Wednesday, December 14, 2011

children and those sad sad horse stories

I put up a post on my other site and realised it was maybe more appropriate for this one:

cafe exhibit

Have taken some horses out for a breath of fresh air. They're hanging at Piccolo Meccanico, Diamond Creek. I think they're much happier there. Only one of them was out at home (the chestnut). And I think it was lucky I took him off our wall when I did - the nail had been steadily working free and would no doubt have fallen in the early hours and woken the baby. Nothing like a horse falling off the wall to wake a baby...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

cat drawing

My little one is sleeping next to me, so I grabbed the opportunity for a drawing. Just need to keep the Blue Lake watercolour paper within arms reach at all times!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

new drawings

I've been enjoying watching the Melbourne Cup, but haven't quite got around to doing any racehorse sketches. Here are some non race related ones from today. Click to see them closer. The second one is on lovely hand-pressed watercolour paper.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 2: Brumby

The brumby is Australia’s wild (or, more properly, feral) horse. Brumbies exist throughout the Australian mainland, from the harsh terrain of the outback to the magnificent high country of south eastern Australia. They have any number of influences from thoroughbred, stockhorse and Arabian to Percheron and Clydestale – depending on which horses have either escaped or been deliberately released into the wild in their area. We met a brumby undergoing retraining with natural horseman Eric Godward. It was the most alert and watchful horse I have ever seen. No wonder – it had a clean bullet hole straight through one ear!

I have wonderful memories of reading The Silver Brumby, by Elyne Mitchell, first published in the 1950s. The Man From Snowy River (based on the Banjo Patterson poem) was a favourite childhood film, not so much for the storyline, but for the beautiful shots of horses and riders moving through the high country. The involvement of the Lovick family in the horse sequences added an authenticity to the depiction of the high country and ensured some incredible riding scenes. I always got a bit of a tear in my eye when all the riders pull up after the brumbies plunge down a steep slope, and well … you’ll just have to watch it. It still remains absolutely spectacular and I’ve included a link below – including the descent of the slope and some lovely shots of horses moving through snow. The Lovicks selected some great riders as extras and it shows.

The high country is a stunning area extending from Victoria to New South Wales. I’ve had the pleasure of riding there with Watsons trail rides, but the Lovicks also offer Man From Snowy River themed rides. If you ever have the chance I urge you to explore this area on horseback – absolutely magical.

Of course, the real experience of the brumbies is somewhat less romantic than novel and film would suggest (though Mitchell’s horses are constantly on the run from humankind). Debate ranges over protection of the Alpine regions and whether culling is required to control brumby numbers in the high country and elsewhere. There have been some disastrous helicopter culls, resulting in the slow deaths of individual horses. There have also been attempts to train and rehome some horses. Like the American Mustang, the brumby has a difficult future ahead of it.

Some of the most beautiful footage of the Australian high country in The Man From Snowy River, not to mention a legendary cinematic moment – the alarming descent (from around 3:50 if you’re impatient, and lovely snow shots at 5:40):

Some organizations attempting to help the brumby:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gratitude for what we have!

so much joy from horses over the years!

Horse riding (or just being around horses – which I love just as much!) has been put on the shelf for a time. Usually this would be a cause for unhappiness or brow-beating (why don’t you just get out there, girl!?). At the moment it’s because I’ve just had a lovely baby boy. I’m up with him quite a lot at night and he’s also feeding often during the day. I just don’t have much extra energy or time. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you can’t do one of the things that gives you the most joy – a thing that is just for you. But when this feeling starts to creep in I have the perfect antidote.

Will was born in only five hours. One of the possible downsides of such a quick delivery was that he wasn’t quite in the right position. But who knows – he might have come out that way anyway! He emerged with a huge bruise on his head, which led to early jaundice followed by low heart rate and episodes of apnea. He stayed in the Neonatal Unit for a week, and we stayed with him – wondering at times if he was going to make it through. He’s home now and growing at a record rate. But I keep remembering a little bouquet of flowers on the desk at the unit. It thanked the doctors and nurses for all their care and listed the dates of their little baby – a period of life of only a few weeks.

