Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Walking Amongst Giants

Bullet, a handsome Percheron gelding. What a mug!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent last weekend at a horse show. But not just any horse show - the 35th Annual Idaho State Draft Horse & Mule International Show in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I've been meaning to get to this event for years, but the daunting nine hour trek always seemed to kibosh it. With the advent of my book series, however, that excuse went out the window, since I want to use my own photos. And drafters and mules, being so unique in terms of sculptural concepts, warranted this expedition because I had none of my own photos of them.

The massive 2-Up class. I couldn't fit them all in my frame!

More importantly though, I'm at a point with my work where I need to start stretching and only the source can provide those pathways for me. Indeed, I've been meaning to sculpt a slew of drafters for some time, but wasn't confident I could capture them faithfully - in body or spirit - without adequate up close and personal exposure to a variety of them. They are so very different from other types of horses.
Lovely dapple grey mules pulling a restored vintage stagecoach on loan from the Pendleton Round-Up.

So I needed to observe them, interact with them and soak them in since no photo, painting, video or grandstand view provides an adequate base for me. I also had questions that only the living animal could answer, and I wanted to capture those esoteric things that are personally interesting to me for future work. I'm also at work on a special project involving a lovely draft mare (which I'll get to in a future post), but felt I needed more "face time" with drafters to do her justice.

Beautiful German Warmbloods giving a demo on Combined Driving. Ham was totally jazzed when I told him about this sport and so a trip to a Combined Driving event is in order! Woot!

I'm a firm believer that photo-dependent sculpting loses something in translation. Getting out there to connect with the subject, to experience the animal, is necessary to inform my work and remind me of deeper things. Our mental libraries aren't formed only of images, but of feelings, too.

A cool 8-Up mule entry.

And boy - did I get a lot of feelings that weekend! I'm not embarrassed to admit that I was moved to tears so many times that perhaps people just assumed I had an allergy. To feel the ground thump and rumble with each foot fall as they trotted past, to hear the bellows of their breathing and the blow of their snorts, to witness their majestic was overwhelming.
A dramatic 4-Abreast team of Clydesdales.

Then to have them intently watching me, staring down from their 18-19 hands (that's a minimum of six feet at the withers folks), blocking out the sun with bodies so massive that only being alongside them truly conveys their size. A precocious boy we met at the show described their enormous feet as "cement trucks" - an apt description! Indeed, to my 5'2" frame they were monumental statues come to life. How something so enormous and powerful could be so gentle and gracious was humbling. A true testament to equine nature.

Two lovely mules watching the log skidding.

Then to have them look through me was an important reminder, and a horsey characteristic I happen to relish. So often we forget that horses live in their own world alongside ours, and I keep their world closest to heart as an artist. So it was a delight to watch them interact with each other, with every distinct personality clear as day. Even in the midst of work, they have their own "office chatter."

This is a line up of Belgian mares. The mare with the wide blaze was so put out by her brethren - she was still the boss mare even when tied up. They were an intriguing bunch to watch. Mare bands are considered among the most complex social systems in the animal kingdom.

I was also astonished to discover how nimble and energetic drafters were despite their size. Here were one ton creatures who possessed a degree of dexterity and grace that rivaled light horses. They also coiled naturally and pranced quite a bit, especially when doing something they seemed to enjoy. This was quite clear in the weight pulling contests - they often nearly dragged the driver to the sled and the moment they heard the clang of that pin...they were off! 

Prancey and gorgeous after their weight pull. I believe they were up to nearly 7,000 lbs at that point.

These horses don't mess around! Doing their stuff in the weight pull.

It was also interesting to watch them fidget while waiting to flaunt their stuff, sometimes tossing their heads in anticipation, or impatiently stomping the ground. Seeing how they interacted with each other in harness was fascinating, too. Here were working partners who had to function as a team, but who also existed within their own equine hierarchy. 

Two handsome grey mules.

Beautiful entries in the 2-Up mule class.

Above all, though, the intelligence of these animals was unmistakeable in their keen interest on the goings-on, their interactions with people and children, and their astute responses to all the voice commands from the driver who told them what to do - by name - through all the different driving courses. 

