Wild Ride

My newest painting of a rodeo bucking horse called Wild Ride was accepted into a group exhibition in an amazing little studio in delightful Mount Dora, Florida. I was thrilled – the owners of Studio Art Farm are talented and driven and inspirational… I was super honored to be juried into this exhibition. I can’t wait to see everyone’s work at the reception Friday evening, June 29!

I found the reference image for this painting on a stock photography site, and I was captivated by the photographer’s capture . Something about this horse and its powerful effort to shake off the rider really struck a cord with me. I knew this painting needed gold flakes mixed in the background and blending in with the mane of the horse, but I didn’t realize why until now. Gold can represent divinity, and here is this divine and wild being doing its best to live according to its own natural laws while being held in the egoic environment of man. I think a lot of us can relate to a determined, powerful animal that’s being used for something it doesn’t want to do. Fighting against some thing that won’t yield, having freedom taken away and being told it’s for the best because being in your full power and glory and shining bright with divine purpose is too threatening to those who are too weak to be wild.

I did a Google search on “bronc horse industry” before I sat down to write this content because growing up as a horse crazy girl in a small cowboy town in South Florida, I’ve heard that bucking horses are treated well and they know it’s their job. “Not to worry little lady. Put that smile back on your face so it’s more pleasing for The Male to gaze upon.” Seriously though, I’m sure it’s true in a lot of cases. I don’t know everything, that’s for sure. And that’s why there’s the Google.

I stumbled upon an article from American Cowboy written in February, 2017 called, “The Business of Bucking Horse.” It talked about a famous yearly four-day event in Miles City, Montana called Bucking Horse Sale featuring wild horse races, bronc riding, rodeos, dancing and a stock sale. The article shares that, “in years past, 400 head of horses were at this sale, this year, there were 80.” It goes on to say that in recent years, the success of Bucking Horse as been crippled after a change in “legislation that took federal money away from the slaughter industry, effectively shutting it down… In years past, ranchers could sell bucking horses onto the rodeo circuit. If the horses couldn’t buck, there was always a check waiting for them at the slaughterhouse.” This article goes on to talk about how Bucking Horse has gone from a big earning event to a costly venture that has more risk than reward these days. To compensate for the lack of horses going to the slaughterhouse, Miles City has brought in a variety of Wild West entertainment to please the crowds. The town’s population of 8,000 doubles for this event, despite ranchers no longer profiting from horses going to slaughter, and “still provides an essential economic boost to the town’s economy.” The article ends with, “For ranchers, there is a vague hope that American horse slaughter will start up again, after a 2011 bill re-granted the industry federal funding. In the meantime, locals say, it’s still the best party the west has known.”

I don’t know if the ranchers selling horses who won’t buck at Bucking Horse are back in the horse slaughter business, but it was mind blowing to read about the lament coming from a group of people whose income from a side-hustle of selling horses for slaughter has been greatly reduced. Another question I have that’s currently unanswered is, “How does federal funding support this – our tax dollars fund horse slaughter so some ranchers can profit?” What the heck? “Little lady, you should smile – you’d look prettier if you did. That wild look in your eye is mighty unbecoming.”

It’s not just ranchers that sell their “excess” horses to slaughter, some breeders of the American Quarter Horse do the same. Many Thoroughbreds, Amish cart horses, and more know this fate. It’s apparently a very lucrative side-hustle, indeed. This out-dated operating procedure of exploit for profit is tired and short-sighted. But what’s the solution for all the excess horse flesh out there? I personally believe the problem with a lot of our modern issues is over-consumption and over-production for greed. We can do better. 

This painting honors the struggle of every horse, one who bucks or not, that ends up exploited and discarded. His beauty and divine light is powerful. He teaches us to be wild and true to our divine nature, even if that makes some people uncomfortable.

