Written by Stephanie Burroughs, OFN Contributor
Growing up in the hallowed hills of Kentucky horse country, Joyce Graening was indoctrinated into the horse culture early. Joyce vowed that as soon as she could, she'd have as many horses as possible. When the time came, Joyce fulfilled that dream, though not with the high strung Thoroughbreds she grew up around. Instead, Joyce opted for the steady and versatile Missouri Fox Trotter. After years living just outside of Fayetteville on 15 acres, the Graening's decided to make the move to the 120 acres they owned just outside of Prairie Grove. “They were about to annex us into Fayetteville and we needed more pasture. I had more horses than I had brains,” she joked. “We thought it would take awhile for the house to sell, but it only took two months. The people who bought the house wanted in quickly, so we had to scramble and lived in a travel trailer while our stable and living quarters were completed. There was nothing here; we had to put the road in and everything. We lived in the stable until our house was completed.” Following the willowy, retired professor of Kinesiology around her large stable, you get a feel for why she loves the Missouri Foxtrotter so. The photos that line the walls showcase the versatility of Joyce's horses. In one photo a beautiful dappled grey is shown in Western Pleasure, in the photo beside it the same horse is shown being ridden in a sidesaddle competition, while yet another photo shows the horse in the English class. Joyce currently has 18 Fox Trotters and a BLM mustang in her stable. Comanche, the mustang is the “babysitter” of the group. “Comanche is very smart, and when I wean babies, I just turn them out with him.” Joyce and her husband Jay, a retired professor of mathematics who taught at the University of Arkansas for 33 years, describe the farm as their retirement exercise plan. Between the horses, the 60 or so head of Limousin mixed cattle, and the assorted dogs that they are always taking in, life on the farm isn't exactly the picture of a laid back retirement.
Having been a professor for 32 years, teaching is ingrained in Joyce. Joyce, serves as the Vice President of the Missouri Fox Trotters Breed Association's Board of Directors. Joyce's natural urge to give knowledge and her enthusiasm for the breed are evident when she speaks about her decision to raise and show Fox Trotters.
"I had a friend who got an abused Fox Trotter, and I ended up with her. We decided to raise a baby out of her. Our friend was training Fox Trotters in Elkins, and he took that first foal and showed her at halter and won the National Championship. That got me really interested in raising the babies. I just loved their disposition more than the Walking horses and I thought the gait was nicer, so we went exclusively to Fox Trotters. I've been raising Fox Trotter babies since 1986.”
Like most horse lovers, the current market trends have affected Joyce. “I've raised anywhere from one to five a year. When I first started I'd raise four or five a year. That was back when the horse market was better. I also have a hard time selling my babies; I just collect them, that's why I have so many. So I haven't raised any the last two years.” Just because she isn't currently raising babies, that hasn't slowed Joyce down. “I've got a few horses with a trainer in Springfield, Mo., that are getting ready to go to the three year old futurity which is one of the breed association’s big shows in June.”
The Fox Trotter is expanding its audience and its use, and Joyce wants to share that with the public. “Eighty percent of our members are trail riders. They're not show people. They just like to enjoy their horses. Fox trotters are getting really big in endurance races. A number of people take them elk and deer hunting. I had a guy from south Arkansas who bought a horse from me for field trials. The gait of the Fox Trotter is also perfect for therapy, since it mimics, in the hips of the patient, the feel of walking. ”
Whether it’s working on the Fox Trotter Journal or putting together a show, Joyce Graening will always find a way to continue giving through education.
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