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Me And My Gal

The Horse Mania Story

In January 2010 I entered a competition for designs to be applied to the surface of a life size acrylic horse.  I had recently moved to Newmarket and been inspired to develop designs around the Newmarket Racing Silks, which I submitted to be considered. To my delight my design ‘Jockeys’ was selected. I had won a prize to be flown to Newmarket’s Sister City, Lexington in Kentucky for two weeks, to paint my design on a horse, accommodation included. This was no normal horse. Horse Mania previously took place in Lexington, Kentucky, ’The horse capital of the world’ in the year 2000. It was so popular with the public that they decided to open the corral again for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games being held at the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Kentucky in September.  Horse Mania 2010 was one of the largest auxiliary attractions to the Games and charmed 600,000-plus visitors. There were 89 horses decorated by artists; four of them are from Lexington Sister Cities, of which Newmarket is one.

Following three months of intensive research and preparations, my daughter Amy and I flew to Lexington on the 5th April 2010. We were very excited and probably a little nervous of what may lay ahead. We landed at Bluegrass Airport, Lexington in the dark at 2am, following hold ups at Chicago. We were met by Jim Clark, President and Tania Blanich, Chief Operating Officer of LexArts. They took us on a short drive to some big red gates that allowed us entry to Calumet Farm, where we were generously housed. Calumet Farm has a record history of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners and continues to be unmatched worldwide. We were warmly greeted at this very late hour by Arianne de Kwiatkowski.  We were given brief instructions and left to our own devices. Bed.

When we awoke we could not believe the view outside. Not only did we have the lovely Guest House on Calumet Farm to ourselves, but the training track was immediately outside. We had the most amazing view of their horses training every day. We were given a pass to the electric gates and a couple of bicycles to get around the farm on.

Kay Sargent, Executive Director of the Sister Cities in Lexington, with whom I had been corresponding for many weeks, came and took us out to hire a car and show us where things were. The car hire bit was tricky. If you ever find yourself going to the US with the intention of hiring a car, sort your insurance out with your own insurer before you go. Insurance is a crazy price. Still I did get a car the next day when we had negotiated a better deal. A very nice car it was too.

On the first evening we were taken out to the Private View of a local artist by LexArts followed by a meal with Tania. It was a very pleasant evening though we were slightly jet lagged at the time. First things first, was to buy the paint, as I had not been able to travel with any. Luckily I had sourced it before travelling so I knew where to go. The chaps at Porters paints were most helpful and mixed the colours accurately. I was shown Artists Attic, Victorian Square in downtown Lexington where we would be working. Artists Attic is literally what it says, an attic full of rented units full of working artists. An artist called Anna Daniel Hall kindly gave over her studio to us for the duration of the job and bestowed her generous hospitality upon us, along with many tales. I opened the door and low and behold a large white horse that looked rather incongruous amongst Anna’s portrait paintings.

Amy settled in to sanding down the surface; it had been undercoated but was not smooth enough to paint on. I began drawing on the Jockey motif, using the scaled up bendy template I had developed for the three dimensional translation of my design.

We worked long hours every day, but were interrupted by interested visitors to the attic. During the painting I was a point of great interest and even interviewed for a television program! It was lovely to be valued for what I do but this was becoming a distraction to our pressured timescale. "We began coming in at lunch time and working through till the early hours of the morning, driving back to Calumet for 3am. This gave us longer uninterrupted hours. We found it hard to see any difference in the horse from day to day, so started keeping a photographic diary to spur us on.  This has proved to be an invaluable record for us. In the Gallery you can see the progression of our work to completion.

