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Riding Lessons for Artists (Horse picture © Judy Wood)
Judy Wood : Riding Lessons for Artists 2: Forging a New Path

Riding Lessons for Artists

Part 2: Forging a New Path in Art and Life

By Judy Wood

Since it took a certain amount of time and gas to get back and forth from the riding stable to deliver my daughter to lessons and for her free riding time, I often just stayed at the barn and watched while she rode. I got to know a few of the "regulars" there and eventually on one fateful day, one of them asked if I could do a stained glass (my main medium then) horse head for her. My knee-jerk response, the result of all the "if it has a horse in it, it can't be art" brainwashing of my academic days, was, "No, I can't / don't / won't do horse art." Then a faint little voice somewhere in the back of my consciousness said "Why not?" Maybe I *could* do her a horse head in glass. What could it hurt? None of my "real" artist friends would need to know about this, since my art and horse worlds were totally separate.

In retrospect, I now see this as the point at which my new path in art and life began, although at the time I couldn't see it coming. If the world of art and horses has an equivalent of "coming out of the closet", I was on the verge of "coming out of the box stall" as I like to think of it.

Inevitably, one request for a piece of horse art led to another, and then another. I have always done original design work from my own reference photos and drawings, so to do justice to these requests, I needed to step up my game and really start to learn a lot more about horses in general, characteristics of the different breeds and disciplines, the correct way to depict them, and how to create an end product that would satisfy both me and the purchaser. Looking back (hindsight being what it is) I cringe at some of the work I produced then, but my clients seemed happy enough with it, and I was doing the best I could with the knowledge and information I had to work with at the time.

Also inevitably, there came a day when the little voice in the back of my head said, "You're spending a lot of time at boarding stables and barns. Maybe you should take some riding lessons." I had done a little bit of "horses for hire" western trail riding in my childhood and up to my mid teens, but really didn't have much of a clue about any of it. I always thought it would be wonderful to learn to ride English but that I would never get the opportunity to do so. Added to that was concern over my physical well-being in such an endeavor, since I had back surgery when I was nineteen and my back stability was a bit of a question mark. Then it occurred to me that I had managed to learn (well, attempt to learn would be more accurate) such things as downhill skiing and other equally demanding sports, and had given birth twice, all with the "bad back" so really, maybe learning to ride wasn't beyond of the realm of the possible.

My daughter's riding instructor was willing to give lessons for beginner adults, so that was the start of my riding career. Unlike not being able to recall my "pre-art" days, I well remember being an adult beginner rider, since I didn't start that part of my life until I was in my mid-thirties. I have a keen recollection of, and appreciation for, the challenges, excitement, fear, frustration and exhilaration of being a novice at something that was very important to me. And here we arrive at the convergence, for me, of art and riding.

The same feelings that predominated in me as a beginning rider are ones that the emerging artist will feel. We are driven by a desire that we often don't understand, but we know we "need" this in our lives. We put ourselves on the line, emotionally, intellectually, and, in the case of riding, physically, to gain the skills and understanding that will allow us to move forward in our endeavors. And with art, as with riding (the way I do both, anyway) there is no "end point" in sight. We do what we do because we must, and because we love it, and because (ideally) it brings us joy and a sense of accomplishment, but there is always something more to learn, a new skill to acquire, an established skill to refine or revisit, and a new and more subtle insight to be gained. Truly the wonder of it is in the journey, since the destination is always receding just over the next horizon. •

Next: It's (Almost) Never Too Late »

© 2009 Judy Wood. All rights reserved.

Judy WoodJudy Wood is a Canadian art photographer whose images and writings are shaped by her prairie based lifestyle as an artist, photographer, writer and horse person. More »