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Spirit ~ The Art of Story

Cara and Spirit in 2023 - Kim McElroy photo

When I meet with a client to learn more about their life with their horse soulmate to create their Soul essence portrait, it is an intriguing interview. I feel like a detective, piecing together someone's past to uncover the clues of how horses helped them become who they are.

The type of people who seek out my art are of an ilk that understands there are many layers of how their horse has influenced them. My job as an artist is to take what is spoken, and what is unspoken, and weave it together into a vision that conveys the big picture of how their souls entwine.

When I met with Cara and Spirit to begin the conversations about Spirit's portrait, I was delighted and touched to discover how much thought Cara had already put into the process. In preparation for our conversation, she had compiled all her photos from the years she had shared with Spirit, and she had written a story about how horses, and Spirit, have informed her life's path. She would say that this was to avoid crying all through the conversation, not because she has lost Spirit, but because she found her, and the having of her is such a blessing that the only way she could define it was to put it into words, and commission me to create a painting.

The profound bond between humans and horses is a timeless tale that has captivated hearts for centuries. For Cara, the transformative power of horses was more than just a passion – it was a catalyst that altered the very course of her life. With her permission, I share her heartfelt words and her feelings about how my art was able to give her a tangible expression of that bond,

It was an honor to be entrusted with capturing the essence of Spirit in her portrait, which not only preserves the experiences of their extraordinary connection but also provides a tangible reflection of Cara's inner world. My Soul Essence portraits don't just convey the horse's essence, but also the persons. Join me as we delve into how a love story becomes a work of art. Their story is our story; a testament to the life-changing impact of horses in our lives, and the transcendent power of art to express the deepest corners of our hearts.

Cara’s Story ~ “My Spirit from Heaven”

Cara and Spirit 1/1/2000

When admirers of my mare Spirit ask me, “Where did you get her?” I size them up to discern whether they can handle the truth, then laugh, “Are you sure you want to know?” The commonly accepted terminology is, “I bred this horse.” But there is no way I can claim that. 

Spirit is a gift from The Creator, a dream I would never have consciously dared allow myself, incarnate as a palomino filly – and the same shade of gold that my childhood mare Julie had been! She arrived like miracles do – out of the blue - at a time when I was struggling and in need of encouragement.

Now, 25 years later, thanks to Kim McElroy, Spirit and I are enjoying yet another miracle – her stunning portrait. What an amazing adventure this co-creation has been! Kim is kind, genuine, and her love flows freely, creating beautiful art for her clients, and for me, a spiritual experience as well.

Sharing Stories

It was challenging – I had to dig deep to express to Kim why Spirit is so important to me. Going through Spirit’s baby pictures and remembering her beautiful mother Brooke, and all the synchronicities that brought them into my life stirred up so much emotion that I prepared for Kim’s visit to meet Spirit in person by buying extra tubes of waterproof mascara!

Spirit filly flying free

Kim asked me about my horse, and listened deeply as I shared my stories about Spirit and the important elements and symbols that I felt belonged in the portrait. Later, she meditated with Spirit, and Brooke, seeking their input to better understand the relationship we have shared and their soul’s purpose in being with me. Kim clearly cared not only about my story but also about what was important to my horses. She deftly wove every detail into a work of beauty and meaning.

Spirit as a yearling

Reference photo of Spirit in the light of the sunset

The Field of Daffodils

Daffodils - A memory of Julie's gift, at Connected Hearts Farm

The field of daffodils commemorates the defining experience of my life – a spontaneous runaway ride my first horse Julie gave me when I was 8 years old.

It was a crisp windy day in March. I was not yet allowed to ride by myself, so my father walked beside Julie as she carried me along the dirt road at the edge of a huge meadow of naturalized daffodils.

It happened so fast. Julie’s step quickened, not quite a prance. I thought nothing of it. Then she squatted and leaped forward with a thrust like I had never felt! “She’s running away! I should be scared!” There was no time for that. I grabbed her mane, crouched on her neck and rode! My skinny-kid legs moved in sync with Julie’s bare back and her white mane whipped my face. As Julie felt my balance stabilize she stretched out flat and ran! Pounding hooves and swishing grass! Flying together as One! It was incredible! And the best part was, I wasn’t scared! I was having fun! Julie wasn’t running away – she was giving me a joyride!

I saw my dad way across the meadow, jumping around, arms flailing, feet stomping. He looked so funny I laughed. The dictator of my life was just a caricature – an impotent stick figure.

Julie flew me all the way around the meadow. She circled back to my father, slowed to a walk as she approached, and stopped beside him, safely delivering me back to the enraged tyrant. She stood quietly, flanks heaving. Dad grabbed my leg, yanked me off her back, and tossed me to the ground. My soul shattered as I witnessed the beating Julie took for her insubordination. The swirling wind carried the shards away.

