The Art of Caring: Finding Beauty When Things Are Hard

"Peaceable Vermont II" acrylic on canvas by Lisa Curry Mair

BY LISA CURRY MAIR

Most of the people who know me think of me as an artist. Someone who paints pretty pictures of peaceful scenes, usually with a horse or two. But the people who really know me know that my obsession with horses goes far beyond pretty pictures. Truth be told, I started selling my art over 25 years ago to help pay for my horsey habit. To this day, my art feeds my horses and my horses feed my art. 

I call a rambling old farmhouse in southern Vermont home. The 200-year old barn across the dead end dirt road keeps my horses and two donkeys safe and warm. A “normal” day starts with feeding the gang and dragging the donkeys out to their pasture. It progresses to a quick “daily doodle” in my sketchbook followed by multiple trips to the barn to do chores, turn out, ride and feed in between drawing, painting and running my studio business. It sounds crazy and disheveled, and it is, but it works. Mostly. 

Lisa Curry Mair with “Kate” Winslet

Early in 2019 my mare, Winslet (I call her Kate), showed signs of discomfort from time to time during work. From the first day I sat on that then 3-year old baby, she has been the most willing dressage partner I’ve ever had. We easily bopped up the levels through the next 5 years. I could hack her almost anywhere, alone or with a group, and could pop her in the trailer and take her for training or showing without batting an eye. Last fall we finished off a successful show year with a 69% in only our second attempt at Fourth Level. All signs were pointing to Prix St. Georges for 2019—or so I thought. 

In early April, an MRI showed a soft tissue injury to Kate’s right front pastern. Poof! Gone were my FEI dreams for 2019. But I hunkered down and did everything the doctor ordered. Stall rest and hand walking progressed over slow weeks to tack walking and tiny, round pen turnout. Fast forward to July when we were finally able to work minimal minutes in walk, trot and canter and turnout had grown to a small grass paddock with a buddy. 

Two days before our scheduled check up which would hopefully tell me we could go back to regular work, I felt something was not quite right. Was that her left front that was weird in the corners? I alerted the doctor and after careful examination, a flare on a tendon in her left front foot appeared on the ultrasound. You know it’s bad when your vet says, “Oh no!” 

“After the Show” Oil on canvas by Lisa Curry Mair

This one required surgery, and there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to have it done. Not doing it could result in a messy tendon that could cause problems for the rest of her life. The tendon was repaired arthroscopically, and Kate came home teetering on high-heeled shoes and sporting a big old bandage. Back to square one, or maybe even a little further back than that. All I could do was wrap and hand graze the poor girl—and think about the lost time. 

And my art? Well it’s hard to paint horses when my beloved horse is hurt. The work that sad, frustrated painters create tends to be well, sad and frustrated. Luckily Kate is a wonderful patient and makes the chore of looking after a stable-bound horse relatively easy. I have a wonderfully supportive family and community. They’re all rooting for me. And I’ve found a horse to borrow, serendipitously named “Magic” to quell my need to ride. Maybe I’ll start feeling happier and my art will follow. 

“Mary & Kate” Acrylic on canvas by Lisa Curry Mair

One foot in front of the other. Step by step the future will unfold. For now all I can do is follow the rehab as indicated and keep my fingers oh so tightly crossed (while trying to paint-tricky, to say the least). But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Right? 

“Kate” Painted sketch by Lisa Curry Mair

Even though so much of my focus these days is directed at Kate’s two front legs, I can’t help but notice her kind, soft eye and that curve in her neck when I offer her an apple. Stall rest cannot steal her beauty, and that beauty comes to life on the easel before me.