I’ve been drawing and painting horses since early childhood. I read the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley and Zane Grey novels about Western cowboys and their horses, and I watched every cowboy Western and horse movie. There must be something in my genes that causes me to love horses. My dad owned a Thoroughbred racehorse for a while, and both my sisters had horses when they were teenagers. One sister later became a quarter horse breeder and has bred horses for over 30 years.
My horse-breeder sister was married to a Cowboy Artist, Jim Stuckenberg of California. They met at a quarter horse racetrack, where he was doing paintings in a tack room and training racehorses. He later got into doing bronzes of bucking horses, famous racehorses, and even did one of Ronald Reagan on his horse at his ranch in Santa Ynez. I think his success encouraged me to later want to become a horse artist.
My mother was very ill when I was young, but she understood my love of horses and encouraged my father to pay for riding lessons. They bought me a pony when I was ten years old. The pony was a very accomplished jumper and was equally talented at barrels, poles, keyhole, and Western and English equitation. He was very spirited and educated me well, dumping me off or running away with me nearly every day until I learned how to really ride.
Almost every day was spent at the riding stable. I lived in the Panama Canal Zone, and the stable where my horse was kept had over 115 horses, including several stallions. I’ve never quite understood why people fear them and many barns don’t allow them. There never seemed to be any dangerous encounters with stallions. All the ones I knew were quite well-mannered and lived in close quarters with other horses. On occasion, the odd mare would have a “surprise foal,” and we suspected that the Panamanian grooms and stable boys were giving some stallions “a special treat” at night. Anyway, a group of us Americans and some Panamanian kids walked a mile or so every day from the junior high school to the stables. Weekends were spent at the stables as well.
Sadly my mother died when I was 13 years old, but she had made my father promise to buy me another horse. My sister had an off-the-track Thoroughbred that I tried for a while, but he was more interested in trail riding in the jungle than show jumping. He jumped a little, but wasn’t very willing. Then there came an opportunity for me to buy a dream horse. Simba was a champion jumper. He was a very brave, bold horse. He was very personable and was interested in every little thing I was doing and talked to me constantly. He became my good friend. I do believe this horse was a gift from the Lord, and he gave me a great deal of comfort and friendship.
My favorite classes in school were my art classes. I was very fortunate to have a real working artist for a teacher both in high school and college. Al Sprague is an international artist who is well-loved and collected in Panama for his paintings, drawings, etchings, etc., of the Panama Canal and the local scenery and culture, including the beautiful Panamanian Pollera Dancers. He also designed five Canal Zone postage stamps.