It might sound extreme, but when I am up at three feeding Will and feeling exhausted, or when I think how much I would love to run away and just be with the horses (oh, lie on my back and hear them tearing up the grass!), I simply remember how it felt when we thought we might lose him. It’s suddenly a blessing to be able to hold him and feed him through the night and to care for him when he’s fussing and doesn’t want to go back to sleep. Yes, sometimes I’m tired and emotional, but it’s so worth it. And I’m more than happy to wait to get back to the world of horses. They’ve been around for centuries and they’re not going anywhere soon.

In the last two of my short walks down our street (feeling a huge sense of achievement for just leaving the house), I’ve seen a horse go by in a float. It’s like a little reminder that they are waiting for me. (Though if the ‘Secret’ really worked, I’m pretty sure there’d be a herd of them in my backyard, trampling the garden beds). I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband who I know will help me get back in to riding, and I’m already feeling more ambitious about it and making mental plans to do more jumping and to challenge myself a bit more.

I’ve always known there are times in our lives when we have to step back from our passions, but now I realise that sometimes we can be hugely grateful for that. Having no extra time or energy is a tiny price to pay for bringing a beautiful little child into the world. I can always draw some imaginary horses in the mean time. Yes, my sketch book and pencil are nearby, I just can’t seem to pick them up yet!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 2: Colonial Arabian

I did mean to write this post a little earlier, but was interrupted by the arrival of our beautiful little boy, Will. He decided to give us a scare and stayed in the hospital in intensive care for a week, but is now very well. My first question for the physio - how long can you ride after an episiotomy?  They looked a bit surprised that I would even be daydreaming about something so uncomfortable ...

‘Colonial Arabian’ describes those Arabians (mostly Crabbet bloodlines) sent to the colonies. Some of these bloodlines are still bred today. The Australian colonial Arabian is very tough and well-suited to endurance. They should have good solid bone and their beauty is on the elegant and tough side rather than the hyper-pretty (in my opinion!). To use an Americanism, they are very far from being all hat and no cattle. The first Arabians arrived in Australia very early, along with the first European settlers and are beautifully suited to the hot Australian conditions and our love of riding out in the bush. I always love to be handed the reins of an Arabian type on a long trail ride – you are pretty much guaranteed a smooth, responsive, untiring ride, and they might like to go googly-eyed at things from time to time – but that just adds to the spirit!

I always loved seeing photos of the stallion Fenwick Phantom as a teenager and he’s what I picture when I think of an Australian Arabian type. Check out those clean, powerful legs!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 1: The Waler

For a long time I’ve been meaning to do a series of paintings honouring Australian horses (both ‘types’ and breeds).

Thanks to the Morpurgo book War Horse and the stage adaptation and now film adaptation, the war horse is taking centre stage at the moment. Although many types of horse fitting cavalry specifications for height and colouration were sent over from Australia during the First World War (and to also to India), the dominant type became known as the ‘Waler’ (the original stock came from New South Wales). 
'Waler' permanent artist's ink on watercolour paper

Much like the Australian Stockhorse (which it had a large influence on) the Waler was a mixture of Thoroughbred, Arab and draught breeds, resulting in a very tough and reliable horse, much as the stock horse is described in Patterson’s Man from Snowy River:

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast / He was something like a racehorse undersized / With a touch of Timor pony - three parts thoroughbred at least - And such as are by mountain horsemen prized. / He was hard and tough and wiry - just the sort that won't say die / There was courage in his quick impatient tread / And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye/ And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

An English cavalry officer described the Australian horses’ suitability for harsh conditions:
“… The majority of horses in the Corps were Walers and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world…. They have got types of compact, well-built, saddle and harness horses that no other part of the world can show. Rather on the light side according to our ideas, but hard as nails and with beautiful clean legs and feet ... Their records in this war place them far above the Cavalry horse of any other nation.”
Lt Col RMP Preston DSO, The Desert Mounted Corps

The Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba, George Lambert
Beersheba (1917) was probably one of the most famous moments for the Australian cavalry. After going for days without water through the Sinai Desert, the Australian Light Horse charged the Turkish guns at a lengthy gallop and successfully took Beersheba (and its essential water supplies). It was one of the last great cavalry charges as increasingly mechanised forms of warfare saw the increasing (fortunate) removal of horses from the front line of battle.

