What a Lippizzan!

When I first saw this photo, I knew I was in love with this Lipizzan stallion. I mean…what a looker! Plus his owner Sarah is an accomplished horsewoman and trainer.


I admit I was a little jealous looking at this photo and thought what a wonderful life M&M must have had since he was a little foal!

Boy oh boy was I living in my filter bubble. Seems like when I see incredible photos online, I assume that all is well in the course of that horse’s life. A total assumption on my part.

As I talked to Sarah about M&M, I was horrified to learn that he was kept in atrocious conditions until he was around 2 years old. He was part of a terrible case of large numbers of horse being neglected. Sarah adopted 67 of the horses.

Many of which had been locked inside a barn for years. It was hard for me to take it all in. The time, commitment, and resources it would take to care for all these horses was a huge undertaking. I was amazed that Sarah was able to do it!

Even though that event happened nine years ago, I could still hear the emotion in Sarah’s voice during our interview. This act of compassion and duty to those in distress is true courage.

Now on to M&M’s portrait…

When I began his portrait, I had no idea of the background story. From him, I felt a sense of red-hot fire! I knew I had to have a red background behind him.

On the left side of his cheekbone, there is a mountain range and an idyllic pasture. See if you can find it. To me this seems like M&M’s calm ‘in the zone’ side of his being. The colors that turn and go up towards his ear represent his alertness. When I stood back and looked at the linear brush strokes on his face, they reminded me of armor.

I loved the idea of the colors looking painted on the amour. I thought of war paint but I found that wasn’t exactly right. More like the layers to his personality and what he decides to show the world. On his neck the red/yellow combine and twist around into the more pink/purple tones. This shows that the fire is part of him but it doesn’t consume him.

Captured – Meet the Mustangs

I fell in love (again) with wild horses on a cold winter night in 2001. I rarely watch tv but for some reason I turned it on that night to pbs. I plopped down on my teal sofa as the stallion Cloud thundered across my screen.

Within seconds, I was hooked to this film that chronicled the life of Cloud in the mountains of Montana. Ginger Kathrens had been visiting his wild herd and recording life since his birth in 1995. It was incredible to see the social structure of the herds and the dynamic way the horses lived together.

I didn’t realize until later how special it was that the wild horses were still on public lands. Since the late 1800’s, wild horses were barbarically captured by ranchers, hunters, and ‘mustangers’. In 1950 one woman’s actions changed all that.

Her name was Velma Johnston. It all started when she was driving behind a truck with blood pouring down the side. She followed the truck to the slaughterhouse.

Velma saw first hand the mangled and injured horses in the truck and the whites of their terrified eyes as they waited at their final destination.

Their last stop was to be put into the new pet food industry’s cans just like the tens of thousands of mustangs that had already been fed to cats and dogs.

 Think about Velma in that moment. 

What could she do? It was 1950. She was 38. She was a secretary. She partially crippled by polio. Most people would have given up. I mean who was she to go up against the business of pet food and ranchers? She must have known that she had a voice no matter what the odds and that her voice mattered. She decided that the brutality had to stop but how?

She got the word out by mounting a grassroots letter writing campaign with mostly school children. The campaign became known as the “Pencil War.” Through determination and grit, she became the voice of the voiceless and her new identity as Wild Horse Annie was born.

Due to Wild Horse Annie and her supporters,The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 was passed.

The Act declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” Under the law, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages herds in their jurisdictions within areas where wild horses and burros were found roaming in 1971.

Sounds like it all ended well, right? Well…no. 

I wish I had a fairytale ending. Sorry.

Right now 35,000 wild horses have been rounded up by the BLM and are in holding facilities at a cost of $30 million a year. If you go on the BLM website, you’ll see that many of these horses are up for adoption. A very small percentage are adopted and most live their days in feedlot conditions. Not exactly a living symbol of the West.

There are a number of special interest groups at play. The welfare and future of these horses is once again in a precarious position. Starting with low flying helicopters to terrorize and stampede wild horses into trap pens to separating families to the toll of feedlot conditions, our wild horses once again are facing the inhumanity that Wild Horse Annie fought against for decades.

The Artwork – Captured

Before I created this artwork, I did a rough sketch of what I was thinking about. Raptor, helicopter, blood, resources, escape, tension and beauty came to mind.

The tension between man and nature has always been a subject of interest for me. That’s the reason I called this piece Captured.

As humans we have a drive to capture or own/control the natural world.

Part of that drive is important for our own survival but part of it is the desire to take away more than we really need to.

Where do we stop and what needs to be protected from our insatiable drive for more? How do we protect wild space and animals from our desire for resources? Can we even appreciate wildness (I ask myself this as I look out the window at a sad looking tree)?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Send me a email and check out several of the organizations that are working for wild horse freedom:

Is this Love? 97% of People Said Yes!

Love is such a simple word but it takes on so many kinds of love that it’s hard for me to think about describing it! I’m thinking about that deep soulful love that we have for our equine friends. It’s a special kind of love that is easier to feel than to say.

I think of: That split second of recognition when you lock eyes with your equine friend. The smiles all around when horses trot over to see you. Those moments of connection between two sentient beings of pure understanding and partnership. Taking a breath to watch a herd of horses graze and interact brings a calm serenity to your mind.

Is this a love that brings us closer connected to our true selves?

Meet Bravura

Recently, I had the pleasure of hanging out with another Lipizzan mare (Bravura). I wanted to photograph Bravura for her owner Stephanie. It turned into an experience that led me to create an artwork that embodied love, transcendence, and the ability to look back at life’s journey with the lightness of a feather.

Before I started the painting, I asked Bravura if she had a message. I usually get a visual image but this time I got much more than that. I scribbled down the following: 

There is a time and place to look back but only if you’re willing to carry with you the ability to fly with transcendent grace. An opening can always be found. The opening may be easy to find or not but it is there. You may need to look carefully and stand in stillness.

The colors you have earned provide powers to access light when the darkness creeps in. Your colors can be illuminated to remind you of love, worth, and expression. All you need is to allow the opening to be felt or seen.

The energy of hoof, heart, and flight gives you the ability to feel deeply while being grounded to the earth and at the same time soaring above the expected. When you feel doubt, do nothing. Stand on your hooves and feel your connection to the ground.

Be willing to move fast. Flight is your friend. You are well equipped to live between the contrasting worlds of earth bound and flight. When you feel flow move with it. Don’t fight it, give in.