Monday, 31 January 2011

Irish SPCA pleads for state action over horse crisis | - International horse news

Irish SPCA pleads for state action over horse crisis - International horse news

I read this today on a feed I get through blogger....this is utterly tragic. With the shape our much less affluent economyin UK and Ireland and the knock on effects of rising fuel and inflation on the costs of horse care, will we be seeing more of this to come?

I wish not, but I suspect so...

Must try harder...but not TOO hard!

Why is it that as you ride more, the easy things seem to get harder?

I had a short private lesson today and rather than working on jumping, I took the tough option and gave my ego a battering as I went back to basics and attempting to correct some of my worst riding habits. Lets be honest, we all have them, even if most of the time we try to ignore them in the hope we will just gradually 'ride them out'. My personal afflictions include:
  1. pulling my leg up a few inches when I press it on...OK probably 'a few' is being unduly kind on myself. Without stirrups, many inches, maybe 4 or 5 inches!
  2. dropping my inside and raising my outside rein when I circle...pretty consistently all the time
  3. allowing my weight to shift when a horse isn't responding to my leg, i.e in order to press harder I lean into the leg. What a ridiculous picture, I am trying to imagine how stupid that must look.
  4. this last one really scunners* me....trying TOO hard!
Today, I spent a 30 minute session working on circles, shallow loops and leg yielding trying my damnedest not to use the reins at all.,which was tough. How can 30 minutes of walking and trotting be hard.....what a wimp!

These are not easy habits to break, in particular the last one...I swear the best I have ridden in ages was with a hangover one day, probably still some wine coursing through my veins resulting in a much more relaxed me in the saddle. I clearly need to loosen up! I can see there is no quick fix.....I'll have to try and work at it every time I get in the saddle, but not to try TOO hard mind you!

* For those who don't know 'scunners' is a good old Scottish word meaning it is a total nuisance!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Portrait of an Appaloosa / Cob

I haven't posted any art for a few days, and this blog is serving well to keep me focused on my art.This is one I did a few weeks back of Rocky, a lovely little Appaloosa / Cob cross who is one of the school horses up at Hazelden. He has beautiful colouring and a lovely neck, which if why I wanted to draw him.

Horse Portrait, Rocky, Hazelden
Copyright EquineArtPortraits
Rocky, Hazelden
He is a lovely little thing, nice temperament and quite fast, although steady and close enough to the ground not to alarm , and he does listen to you. First time I rode him I though 'wow, push button horse, can I keep him?' He is a great little jumper too.

I quite like the weight of this piece, working in pencil, gives a different effect from mixed media work as you can build up the layers quite softly, which I find works well for horses or animals with a lot of white in them.

Rob, up at the stables thought this was my best until I took Monty up this week, when he said 'He'd look nice on my wall' ....bartering art for horse riding is something I would definitley do!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Scream if you want to go faster!!

My son went to his 3rd ever riding lesson this week and boy did he learn.

Having invested modestly in a pair of tesco jodphurs and wellies, he mounted today with a whole new level of confidence, sat bolt upright and heels down, very much looking and feeling the part. Lots of trotting work he was rising well , but getting a little carried away with his pony club kicks, tipping back as he did so.

'Sit up a bit', I encouraged from the side lines, not wanting to say too much, but aware how easily your seat can send the wrong message. At the same time I thought to myself,  'shush, leave him be, look at that confidence, don't worry so'.

Besides, he was on a lead, so all good right? Absolutely spot on, until we had a change of lead. So confident was his stance that there was no cause for alarm at a 30 second gap between one girl departing and another taking up his reins.

He was clearly sure that he knew what to do and kicked his (now un-lead) pony ahead and I watched with alarm as he didn't rise out the saddle at all,  but leant back and gripped with his legs....well we all know what happened next.

And so, a little ahead of his peers in the beginners class he had his first canter, only half way around the school until we had instructor intervention, screaming as he went, hastily dismounting once back at a halt and legging it out of the school.

He got back on, with a little coaxing, and had a smile back on his face 5 minutes later. Lesson learned, I hope and with a bit of a post mortem on the way down the road, he now knows how NOT to canter too.

I have to say, 'Well sat', little boy, but next time remember the saying is 'scream if you want to go faster'!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Nervous energy

I think I was still a bundle of post riding nervous energy when I posted last night.

Thing is, Monty was really charging it towards the end as we neared the jumps.....what I would call the the 'oh dear god, don't let him change his mind whatever happens' approach to the jump.