Sadly, despite their impressive service, no adequate provision was made for the return of the Australian or British horses to their country of origin. Many heartbroken soldiers were forced to abandon their horses, or to shoot them (amidst fears they would be mistreated).
Australian troop horse, full marching order 1918, George Lambert

In 1931, Dorothy Brooke (the wife of an English cavalry officer) wrote an appeal to the Morning Post regarding British cavalry mounts:

“There have been several references lately in the columns of The Morning Post as to the possibility of raising a memorial to horses killed in the War. May I make a suggestion?

Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old Army Horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the War. They are all over twenty years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly … If those who truly love horses – who realise what it can mean to be very old, very hungry and thirsty, and very tired, in a country where hard, ceaseless work has to be done in great heat – will send contributions to help in giving a merciful end to our poor old war heroes, we shall be extremely grateful; and we venture to think that, in many ways, this may be as fitting (though unspectacular) part of a War Memorial as any other that could be devised.”

Her appeal soon raised enough funds to rescue five thousand horses and gave rise to The Brooke, a charity still providing welfare support for working donkeys, horses and mules whose owners often cannot afford to treat them.

Given that Australian cavalry mounts did not return to their country, the breeding of Waler horses has relied on the use of the original stock that remained in Australia. Waler horse breeders seek to preserve the tough and reliable characteristics of those famous Australian cavalry horses.

Speaking of tough, next week (my imminent baby allowing) will be no. 2 in the Australian Horses Series – the Colonial Arabian.

Read about The Brooke:
The Desert Mounted Corps quote accessed at:
Waler Horse Society of Australia:
The Waler Horse Owners & Breeders Association Australia:

Monday, July 25, 2011

rearranging my drawings and going off on tangents ...

Well, now the Tour de France is over (go Cadel!) I can turn my mind to other things - like rearranging the house! It's a never ending struggle to find space for artwork - especially when your husband is an artist too. I guess the solution is a 'retrospective', or at least a large ebay art shop. It's better to think of your work being enjoyed than hidden. But the fact is that most drawings and paintings in the world are stowed away out of sight. I like to think of it as my imaginary stable of horses ... except you can fit at least fifty in the one drawer. They'll eventually find homes. Until that time - it's intensive stabling and very occasional turnout.
It's funny the things you find and the trains of thought that are set off when you're moving house - or rearranging in a big way. I was thinking of writing and illustrating a children's story on pegasus. I forgot until I went through all my drawings. So there's another project to do.
The Bellerophon and Pegasus story is pretty intriguing. Pegasus was born from the blood that fell from the severed head of the snake-haired Medusa. Funny that something so lovely was imagined being born from a monster. But they do say that Medusa was the most beautiful girl in the world before she was changed by a jealous goddess. That's another story! And that's just one of the many tangents that tidying up has created in my brain ...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Orientalism and horses

'Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them").' Edward Said (Orientalism)
The imagined excesses of the east ... Delacroix.
Following Napoleon’s incursions into the east, the orientalist movement in art really took off. 'The East' became a canvas on which could be projected fantasies of savagery, lustfulness and luxury. Horses played a part in this - being luxury items themselves, extremely beautiful (there was no exaggeration here - the eastern horses had a massive impact on the breeds of the West) and offering artists the possibility to flaunt their realist ability to depict detailed and gorgeous saddlery! Okay, I'm over-simplifying ... 
Napoleon's eastern-bred horse, Marengo. A study by Gros.
To over-simplify even more, aside from its complicated historical and political contexts, orientalist art is a rich treasure trove of imaginary horses for us to fill our imaginary stables with! (I'll take one dapple grey, that chestnut and this bay with the white star ...)
A bay horse by Gericault