Julie was a trustworthy mare who took good care of me. What she did seemed out of character. But now I understand and am awed by her gift. It’s said that everything in life boils down to either love or fear. Love is more powerful. I have proof this is true. The breathtaking moments of freedom, fearlessness, and flight, that Julie gave freely are touchstones of love that I rely on in my quest to reassemble the fragments of my soul. The magnitude and implications of that leave me awestruck.

The Symbols

Cara's Symbolic jewelry

I found the Celtic symbol that I adopted as the logo for my farm (Connected Hearts Farm) years ago in a catalog. I knew it represented eternity and unbreakable connections between loving hearts, but what Kim discovered makes it even better! It’s called The Celtic Sister’s Knot. A triple spiral woven within a heart, symbolizing the three stages of woman: maid, mother, and wise woman. I have a strong preference for mares and so far there have been seven. Julie was my first, followed by two equally special mares, and Spirit is one of three sisters Brooke blessed me with. Julie accompanied me through my maid stage, Brooke embodied motherhood, and Spirit and her sisters are escorting me into more wisdom. In the artwork that Kim created, I love how she placed the mature wise Spirit in the foreground looking back toward herself as a yearling running through the daffodils towards her..

Cara's photo of a sunrise

I love to fly, metaphorically and physically. Horses are my favorite kind of flight, but I fly airplanes as well. Special friends gave me a sterling Pegasus necklace to celebrate my first pilot’s license, “Because you love flying and horses.” Kim found a photo I had taken of a sunrise and placed the running Spirit in the center of it - the rays would be her wings!

Kim's sketch concept for Spirit's Soul Essence portrait

The Title

When Kim asked me about the title the answer was easy. Each night when settle my horses in I kiss Spirit and whisper, “I love you My Spirit From Heaven.” Kim decided that the title would be obtrusive on the art, so she had the wonderful idea to make it a separate creation written in the clouds, and embedded into the mat in a perfect miniature work of art.

Close up of framed portrait title

"My Spirit from Heaven"

"My Spirit from Heaven" pastel portrait by Kim McElroy

Another ah ha moment

The story gets even better! The Universe gave me a mind-blowing gift when we framed Spirit’s portrait. I can’t believe I didn’t notice this when Kim and I were at the frame shop…we spent hours there. When I got home I read the label on the protective wrapping, “Julie’s Frame Shop.”  Julie! The gold mare that shared her horsepower with me in the daffodils! I stared at the label. Comprehension glimmered and sobs began to surge. Julie is still with me! I’m not making it up! The heart connections I feel with my horses are real!

Spirit is pleased with all of this. She studied her portrait carefully when I brought it home to her. There’s a little more sparkle In her eye, and extra bounce in her trot. She glows like one who feels acknowledged and appreciated. I promise her she is.

I sip coffee and gaze at Spirit’s portrait every morning after I feed her. I marvel at the insights it evokes. Sometimes I cry. I am at another crossroad phase of my life, struggling and in need of encouragement, interestingly like the time when Spirit was born. This time though, I have confidence in my intuition and the wisdom born of experience. All the fragments of my soul are reunited in my physical body now. I know it’s going to be wonderful. Now I know for sure that I’m not alone. My Spirit from Heaven and her sisters are always with me, and I am Horse-empowered!

170 views4 comments


What a lovely story about a beautiful mare with an equally beautiful name! Darrell, I love your post!

It seems especially significant to me that this story is published just after I’ve told Kim about my own experience of becoming an artist and the wonderful thing that happened as a result. I’ve had two Spirits in my life, one many years ago and one who is with me now. Both, I am sure, were sent by God.

Being new here, I’m not sure what to do. I’ve started to write about my two beloved Spirits, but though I’ve tried very hard to be brief (and I’m a published writer with lots of practice at that) the story has grown too…


Oh , my---my heart skipped more than a few beats seeing Spirit--such and incredible beauty! This is such an amazing story and Cara describes you perfectly, Kim...of course it was Julie's Frame Shop. God is in the details!


What a beautiful and eloquent story, than you for sharing this Kim. I find some connections here in that my mother's name was Cara, meaning dear one. And the name Spirit (from Heaven) would be a synonym for the Almighty ONE. I am blessed to be caretaker, keeper, steward to a very unique palomino mare that has been with me, along with her mother, since she was a six week old nursling. My beloved Mariah turned 21 this past June. What makes this even more poignant is that I had to have another of my beloved equine companions/partners euthanized just some 2 weeks ago. I believe all this is what can be referred to as synchrony. I am bles…

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I am so touched by your message and I shared it with Cara too. It was very uplifting for her to read it.

My deep condolences for your loss of your beloved horse. Even when it is a release for them, it is a struggle for us. Yet time and again I only sense peace from them. I once had an animal communicator tell me that to the horse's spirits she had communicated with, that a death of their choosing (by way of us ending their suffering and letting us know or the necessity of a choice) was the most precious of healing experiences for them, as healing as any they have had during their lifetime.

It is always so…

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