One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

31 January 2014

Pony Up

by Lyn StClair

From the very beginning, I loved horses.

As a baby, my parents would entertain me by bouncing me on their foot and chanting the song "Downtown Pony".

As soon as I could hold a crayon, I started drawing them.

When I was a just a toddler, I decided that the inimitable Paul Brown needed help illustrating one of Mom's horse books…
<<  This is what I added to the book

All through my childhood, I read every book I could find about horses (over and over again).  The Black Stallion, Misty, and Black Beauty...I fell in love with the West reading My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead and The Green Grass of Wyoming...

When we'd get one of those bags of plastic cowboys and indians...I'd pick out all the horses and throw away the people.  I would even pretend to be a horse.

It was Breyers, not Barbies, for this girl...I put Barbie in her convertible and drove her off the cliff by the house (kinda wish I'd kept her car, though).

Even though we HAD horses, I wanted to ride every merry-go-round, every pony ride and every single one of those dime horse rides that used to be out in front of stores.

Besides drawing and painting horses...I "sculpted" them with my silly putty, with pipecleaners and with the piles of wire that my TVA electrician grandfather brought home for us.  My school papers were illustrated with horses.

Fortunately, my parents were artists...and they loved horses.  We always had horses and ponies to ride...and there was no shortage of art supplies or encouragement.

When it came to riding, my brothers and I learned to ride on Shetland ponies.

For those of you who think "real men/women don't ride cute little ponies": well, let me tell you something...

Shetlands will buck, kick, dodge, parry, thrust... They will stop suddenly in mid gallop, they will lay down and roll in a creek (with you on board), they will try to scrape you off on trees, and if (when) they dislodge you they will often run home without you. They can be inordinately obstinate and endlessly frustrating....on the other hand, Shetlands can be wonderfully sweet, tough as nails, gentle as kittens, incredibly patient and the best friend a kid could have. A kid that rises to meet the challenge of a wily Shetland probably has a head start on the challenges that will come through the rest of life.

A couple of years ago I was riding with a couple of Wyoming ranch women, real cowgirls. The subject of Shetlands came up and it turned out we'd all learned to ride on Shetland ponies...and it was our unanimous opinion that "if you can ride a Shetland, you can ride anything".   

My first pony, when I was two or three, was "Downtown Pony" (I named him for the song Mom and Dad would sing when they bounced me on their foot). My parents were picky about our ponies and Downtown Pony didn't quite make the cut...he moved on to be loved by cousins.

When I was four, my second pony came along: "Blackie"...she was already almost 20 when we got her. You could put a baby on Blackie, start her walking in a circle and she'd go quietly until you told her to stop. That is, if you could catch her in the first place.

I remember Dad trying to rope Blackie from his Quarter horse "Ben"...and my brothers and I running from end to end of the 20+ acre pasture trying to corner and catch her. Sure, Blackie was gentle once you caught her...probably because by the time you caught her EVERYone was exhausted! Kids not getting enough exercise? Send 'em out to catch the pony! Blackie was 34 when she left us to teach life lessons to a new family's kids...at 34, you still had to work hard to catch her.

When my brothers started riding, we got "Twilight" to join Blackie...a sweet little grulla Shetland who was VERY fast (well, for a pony).
As a girl, there was probably nothing I loved more than riding any horse as fast as I could possibly make it go. Of course, any horse (and especially a Shetland) has a mind of its own...often they would decide to stop dead in their tracks without telling me first. Needless to say, I learned a lot about riding...and a LOT about falling.

One of the first rules of horsemanship instilled in me by my parents was the "if you fall off, get right back on" philosophy. The first fall I remember was from Blackie (I must have been about 4 or 5)...I had her tearing across the yard when the girth loosened and the saddle slid sideways...then under her belly. Well, I had been taught to stick to the saddle...so I went right under her with it. One of the nice things about shetlands, though...the ground isn't very far. I remember cracking my head pretty good...and being put right back on her. 

That "get right back on" philosophy has carried me through a lot of life's little (and big) falls.

Throughout my childhood and into my teens, I drew horses…constantly.  As a preteen, I would draw horses from life at the local saddle club between gymkhana classes.  That love of ponies and drawing was a great foundation for an art career.  Without realizing it, all those horses I drew turned out to be "practice"…and I got a LOT of it.  

When Tex Ritter made an appearance at his "Tex Ritter's" restaurant in Nashville, my parents talked me into doing a drawing of a horse so that he could autograph it.  He signed the back.  It was 1973…I was ten.

My childhood memories are full of horses and ponies...I rode them (fell off them), cried into their manes, talked to them, drew them and loved them.

In turn they taught me to be tough, resourceful, patient, independent and creative. They carried me into the outdoors, the backwoods and the wild places of my imagination. They exercised my body and my soul….and they inspired me to draw and draw and draw...