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ancient sculpture of a boy jockey and horse

My husband, James Stratford's, photo of the amazing hellenistic sculture often referred to as Boy Jockey and Horse. It was discovered in a shipwreck. He posted it as an image embodying power in his post:
I remember being very jealous of him when he sent back this photo (he was conducting research for his thesis in Athens at the time). It's a sculpture I've always been in awe of. Classical and Hellenistic Greek sculptors really were amazing! 
My other favourite (yes, I've posted it before) is the very dramatic Horse of Selene from the Parthenon. Selene was the moon goddess - this fragment remains of one of the horses that pulled her chariot. Now there are some sculptors who clearly spent ALOT of time looking at horses.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bill Roycroft dies aged 96

Legendary Australian equestrian Bill Roycroft has passed away. 
Bill competed in five consecutive Olympic Games, his first at age 45 and the final one at age 61. His 1960s ride became famous after he suffered a bad fall in the cross country (his horse fell on him) yet still completed the course. He signed himself out of hospital the next day, against doctor's advice, to complete the show jumping course. This successful round secured the gold medal for Australia. 
The Roycrofts have had a huge impact on the Australian equestrian scene, and Bill will long be remembered for his courageous ride. 

Learn more about Bill Roycroft:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

thank you!

just a quick thank you for the big response to my blog on overcoming anxiety at - and thank you to Beyond the Call for posting it. It's a wonderful feeling to have so many people read it, and to contact us personally to tell us how useful it was. We really appreciate it!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

overcoming anxiety

I've just done a guest post at my husband, James Stratford's, site. I thought I would share it with you. It's about my experiences in overcoming anxiety and panic attacks. Riding is one of the things that helped, but I also know that for many, riding can become a source of fear in itself, especially if you have had an accident or a near fall. It can be a little confronting talking about these things, but I think it's worth it to spread more knowledge about 'panic disorders' and to hopefully provide an optimistic outlook for those who are facing these challenges, or have family or friends in this situation. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

the art of loving each other

My husband just did a very sweet post on the art of loving each other, partly inspired by this photo I took of our good friends Maggie and Shan (mother and daughter), mutual grooming. We all need mutual grooming sometimes!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

the movement of horses

Bolting horse. I just wanted to give a feeling of speed, and the sound you get when a horse gallops - at once very light and very hard. They appear to move so lightly, you forget the amount of force that is going through their legs into the ground.

Hindquarters. I just wanted a feeling of strength in this sketch. In a way it's quite still, despite the whispy tail. 

Playful horse. Sometimes horses express a lot of contained tension when they play - they pinch their lips and their nostrils together and flatten back their ears. Their movements become very grounded. It's as if they're winding up to let loose. And they soon do, with a big buck or a gallop!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You’re so talented!

I don’t mean this in a conceited way, but sometimes people say this to me. I always enjoy that. I’m only human. But I know deep down, it’s not true.

Firstly, they don’t mean in relation to Da Vinci. They mean in relation to their own drawing ability. They believe that I sprang from the womb with a natural talent for drawing noticeably better than them.

Perhaps a number of artists will agree with me when I say it is much more like a stubborn determination to draw.

Many people have a bit of a go at it. They look at their drawings and think, ‘gosh, that’s bad. I’ve got no aptitude for drawing’. I was always driven to draw and I always looked at my pictures and thought, ‘gosh, that’s bad. How can I make it better?’ It was always the (sometimes slightly obsessive compulsive) drive to draw for hours and hours and hours that improved my work.

There are a large number of artists both past and contemporary that make me feel that I’ll never meet the standard of their work. There are also those that do appear to spring from the womb with amazing technical ability (probably more to do with amazing visual learning skills). But the stubbornness remains. And instead of saying – I’m just not good enough, I continue to soldier on. Because I know from experience that the more I practice the better I’ll be. (Keeping in mind always that it is possible to practice the wrong things – and if you refuse to learn from people or be critical of your work, you can put in many, many hours with no improvement whatsoever).

