Tonight I want to talk about horses. I talk a lot about art and music and such, but almost never do I really sit down and talk about the animal itself. Which, considering that Equus Caballas makes up such a big part of my life, is pretty strange.
I've been riding them for years. Drawing and writing about them for longer, reading and dreaming about them for longer still. To this day, I have no idea why. There are no horsey people in my family. My aunt loved horses as a little girl, but to my knowledge she never interacted with them outside of books and drawing pads. In fact, I don't know if either of my parents have ever even sat on a horse! And yet...
Books- Golden Sovereign, the book whose title I can't remember about the British Horse Society students (if anyone happens to know, I'd love to get a copy of it! Character's name was Diana (?), she was American and her horse's name was Cornish Pastry), The Black Stallion, Black Beauty- and movies - The Black Stallion Returns (one of my favorites to this day), The Last Unicorn (another favorite). Breyer horses, My Little Ponies - all of it from an early age. And then I started out writing my own stories and illustrating my own covers. "Fair Lady - A Show Jumper" is one I remember. Always English, always with polo wraps on - even though I never even sat in an English saddle until 3rd or 4th grade for one half hour lesson.
I do have one early memory of my parents taking me to a horse show. It must have been some hunter/ jumper thing, and I must have been sitting near the in gate to the ring, because I clearly remember being fascinated and awed by these huge hooves that kept flying past me. To my young mind, their feet were enormous, and the idea that those huge animals could fly with such grace was entrancing.
Today, much of my life revolves around horses. I am passionate about the sport and the animal, and thankfully happen to be fairly good at drawing and painting it. I've been riding on and off for the past 20 years, and individual horses act as pillars and monuments on my walk down memory lane. Beau, Dudley, Kissy, Sandman, Target, Sonny, Brother E, Love, Magic, Hal, Fouret, Zee, Maggie, Danny. And now, Hottie and Frankie. All are special. All have taught me things about riding and about life in general. Some have brought sorrow (Empire, Go For Wand), some have taught me kindness (Beau, Dudley, Hottie). Some have taught me beauty and grace (Zee, Frankie). I've always known what I've loved- big, massive horses with feet like dinner plates and legs like telephone poles. Huge springy gaits and a trot that vaults you out of the saddle. Quickness and a fiery temperament. And the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
And always, always there have been thoroughbreds. Sure, I can drool over a Hanovarian or a warmblood with the best of them, but in my amateur and professional career I've photographed thousands of horses (and observed thousands more) and for me, the Thoroughbred is it. Add the rescue bit into the equation, along with their innate grace, beauty and athleticism, and I'm an OTTB (off the track Thoroughbred) fan for life.
My two guys right now are a study in opposites. One is a loveable, kind and moderately athletic Appaloosa (an Appy, for God's sake- the people back at the barn where I learned to ride would shoot me on the spot) and the other is a giant, leggy freakazoid of a Thoroughbred. They have different temperaments, different rides under saddle, different preferences and issues and dislikes, just like people. But they both greet me the same way, with that deep rumble "heh heh heh" that means I'm their special person. And the realization strikes me anew, that only a strip of leather is between me and this enormously powerful, sensitive, emotional and emotive animal, and that they accept that, respect it and me, and are willing to go along with me, based not on fear or overpowering (yeah right) but by respect and (dare I say it?) even love.
And that is why I paint and draw what I do. And that's why I hang out at the warmup rings and the barns at shows. Because what gets me, what fascinates me and humbles me and enthralls me and gladdens me and sustains me and drives me is that partnership. The great unspoken connection that impels a horse to willingly turn in 10 meter circles, trot in place, run like the wind, gallop headlong into water, and jump a 5' fence.
That's the beauty of horses.
Me- second grade (?) My father's friend owned a couple of Tennessee Walkers. I was allowed to wander around on "Yankee Doodle Dandy" for almost an hour- the very first time I had ever been on a horse outside of a petting zoo.
The first horse. Beau was an ancient Cleveland Bay and a wonderful school horse. Through the barn's JI (Junior Instructor) program, I was able to treat Beau as "my" horse and learned how to do everything from wrap polos to treat colic. I cried for weeks when I left. When I came home several years later on a visit from college, I stopped by what used to be my old barn. It was under new management, but Beau was still in his stall, as unflappable and solid as ever. The new owners promised that they would care for him for the rest of his life.
Sandman- a Saddlebred who could jump the moon.
My friend's horse Sonny.
6th grade at Outdoor Ed. I have no idea who the horse was, or who he belonged to, but I was the only one who would go up and touch him. Sweet Belgian.