“To see her is to love her, And love but her forever, For Nature made her what she is.” ~ Robert Barns
“Good Morning” Prints Available at www.spiritofhorse.com
As my friend and I drove into the small town of Dubois, Wyoming, I thought for a moment on the path that had brought me here. She had invited me to join her on a trip to a guest ranch called Bitterroot Ranch. I was looking forward to the adventure, and though I’m not an avid rider, I do love horses, and given my profession as an equine artist I thought the environment would give me an unparalleled opportunity to photograph horses in beautiful, natural surroundings. I had no way of knowing the blessings the horses themselves would bestow on me.
From the first, I had noticed a large, pregnant Percheron Mare pastured with the ranch’s smaller Arabian mares near our cabin. The foreman explained that the owners had bought her to breed to their Arabian stallion to raise some larger horses to be ridden by larger guests. When I asked if I could approach her, he warned that she was unpredictable and afraid of people.
The Arabian mares had foaled several weeks before, and despite the company of the other mares, the Percheron mare seemed lonely and kept to herself. I watched her and wished I could befriend her, but she avoided me when I approached. Nevertheless, I waited each day, hoping I would witness her new foal being born.
On the morning before the day I was scheduled to leave, I was awakened at 6 am by magpies screeching out my window. Irritated at first at the abrupt awakening, I tried to go back to sleep, but I realized in my half consciousness that I had been dreaming of the mare foaling. As my conscious mind registered the dreams, I suddenly knew I had to see the mare. I hoped that the magpies were the messengers of the foal’s arrival. I jumped out of bed and stuffed my bare feet into my boots, threw a jacket over my sweats, grabbed my camera, and hurried to the nearby pasture.
The day had dawned unseasonably cold and the air was filled with the insistent drizzle of rain. Through the dim, grey light I could make out a tiny form laying next to the huge mare. I got as close as I dared until I could make out the newborn filly. The mare rose to her feet with effort and stood over the foal, protecting her from the other mare’s curious inspections. I wanted to wrap the shivering filly in my jacket, but I respectfully kept my distance. I was captivated by the opportunity to witness the precious miracle of her new life. I named her secretly, “Rain”.
I watched for an hour until Rain wobbled to her feet and safely nursed. Watching the mare and foal was a rare experience akin to witnessing a wild mare and her foal. No other human intruded for those precious two hours. The rain and mist surrounded us in a blanket of mystery, and all awareness of the mundane human world disappeared.
I finally had to heed the protests of my numbed hands and feet, so I returned to my cabin. At breakfast, I announced the arrival of the foal. The hosts and the guests took this news in stride – but they seemed practical about the event and I knew they didn’t view the experience as miraculous as I had.
Later that morning the sun came out and I went again to the pasture. By now the filly was tottering around inspecting her new world. I approached gradually, stopping at any sign of tension from the mare. Amazingly, she allowed me to approach and to tentatively touch the filly. Rain looked at me curiously; ready to jump if I should do anything unexpected. Once she discovered that fingers were good for her itchy coat, she leaned into my vigorous scratches. I reveled in the awareness that I was the first human to make contact with her, and I hoped that it would be a positive beginning to her new life.
I continued watching and taking pictures as the mare repeatedly nuzzled Rain. I could see in my mind’s eye the way I wanted to compose a painting to capture my feelings for them. Moments later the mare and filly touched noses exactly as I had imagined, as if they responded perfectly to my silent choreography.
When I said goodbye to them the next day, I told them someday I hoped to return, to see them again.
Months later, when I began to compose the painting of the two horses, I recalled the magical morning. The photograph was overexposed, but I remembered well the dim grey and muted green of the pasture and sky. As I laid down the layers of colored chalk, I added a hint of the heather rose of the Wyoming hills and blended the colors diagonally in my characteristic style. After the background was complete, I put myself in the present time, with them in the pasture again. The mare’s mane is tangled and unkempt, wet with the morning’s rain. Her eyes are soft, with a glimmer of joy in their depths. One ear turns down toward the filly while the other listens carefully for any disturbance nearby. Her nose is pressed against the filly’s in the intimate exchange of breath of a loving horse greeting. Rain is still for a moment, returning the greeting, she lowers her long lashes and lays her ears back in an expression of concentration. The memories of those moments, recreated themselves in front of my eyes, through my hands, in the timeless mystery of the process of creation.
In the process of creating the painting, I became so intimately familiar with the horses, that I felt as if they were my own. Though they belong to other people, they shared a special part of themselves with me. I will always cherish the privilege of witnessing Rain’s new life, and the gift of the mare’s silent trust.
When I later shared a photograph of the painting with the ranch owners, and told them of the name I had chosen for the filly, they decided to name the filly Rain. Since then, the mare has also had another filly whom they named Cloud.