What the inspiration to draw actually is, how it comes to us and what it means is a different question. But basic drawing is a skill that can truly be acquired by just about anyone with stubborn determination and some time.

And if you say, ‘I’d love to be able to draw’ expect me to be a little dubious, because true love takes time, determination and never-ending flexibility as well as a kind of joyful commitment.

It’s a little like me saying to a dressage rider ‘I’d love to be able to ride at your level.’ I might love the idea, but the reality of the hours of work put in are a little different! Similarly, I’d love to be able to play the guitar like Billy Corgan, but do recall reading that he practiced 4 hours most days for about four years and that was before becoming professional. Most people that you see with ‘talent’ are actually just extremely driven (some to the point where they become a bit miserable and have to take a step back in order to find balance in their lives). I know this is also true for the amazing visual artists I put on a pedestal.

So don’t say, ‘I’m terrible at drawing’, just say, ‘I haven’t put the time I need in to improve my drawing skills!’

NB: artists love to be told they’re talented, despite what they may know. So feel free to keep saying this to them as often as you like!

Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Draw Horses - basic shapes

When I was still in primary school I was given a book called How to Draw Horses and Ponies by Frank Smith. I was already drawing horses obsessively, but I took a jump forward after reading this. The book had a number of horse sketches, beginning with very simple geometric shapes. Basically it showed an ‘armature’ of the horse’s form.

Armature generally refers to the underlying support structure of a sculpture. However it is also sometimes used in describing the way artists sketch out the basic geometric structural shapes of a figure (horse, human – anything!) in drawing. This is how I’m using it in this post. (See my super simplified armature drawing above).

If your horses are coming out looking like goats, tables or … just not horses, using armature may be a simple way to get a clearer idea of the horse’s natural proportions and to see what the difference is between what you think you see and what is actually there. It’s amazing how many assumptions we bring to the way things look. Even when they’re right in front of us.

Some people have an aptitude for starting at a detailed corner of the picture and working through. But most will benefit from blocking in the main shapes before proceeding to detail (I won’t really be talking about detail here – but much of it is to do where light and shade fall on your subject).

Another interesting approach is to get a cheap horse magazine and draw geometric shapes over the pictures. Your hand will remember the feel of these shapes once you begin to draw free hand. You’ll also get closer to seeing what’s actually there. Plus you may start to move away from the hard-edged shapes of basic armature and incorporate the horse’s natural curves into your first sketch – giving a more natural, gestural feeling overall (see the dog).

When you are drawing or painting, always step back regularly to look at the whole picture. You'll be surprised by how often the picture starts to look out of proportion if you forget to do this.

An example of horse drawing where you can see some of the geometric shapes I've used to flesh out the horse and its musculature. This is a little different from the concept of armature - which is a more stripped-down, skeletal version. (This horse was my model for finding some acupressure points!)

Once you know the rules, you can enjoy breaking them … Using geometry to build shapes is a great start, but it’s just as important to draw with free expression. You will also find that you work out your own shortcuts to build the anatomy of the horse.
Happy drawing!

Here’s a human subject sketched out using an armature style technique.

Ideally, as an artist creating a flat image, you will simply draw armature using your eye, but here is an in depth breakdown of the armature of the horse by sculptor, David Lemon. The precise shape he creates for his sculpture is wonderful to watch – you can see how the simple lines relate to the underlining skeletal structure of the horse. This video takes time to watch, but is very worthwhile!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

being around horses when you're pregnant

I’ve noticed a few changes in my feelings being around horses during my (early) pregnancy.

The first thing I noticed was how huge they seemed. Not just the plus 16 hands mare, but the 15hh ones too. The second (related) thing was that they were crowding into my space outrageously. It was because I was suddenly aware of my own vulnerability, so I was backing away as they came into my space – like a beginner horse person – instead of calmly asserting my boundaries and pushing them out if they got too close (e.g. bumping against me). So, silly as it sounds, it took a few visits to the paddock before I noticed this was happening. I just wondered why they were being so unusually pushy! Once I figured it out (der) it was easy to reassert my space again. Let’s face it, these are sweet elderly ladies, not unruly four-year-olds.