‘Me & My Gal’ took 180 hours to paint. It was undoubtedly hard work standing on concrete floor for all those hours in strange positions. It was a great experience for both Amy and I and it was wonderful for me to spend this special time with her. It will never be forgotten how hard she worked and what a talented and able artist she already is. We finished painting the horse at 5am on Friday 19th April, after a 17 hour stint, because we couldn’t stop when the end was in sight. We dashed back to Calumet, slept for 5 hours, got up, showered and were ready to go to the races. Our hostess Arianne was coming to collect us at 1pm, which she did in style. She drove up to the front door over the grass in her father’s open top silver sports car. We squeezed Amy on the teeny back bench seat and headed for Keeneland Race course, further along Versailles Road. We pulled up under the canopy, a young man took the keys from her hand and we went to eat lunch in the restaurant. Afterwards we went to Arianne’s box and watched the racing from there. Later in the day we met up with friends Elaine and Ashley and had a wonderful time. What a lovely day and we were so relieved to have completed what we came to do.

We only had until Monday to visit everything on Amy’s list. Then something incredible happened. Back home in England they were telling us that we may not be able to fly on Monday as Heathrow was closed due to the ash from a volcanic eruption in Iceland. We thought they were pulling our leg, especially when nobody locally seemed to know anything about it. We didn’t have a television and were relying on others for information.  Eventually, we were told to go to the airport with our tickets. I did this and they were immediately taken away from me and replaced with tickets for the following week. They didn’t want any more people clogging the airport in Chicago, we would be better off staying in Lexington and were told to report in again the next Sunday. Initially we were panicked that we couldn’t get home, what would happen to George?  Where we will stay? Thankfully, Arianne very kindly said we could stay on at the Guest House. We were so excited and pleased to have the opportunity to actually see a little of Kentucky. We made an itinerary for the week and stuck to it despite being exhausted. We knew we just had to make the most of our stay.

We visited the Kentucky Horse Park for the three day Rolex event, where the Equestrian Games were to be held. The Park was still under construction and being tested for the up and coming Games. There was an amazing exhibition about the history of the horse being constructed, which we were lucky enough to be invited to visit. We went to the Woodford Distillery and found out about the history of Bourbon. I bought the most expensive bottle of hooch I’ve ever purchased... but it was worth it. We went on a day’s driving round the ‘Quilt Trail’ to Berea (arts town) and photographed hundreds of quilt designs hung on very wonky barns for Amy’s Final Project on her Art Foundation Course. We went to a Red Barn Radio recording and saw Lexington Legends play baseball. We went to a Shaker Village, ooer spooky place. I went to Keeneland Library and discovered Phyllis and her font of knowledge. It was a busy, busy week. We were invited along with Karl Lagasse and Clemence from Deauville, France to an evening with the Sister Cities. All in all the hospitality and kindness of the people we met was frankly amazing. All good things must come to an end and the following week we were allowed to fly. I was terrified of flying due to the scare of ash stopping the planes engines and very thankful to touch down at Heathrow without incident. 

On 15th July 2010 the Horse Mania horses were put on the streets of Lexington, Kentucky to serve as public art for six months throughout the summer and the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. This also served as a walking tour. The response to the spectacle of 89 painted life size model horses is amazing and everyone has their favourite.   
The horse I painted ‘Me and My Gal’ was displayed in Dudley Square with Lexington’s three other Sister Cities horses; from Deauville, France; County Kildare, Ireland; Shinhidaka, Japan.

Running concurrently with Horse Mania was a project called Horse Play, which gave school children an opportunity to create foals that were put on display at Lexington public library.  I saw a few of the completed foals before I left and they were very cute.

The horses were auctioned on 3rd December, at Keeneland Sales. They even had the authentic Keeneland Auction Team performing the auction (the Keeneland Sales is the American Thoroughbred auction house at Keeneland Racecourse). “Me & My Gal” sold for an amazing $5000 for the charities and the Arts in Lexington.  She was bought by a Lexington business man called Mr Minor.

During our stay on Calumet Farm the dogwood came into blossom. I have never seen dogwood before and the abundance of trees covered in pink and white flowers was a sight to see. Cycling around the farm and seeing the yearlings being daft, the grave stones of famous winners such as Bull Lea and generally revelling in the beautiful, peaceful space surrounded by white fences and the famous white and red buildings. 

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