The artist trope is real; some of my favorite paintings are born from tragedies. I can thank this mare for so many lessons. She was one of the horses that brought me back to the saddle after taking a break in college. I've been a competitive equestrian all my life, preceded by a long lineage of female equestrians in my family. Riding is in my blood and has always been. When people ask me how long I've been riding, I can confidently reply "since before I was born". My mother rode rode through most of her pregnancy and after the soonest possible opportunity, I was out at the barn with her. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
When I went to college, I took a break from riding. I wasn't in the headspace to juggle a full class load, working 2 jobs and riding as well. I guess I needed the break. There's something about stepping away that helps you realize how much you need something. When I initially came back to riding, it felt casual and almost accidental. I was helping around the barn that my mom attended and although I had ridden with her trainer a couple times, it wasn't a regular occurrence. The trainer casually asked me if I would be interested in trading work for hopping on some horses and taking a few lessons here and there. Like I mentioned before, it felt casual. Of course, I said yes. It's memories like this that feel so unceremonious in their moment. What I didn't realize what was happening is that I was coming home.
At this time, I was in my early 20's and I was an angry, anxious, know-it-all, s***head. I was angry about everything. I was impatient. I was quick to retort. I was cocky. You know, what you'd probably expect of a burnt-out, overzealous, overachieving Capricorn who felt like they already had it all under control. I'm so grateful for all the grace and patience that my trainer gave me (and still gives me!). It might sound like I'm harping on myself too much here but there's a point. This attitude followed me everywhere. It was present in all of my relationships, my work, my hobbies, my school work, my art, everything.
For those who aren't familiar with horseback riding, especially Dressage... it's one of the most humbling sports you'll ever experience... and so is painting.
Dressage is the pursuit of perfection and leaves very little room for ego. Like ballerinas, this act should look effortless, breathtaking and simple. My amazing trainer, Colleen Reid, will often make the comparison to a duck "floating" on the water. All we see if the peaceful, quiet duck simply floating along without a concern in the world. Underneath the water, the little duck is kicking, flapping and working away to keep moving but you'd never know how much work is taking place. Our job is to make this sport look easy... and it's the hardest thing I've ever done. Painting is no different. Audiences will watch a painter make a few, concise brush strokes here and there and all of a sudden, something beautifully recognizable appears on the canvas. Horses and painting, more times than not, offer the perfect allegories for life. The forethought, the training, the commitment, the obsession and the resilience to keep pushing forward is the same.
This has become one of my favorite pieces I've painted. Amaryllis (Mary) was a special gal in every sense of the word. She was a great teacher and she made all of us better riders. I struggled with this portrait a lot in the beginning because she had a very particular expression which was challenging to capture. I repainted her... probably 5 times. She went through a ton of evolution in this portrait. Every new painting I take on, teaches me something new and that growing pain is not always easy to lean into. Riding is very similar. The growth is not at all linear or consistent. Sometimes progress looks and feels like quite the opposite and it's hard to appreciate how far you've come until you're miles away from the outcome. Usually when I finish a piece, I feel very unsettled. It's hard to know when to stop because, after all, a painting *can* never be "done". Upon "completion" I usually have to not look at it for months. Sometimes stepping away, like I did with my riding, is the only way to appreciate the work that's been done.
Mary gave all of us little gifts. She was one of the horses who brought me back to the sport that shaped my life. She helped ingrain me into the barn that became my family and still is! She helped deepen the relationship I have with my incredible trainer who is also a dear friend. She humbled me, gave me confidence, taught me lessons and humbled me again. It was an honor to work on her portrait after her passing. These horses are so much more than just animals; they're our partners and our family. Thank you Dana for giving me such special time with her. Thank you Colleen for all your love, support and encouragement in my riding, painting and in life. And Mary, until we see you again, thank you for all you gave us.