I get out the tracing paper and the Walter Foster How to Draw Horses book from the bottom drawer in my office cabinet, having decided to just start tracing horses while I listen to an audiobook. Keeping my hands busy while my mind is occupied elsewhere seems like a solid plan to justify me sitting still for awhile.
First I select the drawing of a noble horse looking into the distance. The shading comes easily to me as do the contours of the eyes. Surprising. Next I select the prancing horse with the elongated foreleg and the flashing tail. It is a little more challenging to get the intensity of shadow right on the chest in that forward yet angled position.
I next decide to do a montage of horse ears. A frisson of joy begins to course through me as I knowingly outline the triangular shape of the ear which finishes with the silken tip. My fingers are flying now.
But it was when I move on to the horse’s hooves that I suddenly sit up straighter. I am drawing not only the hoof in its ground position, but also when it is lifted up, as seen by a blacksmith. Your great grandfather was a blacksmith my blood whispers to me as I eye and then recreate on paper the feather hairs that intersect the cartilage…the soft triangular shapes that make up the frog…the softer inner part of the hoof that must be cleaned before every ride.
I know exactly what that bone feels like. I know exactly where to press my fingers behind it so the horse will give me grace to see the inner workings of its hoof… the surprisingly tiny few inches of bone and cartilage that support literally a ton of weight…the hooves that allow moves as graceful as a pirouette in a pas de deux or as powerful as a thundering train hurtling down a race track.
I feel instantly back in the stall of my childhood home, wearing my boots and blue jeans and shirt with snaps down the front of it. I throw my arms around our Tennessee Walker’s neck and hug him as he snuffles my hair and then nibbles on the back of my jeans, looking for a carrot.
I then brace myself and lean into his left shoulder, running my hand down his fetlock and then pressing the soft place where his ankle connects to the hoof. I press my fingers in deeper and he lifts his hoof. Suddenly it is my hand. Cradling it against my bent knee I take the iron tool and begin scraping against the face of his hoof, picking away pebbles that got stuck in his shoe. Finished, I drop his foot and then move slowly back, gliding my hand along his slick shiny side, and then lean again against his flank. Leaning in to steer clear of any possible kick out strike, though I know he has never done this before. In his whole life he never did.
As I continue tracing the horses in the book I realize that I am not drawing from a theoretical concept. My hands have touched and thrilled over and brushed and washed and cleaned every muscle on that beautiful body. My fingers know where the chest muscles bulge and retract. They know how the nostrils flare up and out. How the chin dissolves into little whiskers. How the full lips are feathered on the outside and are moist and pink on the inside gum. Oh, how I miss horses, I think as I finally put away the paper.
For some reason when I sing hymns my eyes begin to weep. I suddenly remember harmonies from long ago. The daughters of my great grandfather blacksmith were in a singing group that toured the Midwest. The Edwards sisters. They were famous. Because they knew how to sing. And their earnings bought that blacksmith’s family a hotel, which kept them afloat during hard times ahead. They learned how to rent out rooms and feed strangers as well as sing.
I think about tracings as I stand up and then casually look in the mirror to begin my day.
Many times we think we made ourselves up all on our own. But if we sit down and be still, and begin tracing what someone has drawn before, we may remember things we never knew. Yet somehow, know us.
The me in me-mory is also made up of a them, somewhere in our distant past, hidden in a bottom drawer.
What tracings shall you be doing today? And at what point will you too sit up and remember things you have never known?
Laurie Beth. (Live.Breathe.Joy)