Back in “the holler”
By Vaughn Wilson – Submitted by Joe Camp
It was an unseasonably cool spring afternoon; the sun was just dipping behind the western slopes as I drove down the narrow winding driveway that led to Joe Camp’s secluded Tennessee farmhouse. As I rounded the bend by the old barn, I spotted Joe and Kathleen sitting in the corral. They waved me over. We exchanged handshakes and hugs and I took a seat in the chair between them as Joe fed Saffron, the BLM mustang they had adopted just a few weeks earlier. She came to them as a pregnant mare who was supposed to foal in May, but apparently she didn’t get the memo. Three days after arriving at her new Tennessee home in March, she surprised Joe and Kathleen with a brand new baby girl which they named Firestorm…Stormy for short.
Stormy was all over us as Saffron took hay from Joe’s hand. Stormy nibbled at the pieces of hay that her mama dropped on my knee, and then she turned away for a butt rub. I couldn’t help but think back three years before to that e-mail from Joe with those awful words “Malachi’s dead”. That’s all it said. Noelle and Malachi were the first attempt at the wild mustang foaling experiment while Joe and Kathleen were still in California. A freak accident put an end to that and broke Joe’s heart. I wasn’t sure he would get over that experience, but here we were with a new baby and a new start.
Kathleen said, “You know where your room is”, and having visited before I climbed the stairs of the two story house and took the room on the right. Benji followed close behind.
Joe’s house sits in a three sided bowl of sorts. On three sides, everything is almost straight up. Early in the morning those hills are alive with life. The horses share their slanted pastures with deer and turkeys while groundhogs wander around the barn. I’m an early riser so I sat in a rocker drinking my coffee and watched the age-old spring ritual as two male rabbits “danced” with each other over the affections of a female. You couldn’t call it fighting because all they did was jump back and forth over each other’s backs. This went on for quite some time. All the while, Kathleen’s big fat cat kept eyeing my lap like she thought it would be a good place for a nap. Nope.
Kathleen headed off to school, and I joined Joe at the barn for his morning session with Saffron and Stormy. It was a very cool morning…and windy. The horses were smelling things that we could not understand…things that millions of years of evolution have honed their instincts to be ready to run at the slightest sound or movement.
Joe said, “I’ll work with her a little later”, and he went off to feed the rest of the horses.
You’ve heard their names: Cash, Mouse, Mariah, Pocket….
I consider myself lucky that I’ve been able to become a part of Joe Camp’s world. He’s a very successful movie director/producer, author and a great friend with a passion for horses and people. We traveled completely different paths in getting to our destinations in the world of horses, but we’ve ended up with some of the same conclusions. My journey started very early in life doing things “the way it had always been done just because that’s the way it’s always been done”. After many years of observing horses and having them tell me “we prefer it this way”, I changed my ideas over time. Joe, on the other hand, came into the horse world rather late in life, knowing virtually nothing. He immediately started asking questions. The conclusions he has drawn from his questions will lead to better lives for horses all over the world. I know my horses are better off for the decisions I’ve made on their behalf. Joe and I think alike about a lot of things…not everything, but most things. We’re getting there.
My biggest regret is that it took me almost 60 years to find Joe Camp.
Vaughn Wilson is the author of the splendid and beautiful book: Tell Me About that Horse, chock full of warm stories, beautiful photographs and oil paintings by Vaughn.