Painting: an Evolution

I love our barn. It was built by John Black, our neighbor who sold us our land and who used to run a dairy farm. Our barn is sturdy, built with strong wood and care. Most of the wood came from June Washam’s old sawmill. June, who has a road named after him, and was recovering from open heart surgery when we knew him, came over and helped John in the building process, even though he wasn’t able to stand up straight. He has since passed away, but the quality of his wood and our barn still stands. John Black says, “Everywhere there should have been four nails, I put five.” Craftsmanship like that is a rare gift. And I am so thankful.

But ever since our tack room was built, I’ve wanted to paint the outside wall of it. It’s made of pressed particle board and has the brand stamped in black running in a diagonal line across it.  I’ve always been someone who likes the idea of transforming ugliness into beauty…so, using some old paint that I had around the house and the barn, I began the process.

I enjoy painting, but I don’t consider myself a real artist. My brother Bill was the artist in our family. His watercolor scenes and portraits mesmerized and amazed me. He could perform magic with his brush. My attempts at drawing nature and wildlife were enthusiastic, but typically the trees and the animals were somewhat ill-formed and oddly shaped. But there was something exciting about the process.

These days I enjoy the idea of transforming a plain wall into something magical. Not that I have any misconceptions about my talent. I know it’s raw. Maybe more than raw. But there is joy in the process … the idea of creating something new.

So I went to work on the outside wall of the tack room. I started by painting over the particle board with a tan color. It was a hot day, close to 100, and I had to stand on a stool, then a chair to reach the top of the board. Covering the particle board in paint proved harder than I had imagined. After about an hour, I had less than a quarter of the wall painted and I was drenched in sweat. A wasp crawled out of the wall and circled around me. I held my breath and it flew away.

I stepped back every 10 minutes or so and surveyed my progress, promising myself I would stop … after I was one-third of the way done, then halfway, and finally, gradually, I only had the top left corner to finish … so I persevered.

Then the wind kicked up and the temperature dropped from 98 degrees to the mid 80s and it felt positively cool. I went up to the house as the first rain that we’d had in weeks began falling. But after a few minutes, I thought to myself…Why am I here when it’s finally cool? So I scrounged around the house for some blue craft paint that I could add to the partial can of white paint in the barn. I found some and returned to the barn to paint the sky.

It was a pleasure to paint as the wind stirred through the barn. I could hear the horses rustling behind the barn and the occasional stomping of hooves. The coat of blue went onto the particle board a bit easier.

A few days later, when I had a few hours to myself, I began painting the green that would be the pasture. It took me a while to turn the pale blue paint into green. I don’t like to waste anything, so I stirred yellow into what remained of the pale blue paint. When I tried it out, I could tell that the sky and the pasture would be almost the same color. It took a lot more yellow and some dark green craft paint to finally come up with something dark enough to pass for a pasture.

I was most excited about adding horses to the scene. My plan was to paint each of the horses that are currently on the farm…and possibly add Crimson (looking down from a cloud). I painted Foxie (a palomino), Smokey (a grey Shetland  pony) and Misty (a paint) using silhouettes of horses I found on the internet as a guide. It was fun to add their distinctive coloring. I still need to add some shadowing on Smokey as he looks a bit ghost-like.

After painting the horses, I added some fluffy clouds and then… as is often the case… my time was up. I still hope to add Crimson and some trees and a Bible verse that I discovered as I was contemplating the dream of having horses back on the farm.

The mural on the tack room is still evolving. It’s a long way from perfect. But then so am I.



Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Psalms 37:3






My friend Jo lives above a barn in what has always seemed to me to be a storybook setting. She is an artist and a lover of all animals. But Jo has a special connection with horses and an exquisite ability to capture their beauty and majesty through her artwork and animal portraits.


I first met Jo many years ago, after she stopped by my barn and left a note. Later, she told me that she had been looking for a friend who might share her passion for horses, and she felt that God had led her to me. At one time, Jo kept her white Arabian named Pride at our barn. We rode together, attended clinics and she cared for the horses at our barn when I was out of town.


Jo eventually bought her own small farm, and I remember being thrilled that it was 3.5 miles away. I could drive there in about 5 minutes. As the barn and her living space above it were being built, Jo painted this lovely signpost of places that were important to her or places she dreamed of going. I was so honored to be on it! I remember us discussing how horses keep a person tied down, but she hoped that this sign would bring travel into her life.


Perhaps it did. Jo traveled to Panama a few years ago on a mission trip. I had lived there for five years during my growing up years. It’s the place where I was first introduced to horses.

I’ve had the privilege of sharing more than horses with Jo. In addition to her amazing artwork, she is also a poet and writer. Several years ago, Jo tentatively shared with me a beautiful poem that she had written and illustrated, that I hope will one day be a child’s picture book. We have wonderful conversations about creativity, and being with her inspires me.

