. He was once offered more than $100,000 by a major theme park for one of his gentle giants—and he refused.
A roofer by trade, Joe also judges at horse, donkey and others shows across the North and Southeast.
But his heart is always at his Hamilton Mountain Road home at Spring Hill Farm, where he has 180 acres of his Grandfather, Eunice Massey’s, original 1927 farm. Other close family members now have the remaining of the original 400 acres.
"We’re hoping to keep it all together and not ever subdivide it," he explained. "There’s less and less farms left and, as long as we’re living, we’re going to try to keep this as it is."
Joe grew up on the farm plowing with mules and Belgiums, but saw a Percheron when he was 18 and fell in love.
He still has one of the original two Percherons; Gracie is now 27.
Dixie, the other original mare, died at the age of 23. Coming when Joe called her to the pasture gate and dying of a heart attack just as she reached him, giving him one long, last soulful look as she breathed her last.
"She died that quick," Joe said. "She lived here on the farm all those years. I don’t guess she was the best horse I ever had, but I sure have some good memories."
The pasture now contains 44 Percherons, some donkeys and a small pony, Princess.
"I always wanted a pony growing up and never had one," Joe recalled. "So I bought her. She bosses everybody around—-even though she is about one-tenth their size!"
Some of the current "stars" include five-year-old Hillcrest Melody, also known as Mary, an All American who stands 17.5 hands tall and weighs around 2,100 lbs. Mary strolls across the barnyard and home lawn obeying voice commands from Joe without hesitation. She’s trained for riding and pulling.
But she’s not the biggest on the farm.
Allstars Prince Glory, Glory for short, has won World Championships in the 8-horse hitch category in the Canadian Congress in 2004 and in Livingston, Virginia, in 2006.
Glory is also known as somewhat of a hero. In one of her competitions, one of the other horses in the hitch, owned by Joe and a friend, suffered an aneurysm.
A photographer at the scene took more than 140 photos documented how Glory responded before anyone else realized what was happening, carefully moving the other horses away from the sick one so she was not trampled as she fell.
Glory stands at 18.2 hands and weighs 2,380 pounds.
Then there’s Jessa Duke Cloud who won the World Congress in 1998 in Ohio.
Mariah, now nearly four months old, is known as a "sport" horse, Joe explained, with regular feet and is fine-boned and long-legged.
"She’s probably as good-natured as I’ve ever seen. Her mother is the big (18.1 hands) dappled gray."
Packer, a huge gray stallion, was thought to be lost a couple of years ago when his pneumonia threatened to take his life. The surgery to remove a rib which left an opening for several days where his lungs could be cleaned daily is documented on more than 400 photos, many of which grace the walls of the Auburn Veterinary School.
Joe credits Dr. Rebecca Funk, with the Department of Clinical Sciences at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University, with saving Packer’s life and Packer’s happily sired many more foals since that time.
Joe himself has given seminars at Auburn on proper harnessing and other aspects of Percheron and draft horse care.
Percherons’ history is a little cloudy, but they can be traced to the La Peche district of Normandy, developing from a local heavy Flemish breed. There was Arabian and Spanish blood introduced along the way.
According to the Percheron Canada website, Percherons were first imported to the United States in 1839. Following World War II the introduction of more modernized equipment almost made them extinct, but a handful of farmers, particularly the Amish, kept the breed alive.
Around the 1960s others began to see the importance of the big mellow horses and today they’re used on many small farms for farming, plowing, traveling and logging.
Joe has more plans for his farm and horses.
His attractive barn features a wide walkway and individual stalls for whatever animal is needing special attention.
But the large second floor is being outfitted to host family and school reunions, church groups, quilting bees and educational events aimed at showing folks just how important smaller family farms are to our nation.
He hopes to open the farm to small groups by this spring. Hour-long wagon rides through the area and farm will be a highlight and, if you’re extremely lucky, you may even get to see some of the huge horses cooling off as they gracefully swim ACROSS the farm’s five-acre lake!
(One person said they knew Joe was a man after their own heart when they learned he heated his home with WOOD but had installed central heat and air conditioning IN HIS BARN!)
Perhaps Joe’s Sunday morning activities can best illustrate what he wants to show about his farm and best documents the relationship he has with his animals.
His uncle, Ottis Massey, lives "just across the road."
Recently on a Sunday morning, Joe carried Uncle Ottis just "up the road" to the church he attends, with Mary elegantly pulling the wagon.
Since it was already 10 minutes til church time, Uncle Ottis was afraid he’d be late. But Joe calmly told Mary to trot and she set off at a brisk pace. As they started down the hill a little further down the road, Joe simply told Mary "I think you’d better slow to a walk," and Mary immediately obliged.
"She listens intently—they all listen to every word he says," Kim Sharpe Lewandowski, Joe’s girlfriend, explained. "Sometimes it seems they live their lives just to make him happy."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. You can reach her at www.suzysfarm.com.