The other change is that I’m not riding. I rode once before I realised I was pregnant, but on finding out I decided to stop. This was partly because I don’t have a horse of my own. I ride a friend’s horses, or take lessons. I didn’t want to put another person in the position of feeling even slightly responsible for my safety while riding. I’m also aware that falling off is a risk you say ‘yes, it’s worth it’ to, every time you get on a horse (much as you prefer it doesn’t occur!). I wasn’t sure that it was a risk I wanted to say yes to with an unborn baby.

I should add that I admire women who ride through their pregnancies and I think it is probably very good for you both physically and mentally. Let’s face it, you take a risk whenever you cross a road or get into a car. I love the idea of riding as long as possible, then leaping back on heroically, a few weeks after birth. Love the idea, but it’s just not for me – let’s face it, I’m getting a ligament ‘stitch’ just doing my usual walk. And my balance, even in second trimester, is just a bit … off. One thing I do mean to do is keep visiting them while I’m pregnant. Because even the smell of them does me so much good!

Here's a pretty balanced view:
(my computer is turning all the superscript on this site into symbols etc)

five amazing horse artists

Some of my favourite horse artists.

Alfred Munnings

(Horse of Semele - Parthenon)

Rosa Bonheur

Sunday, March 13, 2011

what does 'wastage' refer to in relation to the horse racing industry?

“Once the horses, rather than the profits, are put first, the flow-on effect will be felt by trainers, owners, riders, breeders and punters; in other words, the entire racing community. It always has to be horse first, people later.” 
Bart Cummings: My life, 2009

'Wastage' refers to the large number of horses that are lost from the racing industry each year due to injury, poor performance or behavioural problems. Some are rehomed in the equestrian/pleasure riding industry, but an alarming number of young (often healthy) thoroughbreds and standardbreds are sent to the slaughterhouse on a yearly basis. It is estimated that for every 1000 foals born to the racing industry, only 300 will race.* And of those who race, their racing career may make up only a third or a quarter of their life time.

If you'd like to find out more about 'wastage' and some ideas on how to combat the problem, you may find Jane Duckworth's article of interest:

"What responsibility does the racing industry take for the horses that are excess to requirements? Leith Babian, a well known former jockey (rider of Lord Penn) and horse welfare advocate says: ‘[The industry] mass-produce thoroughbreds and we injure them physically and mentally. 
It follows that we are responsible for giving them a fair go at living a full life where they can be retrained’. Leith agrees that the vast majority of the hands-on racing participants in the industry like the horses, and most love them. He says that there are a lot of people who get very attached to them and spend most of their time nurturing, cleaning and feeding thoroughbreds. Their world revolves around horses ..." but how does this fit with the potentially ruthless requirements of business profits? (see link below for Jane's article).

The dangers involved when inexperienced riders are paired with inexperienced horses were recently highlighted in a very sad story by the 7.30 Report, after a young rider was paired with a very young racehorse (I think I heard four years??), recently off the track. The horse bolted and, tragically, the girl fell and was killed. The story focused on the concept of tracking horses' histories, but I thought it would have better spent even more time on questioning why a young racehorse was used in a basic riding/training course. It's natural for a racehorse to gallop (often unexpectedly) but many racehorses can be successfully retrained for pleasure riding with time and patience (and preferably years spent with experienced riders before they are paired with beginner or intermediate riders). I should say that one of the quietest and most reliable beginner horses I have ridden was a thoroughbred. The horse in this tragic story was not necessarily a dangerous horse, simply an inexperienced one that required much more training.

The question is, how many people are willing to take the time and expense to retrain these horses? And is the industry responsible for what happens to these horses once they go to the saleyards?

Read more of Jane Duckworth's article from Horses and People Magazine
See what steps the racing industry is taking to address this serious problem.
*See RSPCA site

Saturday, February 26, 2011

step by step horse drawing in pastel

Step by step horse in pastel (Art Spectrum soft pastels on Colourfix paper)
I think there is another step ... I'll post it soon.