It was only a cross pole, really not too high, and we were taking turns at twice around each.The first time he would be barely into a canter as we rounded the corner, we would have a nice sensible approach and a good jump, landing well. He would be great on the way around keeping a nice steady pace all the until he rounded the corner towards the jump for the second time and then absolutely tear at it, not at all collected, completely in the driving seat.....'hello Monty, outside rein here, can you feel me?'

It all worked out fine seeing as he jumped (and to be fair its not like him to refuse) but the wrong pace of approach is just the sort of thing which tips the balance of probability.

Not the kind of pace you would slide off gently at either.

More half halts on the way around might be worth a try next time, or back into a trot until the corner, maybe......just so long as it doesn't wind the lovely big boy up.

The Lovely Monty, Hazelden

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Is there anybody out there?

Is there anybody out there?

Just incase there is I have started an Etsy too...really beginning to lose track now.

Riding night....jump the stress away.

Like most arty types, I have a 'day job' which involves intermittent bursts of creativity, interspersed with a lot what the rest of us know as an 'office job' writing reports and the like.

"When I grow up, I'd like to work in an office Mummy" I harped as a of course I didn't, I said "I want to work in a stables" and "I want to be an artist"

Anyway, life is all about getting the balance right, so a Thursday night riding lesson is the perfect ante dote to the working weeks stresses, as lucky old me, I don't work on a Friday.

I few rounds of jumping on the speedy Monty and there is not a chance that there is even the faintest hint of work related thoughts drifting around in your head, the adrenaline instantly neutralises them.

Hooray for Thursday night riding lessons!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Tour of the Burns Country

I took a notion for a wee drive in the country, so hot-footed on the M77 to Ayrshire for a bit of a riding related tour with two things in mind: the first was that I could well benefit from a little local promotion of my art; the second that I am on a quest to find some good hacking within easy reach of the south side of Glasgow. City (and suburban) riding stables offering hacking  can be few and far between and even in those that do it can be seasonal with a lot of road work really limiting the opportunities to get out safely.

And so, my grand tour of Burns Country started at Kilmarnock  and took in Cumnock, Prestwick and Dundonald  enjoying the rolling countryside, which can look a bit bleak on some days, but in the sunshine, quite lovely.

I had all manner of Sat Nav related near disasters along the way, such as being routed through a river with depth sign basically reading 'cross at your peril' - seriously, it did, and I didn't. I wished I had taken a picture but I was too shocked at the road running into the water and how I was going to get out of that pickle. I found it on Google Maps, Street View (my those people have been everywhere) and I have to ask, would anyone in their right mind drive through this?

Link to road though a river on Google

I had a good 15 minutes reversing up a narrow single track road, but I didn't let it spoil my fun!

I got some good recommendations for where to go for a hack from the lovely folk I met along the way, with Craigengillan and the Shanter in Maidens but getting recommendations.

I even had an offer from a lovely lady called Laura that I could come and hack her horse if I liked.  He was a gorgeous boy, an eventer and one of her three horses, so it is a bit of a logistical for her hacking them all  - she probably detected a hint or nervousness in my reaction as I had a momentary flashback to my broken arm brought about by taking on a horse a little beyond me some years back!

All around a nice day, and some yards were kind enough to say they would pop my flyer in their tack room, which was pleasing. That said, as social as it was I don't think that was the 'greenest' approach to promoting my artistic ventures, so with regret I will turn to good old Royal Mail.

Came home and read a bit Tam O Shanter to my boy before bed....all Ayshire and horses all round then.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Monty in Watercolour and Pencil

Monty, Watercolour
Copyright EquineArtPortraits

Here is Monty with a bit more work done to him....I am swithereing over whether I have to do a bit more of his neck (which is not visible in the photo) or darken the background to avoid any dismembered head effect!

Monty, sketch of a horse in Watercolour

Horse Watercolour, Monty (in progress)
Copyright EquineArtPortraits

After a busy family weekend I am back to some Art, and its Monty this week. I love to ride this horse, he is fantastic fun and quite fast. He was my 'horse for the day' back in November (oh how I wish)  and I tacked him up and didn't notice his bridle was missing its flash .....that was a mistake, he really does need it, especially in winter.

I just photographed the painting wet, so there are some strange reflections going on, but sometimes a photograph taken while you are working is helpful.

He is a little too 'chocolate box' for my tastes, but I am experimenting with styles at the moment to see how people respond to them. I'll finish him off this evening and re post him when he is done....

Friday, 21 January 2011

My 'Folksy' is up.....

No time like the present, I say....I have listed on Folksy as 'EquineArtPortraits to do horse portraits on commission. You can find it here:

So, do I just sit and wait now, or what?