Two beautiful Clydesdales in the farm class.

So let's just say it was a weekend of "verklemptsia." Of course along with all those impressions came a heaping wad of reference images and videos - all 9,951 of them. Sculpting 3D realism entails a vast sum of interdisciplinary information, gained by life study and research. Photos act in partnership with these by freezing information for later use. This is why most artists working in realism have such ponderous reference libraries.

We had breakfast here super early in order to be at the fairgrounds by 8am for the halter classes. Unfortunately they were all canceled except one, but we spent that time at the wash rack. Anyhoot - this place had super friendly service and really tasty "greasy spoon" food. A local hang-out with lots of character.

As for the actual fairgrounds, it was nicely put together and not so large as to be cumbersome. The main arena is against a beautiful backdrop of pine studded mountains, but that does mean it's always in partial shade. Great for attendees, but tricky for photographs! On top of that, the other half of the classes were in the evening with low light, again making it difficult for photos.

Friday's attendance was good, but not crowded. Lots of "grey hairs," which was great, but had us worrying about the future of shows like this. Though we did love the row of wheel chairs in front. Look at that bonnet!

But the grandstand was packed Saturday! With all ages! So we realized it was a function of school and work that kept the masses a bay the day before. Phew!

And they got quite a show with entries like these! Beautiful Belgians in the 6-Up horse class. The ground rumbled when they trotted by, like an earthquake!

The program was nicely done, as were the T-shirts - we each bought one, of course. And overall the schedule was well planned and the classes were very entertaining, even if you knew nothing about driving. We totally enjoyed all of them, but my favorites were the farm class, weight-pull, log skidding, Gambler's Choice, 6-Up, Tandem and 4-Abreast.

A fabulous blue-ribbon winning entry in the 6-Up horse class. That's the judge driving them now, which he did periodically as a perk.

Ham really enjoyed the weight-pulling. He couldn't believe those horses got up to pulling 8,000+ lbs on a wheel-less sled, stopping only because the judge cried uncle! And you could tell draft and mule folk have a good time. A hefty dose of humor was peppered throughout the show, and the grandstand roared with laughter at regular intervals. Mickey, in particular, was a fun entry into the farm class (below).

To add a bit of levity, here's wee Mickey in the farm class. He has fuzzy leg wraps, simulating the heavy feather of a Clydesdale. Apparently Mickey was "training" to be a Clydesdale and, of course, he was a huge crowd favorite.

It was also great to have the Canadian flag displayed alongside the American flag, and the singing of the Canadian anthem along with the American anthem. This show has a large proportion of Canadians who attend and participate, as Sandpoint is only about 30 minutes from the Canadian border. 

America and Canada were both celebrated at this show.

So I was amongst some of my favorite things: Ham, horses, Canadians, and the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had (gluten free to boot!) from Jupiter Jane's Traveling Cafe. The gals who ran the cafe were a hoot, and had some mighty tasty food! Try their popcorn! I thought my popcorn-poppin'-junkie hubby was going to pass out from sheer euphoria from their popcorn.

Jupiter Jane Traveling Cafe - a converted school bus turned into a fully functional cafe. So cool! And great grub - check them out when in the Sandpoint area!

Speaking of Ham - he was a blessing! He snapped photos and shot video right alongside me. He intuitively knew what kinds of images I was looking for, which made for some awesome treasures. He also did all the driving and made sure I consumed sustenance throughout the day because I'm prone to forget that with my noggin in high gear.

Look at all those grey mules in this awesome 8-Up hitch!

I was deathly worried he'd be bored out of his gourd on this trip, so was I thrilled to discover that he was as enthralled with these creatures as I was! He definitely considers the drafter his favorite horse now, and wistfully thought about having a herd of them one day. No complaints from me! 

 A cool 4-Abreast mule entry.

Personally I've always been far more interested in driving than riding (I'm also an abysmal rider), so I've been cogitating taking classes. Perhaps Ham would be interested, too? Anyway, he had no idea about their size and power, or the close human-animal relationship required for the level of driving at the show. How the animals worked with their people to accomplish the job fascinated him. So it all was doubly satisfying to find that he thoroughly enjoyed himself, too.