Horses · Portraits

Working Meditation

“The essential thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer.” Matisse

I am taking a break from adding details to a commissioned piece of a beautiful black and white Tennessee Walker horse. Shades of brown and gray make up the landscape as the sun is just past the peak of noon on a late autumn day. Snoopy, the horse, has been gone for around five years now, but his presence is still felt daily. He has become a muse, of sorts, for my customer, and I have the beautiful opportunity to capture the wisdom and love of Snoopy. As I critique my progress, I am convinced that more is needed even though a well meaning friend says, “Awww, it’s perfect just the way it is!” I smile, and think to myself, “not yet.” Even though I do not know what is “missing,” I know that my muse will!

Isn’t that the way with artists of every kind? Whether our canvas is a baker’s pan, a block of stone, a ball of yarn, or an actual stretched canvas, we know that inspiration will come. Like Henri Matisse noted, creating art is a meditation, a prayer, in motion. When I look at a blank canvas, my immediate reaction is probably best described as panic. Panic is then quickly followed by doubt as thoughts of “who do I think I am” rumble around in my mind. But, and it is a big BUT, as soon as the paintbrush hits the palette and finally the canvas, something magical happens. Stroke after stroke, blend after blend, shade before shade. . .what once was just a reference is now a finished piece. I stand back and stare. When did this happen? Wow!

And so it goes, working in gratitude. . .that prayer, that meditation–and I am fortunate enough to live this life. I think that each time I complete a piece I find it easier to begin the next. Instead of comparing my work to others, I celebrate the talent that streams through me and rejoice in sharing it with the world. I’m always surprised when a piece sells right away, or two people are wanting the same original, or I get accepted into a juried show. But should I be surprised? Probably not, because when anyone works from a place of love, of meditation, of truth. . .how can the result be anything but joyful? So many times we as a society look at work as drudgery; we complain of long hours, ungrateful customers, and low wages. What if, and it is another big one, WHAT IF we all changed our approach to our work, maybe even call “work” something else? Would everyone benefit from the love, truth, and joy that went into every cup of coffee served, every product shipped or rung up at a local cash register, every green bean picked and consumed? Ahhhh, therein lies the rub. . .as for me, my art will be created in meditation. . .and really, studio time is not work, is it? –Nicki

Horses · Inspired

Stars in the Eyes of Gemini

Like most young children, I asked for a horse every birthday, Christmas, and special occasion in between. And. . .like most young children, my wish remained unfulfilled. Unless….that is….you count the number of Breyer horse figurines I received as gifts or even more exciting, the number of horses whose manes I braided with daisies on my walks home from the school bus stop in rural Okeechobee. I can only imagine the looks of surprise from my parents when I tried to ride my tiny plastic horse, Palomino Mare–even as a two year old, these Sears Wishbook beauties were not meant for galloping. Or even more surprising would be my unsuspecting neighbors coming home from work to feed their horses only to find the manes beautifully braided and filled with wildflowers. Finally, at the age of 13, my brave dad got me my first horse. Even though Darlin’ was one of the meanest little ponies to trot on the earth, I loved her dearly. Later I got Taco, who ended up being the kindest, most gentle gelding one could ever hope to have even though he definitely had that thoroughbred mixed with quarterhorse blood running through his veins. We developed a love, a trust and no doubt taught each other more than I recount even today.

Gemini was on display at the Leesburg Center for the Arts member exhibit in February, 2020. I was honored to receive the Merit Award for this painting.

So it is with this love of horses that I come to the canvas. With every stroke, every paint blend, every eye sparkle it almost feels like I can touch a live horse. I know the curve of a shoulder, the solid weight of a leg in my hands as I pick a hoof, and the warm steam of breath on my neck. When I am “running with the horses,” time passes quickly. When I am with the horses, it is not only they who run freely, but also my thoughts and emotions as well. I recall memories that bring smiles, tears, and all out laughter. . .but more than anything, I confirm my love for these beautiful animals and am grateful for their presence in my life and the gifts they once and continue to give to me. “Gemini” is a special painting. . .those two boys. . .filled with love, hope, and wisdom. . .their eyes tell the whole story, and I am blessed. —Nicki