To market, to market to sell a ..... horse portrait

It's only a few weeks since I started blogging and got my website up, and now that I have them there my focus has shifted a bit to where and what else I can do to to find people who are interested in what I do?

The art will go on anyway. but it is very rewarding to work on a commission and see someones delight when they see the finished piece.

I wonder, is that is something you only really get when you meet them face to face, or is 'feedback' left on a sellers page the same? I am not sure, but I think I might try and find out.

So starts the quest of 'where can I sell', and it is all a little overwhelming as there are so many options

Do I Ebay? Or what about an Etsy? I am a bit nervous that it will lead me on to a bit fat Etsy shopping habit, there is so much beautiful stuff on there!  Or then there is Folksy, apparently is a more uk oriented arts and craft short there is a lot of choice, and I think the only way to find out is to try them all!

If anyone is reading who knows me personally, you will know I have real issues with remembering things like log on details and passwords, so this is going to be interesting!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Riding night....Arnie

It was riding night tonight, and I was on Arnie....a low key affair, all flatwork, no jumping after a couple of the horses were a bit too full of beans.  Arnie was going really well, a bit quicker off the mark than usual and good on the leg yeilding.

I think somebody threw and extra handful of oats in their feed.... Ah well, will campain hard for a little jump course next week!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

My, they are quick

Hats off to the people at the Society of Equestrian they are very quick, I only sent them this last week....thank you!

my page as a Friend of the SEA

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

On the arty front again...indecision

Following a 2 evenings spent in conflict with an acrylic painting - not a medium I can lay any claim on - I have put it on the back burner. This is after all supposed to be a pleasurable pursuit, like riding itself, so whatever issues I have with the paint, I am working around the edges of.

And so I have returned to an old favourite, the watercolour, and have started to layer some wax pencil on top, giving in a nobbly dimpled look, as if a little pixelated.

Mixed Media Horse Study
Copyright EquineArtPortraits
Now I have reached that point of indecision, based on the fact that the wrong choice can undo your hard work so far ......background or none?

That is the question.....anyone??

Monday, 17 January 2011

Do you do dogs?

Since the first horse portraits were taken up to the stables a few months ago, people were asking "Do you dogs? You should do dogs..." and so on.

And so a couple of weeks ago, I did. His name is 'Kerry'....

Dog Portrait, Kerry, German Shepherd
copyright A. Cairns
 ......and with that, it seems, I do dogs too!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Less is more...the charcoal challenge.

I thought I would take the painting that I had started of Ice back to basics and do a charcoal study of him. I like this photo I am working on as it has a lot of contrast around the cheek and he has a nice bend in his neck. 

Charcoal study of Ice, Hazelden
copyright A. Cairns
 As ever the less you draw, the more important each mark becomes, so this is different to building up a horse portrait in coloured pencil, where you can build up the artwork in layers, adding depth as you go. 
Less is more, but often harder to pull off well!

Charcoal work can look great when it works out well, so well worth putting in some practise .... little an often is best,as with all in life! It also means I can take what I learn from the study and use it to add depth to the painting.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Everyone has a story.

We were up at the stables today taking my eight year old son and his best friend for their first beginners riding lesson.

While sat there we got chatting to the mum of the five year old girl who was in the lesson with them, about riding as children, and the fun it was back in the days when it was okay to let the kids ride bareback leading a bunch of ponies alongside as if walking dogs.

Anyhow, I asked if she still rode the long and short of it was no, and her answer started ......"Well, you see I used to but then I broke my back riding a number of years ago"

I have said it before and I'll say it again....everyone has a story!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Jumping today

Today was a riding day, as I nicked up to the stables for a half hour private lesson, and had a small course set up in the school to work on jumping.

I coped with the 3 jump sequence so my instructor suggested I up it to 7 and to choose in advance which order and direction to the jumps in. Complete pandemonium ensued as I had not the faintest clue what I had decided is amazing how quickly your horse can sense uncertainty in your seat and we had a good lurching moment where my Pablo, sensing hesitation said "well if you cant make up your mind, I will"

Finished exhausted and had great fun, though, I just with I was 20 years younger, was utterly fearless and had a reasonable working short term memory! I might be getting a bit long in the tooth to master jumping courses to a good standard, but wont stop me trying. I just need lots more practise.

Oh, and perhaps a new memory....if anyone knows where I can get one of them

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting my Big Break

I thought I would share the story of my big break......It was a spiral fracture of the left humerus. That's the big bone the that joins your elbow to your shoulder for the not so medical amongst you, and I can tell you there is nothing humorous about breaking in two.