A scene inside the tack up barn.

He also saved my bacon - twice! And predictably, in a technical way. I'd bought some new memory cards for my camera in anticipation of the bajillions of photos I'd be taking. But worried I'd run out of space regardless, I wanted to download our photos into his laptop every evening to empty them for the next day. So - of course - what do I forget to pack? My camera's USB cable! I swear, if we were to trek through the Mojave, I'd forget to pack water. Luckily, being the techno boyscout he is, he packed his and it was one I could use, too. Sweet hallelujah!

A modern day work horse: a railroad cleaning car parked in our hotel parking lot! I'd never even heard of these things, let alone seen one. Ham knew what it was, though, and explained that those little metal wheels come down hydraulically for the truck to ride on the rails, cleaning them with a big brush thing on the front bumper. Crazy time! Apparently the Sandpoint area is a huge intersection for some major railways so a train could be heard about every 5-10 minutes! Note to self: don't camp in Sandpoint or Ponderay if a railway is near the site.

My second batch of bacon was potentially catastrophic: two of my cards developed a communication error. Never happened before, but it meant that the thousands of pix I took would be lost. I knew there were some truly awesome shots on them that I desperately wanted, so much so that I considered hiring a data retrieval company for buku bucks. As you can imagine, I was in a panic, to the point of almost collapsing into a buggy-eyed singularity. Until (cue trumpet), Ham to the rescue! In a flash, he diagnosed the problem and solved it with some random gadget, and then downloaded all the photos perfectly. Can I have another sweet hallelujah? He saved the trip!

 Ham doesn't mess around - who else would bring a fifty foot ethernet cable to avoid the security nightmare that is hotel wifi.

As for those photos, this year we focused mostly on motion, though I also took shots of heads and posture, too, though not as many as I would have hoped. We just ran out of time. I also didn't get as many photos of mules as I wanted, or of color, or build. But we're definitely returning next year, and with a new strategic plan. For starters, we're going to wander the barns more (and in the morning when the light is better) and especially target the staging areas for the ring. We also now know which parts of the main arena are best for which classes so we can position ourselves early. 

Party at the wash rack! It was really handy to be able to compare Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales side by side.

We were able to hit the wash racks Friday, which proved to be a real boon. The wash racks are always the place where the party is, and wow - did it deliver! Sculptures galore! So we intend to hit the racks even more next year. Ham also suggested I bring my tripod, which is a good idea especially for the low-light conditions. I really have to figure out how to tackle that next year a bit better. We did miss the 8-Up horse class because it was on Sunday, so we'll save that for next year, as well. I figure we can't do everything at once; otherwise we have nothing to look forward to next time!

A smart tandem entry.

In addition to all that, we've really fallen in love with the Sandpoint/Ponderay area. Lake Pend Oreille is geologically incredible and so peacefully beautiful, as are the surrounding areas with all their amazing landscapes and geology. Great riding country, both horse and Harley! The towns are small and quaint with original old architecture, and the people are so friendly and laid back. So me thinks a nine hour trip is well worth it for such occasions.

An exciting 4-Up horse class.

We headed for home at 3am Sunday morning in order to be home early to decompress before the beginning of the week. This also allowed me to sleep for half the trip to keep from driving Ham insane with "when are we going to be there" questions. But truth be told - I'm still decompressing and processing everything I experienced and learned. And I'm definitely eager for next year's show. They're going to feature new classes, such as a chariot race, and I want to try some different photography methods.

Three at work in the log-skidding class.

Through it all, it occurred to me that draft horses were an equine version of Ham (or Ham a human version of draft horses). Large, intimidating and robust, but gentle and very sweet! No wonder why he likes them so much! No wonder why I like them so much! It was a weekend of Hammie Horses! thinks there's a series in there...hmmm.

Anyway, I can say with confidence that herds of drafters will be galloping from the studio now - and I can't wait to get started! 

"In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag." ~ W.H. Auden

Related Posts with Thumbnails