Heaven and Earth, pastel by Kim McElroy
Due to the demand for my commissioned art portraits of horses, some people have had to patiently wait years for their turn on my waiting list. Yet it is always amazing to me how the timing of each portrait seems destined to be optimum for each person.
A few years ago I met a lovely woman, Terri at the Equine Affaire in Ohio. Terri wrote me later that year with the sad news that her horse Manchy had been killed in a tragic trailer accident. She wrote me an email expressing her deep loss, and explained that I was one of the few people in her life who understood her relationship with her horse.
“Manchy was my life for the past 9 years. It was that horse that saw me through excruciatingly painful times especially the death of my mother. Because he lived on my boyfriend’s farm, I could play with him and talk to him at all hours of the day and night. Our relationship went far beyond riding. I could go in field in the middle of the night and just be with him. I could get on his back with no saddle or bridle and feel he would take care of me. I spend countless hours just sitting in the field with him and talking to him and petting him. You are one of the few people who will\understand the intensity of the anguish that I am feeling. Also, can you give me some information regarding your commissioned portraits…”
I put Terri’s name on my waiting list, and sent her some inspirational websites and the poem about the Rainbow Bridge which she had been looking for.
Shortly after that, Terri met a new horse, Tehya, a two-year old paint gelding. He was unbroken, and she expressed some concerns about her fear of riding. She said that she was working through her fears with him on the ground and was a student of natural horsemanship, and she hoped that she and Tehya could get through their challenges. Most importantly she felt connected to him at a spiritual level, and trust was something she hoped could build in time. As their relationship built she decided she wanted to include him in the portrait with Manchy.
Several years passed as Terri patiently waited for her portrait. She continued to take photographs of Tehya as he matured. When the time for the portrait did arrive we had the perfect photos, the right inspirations, and most importantly, Terri’s relationship with Tehya had grown from a bond into love.
Tehya has become such a sweet, precious (the name Tehya is native American for “precious”) companion. He has taught me much on facing and overcoming fear and the beautiful connection of merging my soul with his. I may have mentioned to you before, that after Manchy died, I developed a fear of riding. Last year at this time I was only able to just sit on Tehya in a round pen. I was even cautious when I was petting him, fearing that he might kick. It has taken 3 1/2 years but, I was able to take this 2 year old green broke horse and develop a bond with him. We have spent many hours together both on the ground and in the saddle working on one small goal at a time so that our confidence in each other would grow so that he could become a trail horse that I can feel safe with to explore the beauty of the woods, fields and lake where we live. I now know in my heart that when he reached out to me at an auction, two weeks after Manchy was killed, that this beautiful horse was destined to come into my life for a reason. It has been a slow process of learning to trust each other. He has also taught me the importance of breathing, relaxing and centering to feel the natural movement of the horse so that horse and rider almost become one entity. I can really feel Manchy’s spirit, particularly, when we are deep in the woods.
Even though I had yet to plan the composition of her portrait, these feelings were there, silently waiting, in the place where my artistic inspirations and intuitions are stored.
When her turn finally arrived, we worked closely together to capture her hopes and ideas, Terri loved the skies I’ve portrayed in some of my paintings, and she asked if Manchy could be in the clouds overlooking her and Tehya. We worked closely together to create a composition of the right photos that would capture her feelings. She had only had a few photos of Manchy – and she wanted to see his back so she could remember the comforting feeling of climbing onto him.
When the painting was completed, I considered what it should be called. It seemed, beyond the names of the horses, it had become a journey of faith and love that others could understand upon viewing it. Terri was open to my thoughts, so I decided to call it, “Heaven and Earth”.
When I shipped Terri the completed painting via Fed Ex, it arrived Friday, a day earlier than the expected arrival date. The delivery was attempted but she was unavailable. I was disappointed for her because it felt strange to have her beautiful painting sitting inaccessible in a nearby warehouse waiting for Monday. I tried to get hold of her as I anxiously watched the progression of delivery status on the computer. I called her, and she told me an amazing story. She had heard the doorbell ring, but she was on a business call that she couldn’t interrupt, and she wasn’t expecting the package so she thought the caller was a salesman. An hour later when she saw the delivery notice on the door, she was overwhelmed with emotion and immediately called Federal Express to try to retrieve the package. She tearfully told the woman operator how important the package was to her, and said it was a portrait of her horse who had died. The operator said quietly, “I understand how you feel, my horse just died 2 months ago”. They both began to cry and Terri told her about my art, and gave her my website address, encouraging her to seek me out. The operator promised that she would do everything she could to get the package delivered. Terri hung up, amazed at the coincidence that of all the people she would reach at Fed Ex – was a woman who understood her emotions and who herself needed a ray of sunshine. Shortly after that, the courier arrived with her package! Terri opened the door, crying, thinking the driver must believe she was crazy, as she urged him to handle it carefully, and frantically signed the delivery receipt. She shut the door, and waited. Her emotions were so intense she wanted her daughter, Alaina to be there when she opened the package.
When she did open it, she sat in stunned amazement as she and Alaina beheld the beautiful work of art. She didn’t have the words for how she felt, but she later expressed them to me. Over the next few days, this is what she wrote:
First, she wrote a letter to her new horse, Tehya,
My baby horse, the portrait of you and Manchy came last night. It is magnificent. Kim painted you so real, it’s as if I can reach out and touch you. And Manchy’s presence, my beautiful, loving companion, watching over us. What a victory of love. There can only be love when there is no fear. Fear of riding, fear of being hurt, fear of death – all vanishes in the all encompassing glow of love. My winged messenger will be waiting for me as I cross over to the verdant meadows of the other side, but for now, you, my loving companion, will teach me trust, how to love again and how to champion my fears. What more precious (Tehya) gift can any creature impart. ~ Terri
Then she wrote to me:
Already this portrait has provided me with so much peace and joy. Tehya and I went on a 2 hour trail ride on Sunday and if I shut my eyes I could feel Manchy’s spirit there with us even more strongly than before. Because I was relaxed, so was he and it was the best trail ride we ever had together. I finally started to relax and trust him to keep me safe. It just seems as if a sense of calm and peace has come over me since I’ve had the portrait. Each time I look at it I feel something differently. I begin to notice thesmallest of details and savor the joy that I find in them. I find myself much calmer around all of the horses, especially Tehya. The portrait just brings Manchy’s spirit so much more tangible than before. This calmness carried over to our 2 rescue horses who needed their hooves trimmed. Dalton, our rescued saddlebred, who was severely abused, is usually unmanageable during hoof trimming. Today for the first time, he put his muzzle under my arm and licked me while he was getting his hooves trimmed.
I am constantly reminded of the power of art to open our hearts to love and healing, and Terri’s story has shown that it is in opening and expressing our own hearts, that our horses can also heal theirs. I am so grateful to be a part of these magical journeys.