The unusual aspect of my own particular horse riding injury is that it was entirely self inflicted. There was no fall...I didn't come, I jumped.

At a flat out gallop, and I might mention on a 16-something hand former racehorse. What madness, you ask???

It is a strange one, as I have never, before or since, felt a need to leap of a moving horse...think Indiana Jones leaping off the horse onto a train, only with a little less panache, and landing with a stomach sickening thud onto the frozen field at the near to the yard and staggering up to emit the kind of scream for help that instantly makes your throat feel raw.

A moment earlier I had come into  the small  field on a gloriously sunny day, shut the gate over behind and thought 'lets have a little canter'. He understood things differently and it was as if the starting gate had opened, walk to gallop in an instant. Once going at a gallop, a sharp tug in on the reins meant 'slow down a bit, you need to save yourself for the last stretch'.

He wouldn't pull up and there was no room to turn at the speed he was travelling.

In a split second I had a vision of myself coming off badly, foot caught in the stirrup iron - no safety in those days - on the concrete yard very soon and fearing what felt inevitable I undertook what I now know to be called the 'emergency dismount'

Right or wrong thing to do, there is no way to know, but when instinct kicks in, you do what you must.

I was lucky not to get pinned but it took a year to heal. Time is a good healer psychologically, but I still suffer from the hacking jitters and have a love hate relationship with open green spaces.

Looking for good horse blogs

I am on a quest for some good horse blogs to follow...If anyone has any suggestions, please add?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Working on a New Horse Painting

As I mentioned I am all fired up having received the Society or Equestrian Artists January newsletter....I have am enjoying a little creative limbering up on a horse painting which I will be working up this month. 

Sketch Painting, Ice, Hazelden
copyright A.Cairns

I am drawn to the red for the background, not quite sure why, but its good to trust your instinct!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Hacking in Scotland in January...

I haven't yet got back into the way of realising that I currently only ride once a week, which is not enough.

I was thinking that perhaps it is time for a hack, and wondering whether to head across the city to my old riding ground of Easterton Stables in Mugdock Country Park, or should it be down the coast to Ayrshire Equitation Centre.

Then I checked the weekend forecast for Glasgow .....25mph winds and rain. Fair weather rider that I am, that idea is going on ice for a couple of weeks!

Sunday, 9 January 2011

On the arty front

This week I received my membership newsletter from the Society of Equestrian Artists, which gee'd e up on the arty front, so I thought I might try a few studies of one horse in different media.

Copyright Antonia Cairns
 This is Ice - he is fairly new at Hazelden, joined the stables at the end of Summer.

I can't say I have quite got used to his gait yet, as I have only ridden him once and he is quite a leggy and he has an odd habit of veering right just before a jump, which can be a little un-nerving!
He has the most adorable nature and a beautiful face, so he makes for a nice horse to study and to sketch.

This piece is in wax pencil and I decided to try it with a darker background, where I have usually been working on the white.

There are a few things I would like to change about it, but often these are the pieces that you learn more from! He looks a little different to a few days ago, so I am just going to see where this one goes.....

Monty on You Tube

I was riding Monty at Hazelden this week and he was jumping really well.

As usual got a little excited after a few jumps, but he approached the jumps well and only jumped long once, which was great.

We did up to around 2 feet, which is pretty small compared to what he does with some of the girls up at the stables.......found this clip of him jumping from Sarah up at the stables which she posted on You Tube....he is kind of a popular horse!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Good old ikea

I have long been a fan of all things ikea as I love the fact that it made design accessible to everyone.

I had been framing up some Horse Portrait Prints to take up to Hazelden, but the cost of Giclee Printing and framing combined has been a bit off putting.....I am wondering if the prints idea yet may come to pass.

That said I went to big blue shed on Monday and was astounded at the value of the frames, so I have mounted and packaged them up nicely and back up the road to the stables they go.... fingers crossed!

Jag tackar Ikea.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Horse Portrait of the month: Dee Dee

 "He is terrific....You are very talented"
Elaine Stevenson, of the Portrait of her Daughters Horse Dee Dee

Copyright remains with Artist, Antonia Cairns 2011

Dee Dee is a livery horse up at Hazelden Equestrian Centre in Glasgow, where I ride. I was lucky enough to take some framed work to the stables just at the moment that Elaine was thinking about commissioning a portrait as a Christmas gift for Abigail........  as ever in life, timing is everything!