Jo also knows my history. She listened and cared for me and my animals as my mother slowly descended into Alzheimer’s. She knew about my many miscarriages. And she was there to celebrate with me when Sydney was born, bearing a gift of artwork…a beautiful collage of fabric made into a bucking bronco. I had seen it before and loved the energy it exuded. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the perfect metaphor for a 40-year-old woman learning to embrace motherhood.


Once I became a mother, I didn’t see Jo as often as I would have liked. But we continued to stay in touch. When another horse friend and I put together a collection of work called, Riding Out: Poems of Grief and Redemption, Jo allowed us to use her beautiful painting of Pride as the cover, and she displayed this amazing piece and other horse artwork during a series of readings we did.

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“The King’s Horse” painted by Jo Rissanen


When Crimson died, Jo came over and said a prayer at his grave. When she was considering buying or selling a horse, she would give me a call to talk things over. When I saw on Facebook that her beloved Pride had died suddenly, I picked up the phone.

We sought out opportunities to stay connected. Over the years, Jo became an art teacher for Sydney and a succession of her homeschooled friends. During art class, I took walks down her dirt road, often with one of her dogs, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone. There was always a special peace during those walks.







Jo helped both Sydney and Lauren-Kate create covers for their books. Under Jo’s warm and inspiring tutelage, Sydney, in fact, just finished painting the artwork that will grace her third book cover. (for more information on these books, go to

Before I began this journey back into the horse world, I talked with Jo. She knew my fears and desires: that I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, that I wanted to move slowly and that it was important to me to be in touch with the Spirit. Each step of the way Jo has supported me and offered help. Her gentle listening ear heard each of my concerns.

About six weeks ago, Jo and I had a rare chance to visit and share our hopes and dreams with each other for the future. We both seemed to be on the brink of something new (with horses) in our lives, and we were both unsure of how to proceed. Jo became a prayer warrior for me, and I have tried to keep her covered in prayer also. This is one of the rare gifts that a long and special friendship provides. It also provides perspective. And hope.

Knowing that Jo has been praying for my dreams has helped me to embrace expectancy. I am able to connect the dots, trace the path that is being laid down before me. And believe that all will be well.


Note: I have been blessed with many special friends and family members. Each one is different and unique. I am filled with gratitude for these dear people who play such an important role in my life.  

Preparations vs. Packing: a Contrast

Two days ago we had a delivery of hay, and yesterday a truckload of shavings arrived. Today is the big day. Foxie and Smoky will arrive. The farm is ready for new life.





I can’t help but think about the day, over a decade ago, that I prepared to send Crimson away. I knew it was the closing of a chapter in my life.

In this excerpt from my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, I describe a very different time:

Crimson leaves tomorrow. I have already packed his brushes and tack in my Blazer. In the morning, I’ll load a bag of feed and two extra bales of hay in the trailer. Does he sense a change coming? I’ve told him I will miss him, that I’m not sure when I’ll be able to bring him home.

When I walk up to the big pasture I find him lying down. Instinct tells me to check for signs of colic. His stomach is normal, not bloated. He isn’t biting at his flank. Usually, if he is resting, he gets up as soon as he sees me and gives his body a shake. But this time he stays on the ground and watches me approach, with his front legs curled into himself.

He looks like a large dog or, with his chestnut coloring, a doe. It is a cool, clear day and he is on the lower part of a knoll, just out of the wind. His head slowly droops so that his muzzle rests on the grass and his eyes close. He appears to be enjoying the November sun.

As quietly as possible I sit down crosslegged beside him. His eyes open slightly and his head jerks as if he has fallen asleep and woken himself up. Gradually he lets it sag again. I’m not sure how long we stay here. The sun warms my knees and the earth’s dampness creeps through the denim of my jeans. I reach out my hand and feel warm puffs of air from Crimson’s nostrils. He extends his legs as if he is about to stand. I tense, preparing to move out of his way. But he rolls over on his side, stretching his neck against the cool grass. Instead of scratching his back and immediately getting up, he stays motionless.

Is he savoring his last full day on the farm? I watch the barrel of his stomach swell and recede. Slowly I lie down beside him, so that my head rests an inch or two from his half-closed eye and my body less than a foot away from his bent legs. I know the danger, how an unexpected noise could cause him to flinch, strike out with his hooves in an effort to quickly right himself, how his thousand pounds could crush my ribs. But I stay here, matching my breath to his, staring at the blue expanse of sky.

Crimson’s legs remain still, defenseless. A long sigh quivers through the length of his body.

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painting of Crimson by my friend, Joanna Rissanen

I’m so thankful that today is a very different kind of day.


(For more information on Motherhood: Lost and Found, see