It was tricky to find a time to visit and photograph him, as Abigail was never away from the stables. When I met him I could understand why....he had the most beautiful face and such a curious nature, with his ears pricked up in the snow. What a lucky girl!

 Elaine and I had some discussion about which photo to use, he looked so nice in all of them.

We settled on this one as he looked very sweet in it, which Elaine felt suited his lovely nature.

To my delight, Elaine tells me Abigail loves the artwork and has taken it to the yard to show it off......Dee Dee was a joy to meet and to draw, and working on him brightened up the days of the most ferocious cold snap in December!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Drawing Plastic Ponies.

Over the years I have been looking to draw more in everyday life and found the question I often faced was 'what on earth will I draw today?

It has taken me a long time for me to reach the very obvious opportunity to merge my love of horses and art into one activity, and I can't honestly say that I got there on my own. I have a very good friend who is wise council to me. She has a few years of sound life based know-how (as only age can bring) a great passion for bringing out the best in people and as a few life coaching NLP tricks up her sleeve to throw into the mix. She is a wonderful  - and sometimes challenging - companion.

As I pondered what I should be doing to scratch my creative itch, she asked of me "What did you love to do as a child?"
Image by Black Country Museums on Flickr,  licenced under
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic
I didn't say at the time, but I had such a clear picture of me at the age of seven sitting at a big old brass table with my Sindy horse and a sketch pad, drawing it over and over again, trying to catch the lines and shadows of this plastic model of the animal that I loved. I distinctly recall that the legs were a challenge!

It is crazy how easy it is to miss what is under your nose.....despite the clarity of this memory in my head, it still didn't occur to me until a year later that this is what I should be drawing.

I would love to say I had some of my childhood sketches today, but our home valued clean and tidy ahead of clutter (parents of the now, take note), and with an entrepreneurial streak from a young age I sold Sindy  with her Horse, Horsebox, Tack and all in my teenage years.

Anyhow, I found this on Flickr ....what can I say, they don't make them like they used to!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Living the dream

I had a brief period of living the dream in my twenties.

I took a half lease in a former racehorse horse called Sam who frankly was rather beyond my riding ability. I came a cropper when he went for a gallop in a much too small field one day, suffering a nasty break to my arm. It scared me off for a good 15 years.

I recall going to the stables to collect my belongings, arm in cast, and everyone sharing their tales of broken legs, arms, toes, fractured collar bones and concussions and thinking "Are you all completely mad? Why do you still ride?"

Fifteen years on, I know the answer.....I ride because I must. Despite the risks, there is nothing quite like being around horses, the exhilaration, the bond and the trust that you have to build each time you ride. The nerves that kick in when the bar is raised a notch higher than you feel comfortable jumping and the rush when you clear that jump.

I would still love to live that dream again, although I might sense check my love of a thoroughbred!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Catching Ponies

Since I can first recall at the age of seven I have had a love of two things; drawing and horses. I will come back to the drawing, but for now let me speak of horses.

I was fortunate as a child to have a couple of years living in the country to introduce me to how riding should be for every child who takes to these wonderful animals. At the stables in near Oban where I lived, the schooling was relaxed and the trekking was great wth the ponies well used to being hacked out. I don't recall ever seeing a horse bolt or buck, and we happily rode them bareback to the fields at the end of the day to turn them out.

Requests for a pony of my own were not successful - as a parent myself now, I have sypmathy  - and so at weekends, I would romp around the fields near to Ganavan quite literally try to catch ponies ...thinking back only a child would be so daft as to try and approach and befriend strange horses, and I did come a cropper with a bite once or twice.

Now, at the age of thirty six, I am no closer to catching or getting a pony (or horse) of my own. I ride every week, but a job, two kids and a mortgage have put my dream firmly in the 'as if' camp. No number of requests to Santa will deliver a gift with such a great financial and time burden to my family, not to mention the inherent increased risk of accident associated with riding more frequently. And yet even with the limitations of living in the city and rarely going out on hack, I still adore these animals and yearn to ride more.

In short, I still want to catch that pony! I am now changing tack, and finding new ways to catch them through my work as an artist, through Horse Portraiture.

I am discovering new outlet for my love of horses. In between riding them I now draw them and work on catching them in a different sense.....catching their essence, beauty and expression in the art. This is such is a special thing and I feel extremely lucky that I have a talent that allows me to do this.

I have started this blog to share my experiences creating Horse Portraits alongside my own personal horse experiences as I continue to grow and develop through my riding and my art. My hope my art will bring delight to owners and horse lovers, and that through doing something that I truly love well, may even inch closer dream....