This is going to be a sad post. Going through some older work that I haven’t thought about for a while, I came across one of the first portraits I ever painted. The portrait was a gift, completed in spring of 2014. The subject is Dutchess, a Belgian Draught mare who was one of the most important residents of our farm until a couple of weeks ago when she tragically passed away.
Dutchess was a whole lot of horse, physically and personality-wise. The day we brought our horses to the farm, we put them into stalls to let them unwind from the move. Iris’s stall was next to Dutchess, and the Great Creature raised her nose over the 6-and-a-half-foot wall between them to greet her new neighbor. Iris who was barely 2 at the time, stretched her own head up in reply, in a moment my mother describes: “Was like Adam reaching to God in Michelangelo’s painting.”
In the over six years from that first day until her passing, Dutchess was a great teacher to our horses. As a trail companion, Dutchess spent many hours helping Belle get over her fear of crossing water. She helped Iris even more, being Iris’s coach for her first trail rides. Dutchess gave Iris the courage to ford streams, scale steep hills, and blaze through thick vegetation, acting as an emotional (and sometimes physical) wall. Their relationship wasn’t perfect; Iris didn’t always appreciate Dutchess’s steady stream of flatulence in her face and would pin her ears to show it, but my horses did consider Dutchess “an acceptable companion,” the highest honor they can bestow.
Dutchess was the queen of the farm, but even a queen has her not-so-graceful moments. I can remember two occasions when she fell flat on her side. The first, I surprised her carrying a hose to the water tub from behind some trees. As she heaved her huge self to turn and buck, she fell sideways with a splat in the mud, quickly recovered, and stood swishing her tiny tail with an expression that said we should never mention it again. On the second occasion, I made the mistake of trying to bring Dutchess’s companion Robin in from the pasture first. Her Majesty responded to this breach of etiquette by galloping full tilt towards the gate, trying to stop in the mud too late, and sliding her full-ton self into the gate (which subsequently smacked me in the head)
That great force of weight that gave me a concussion caused other issues as well; as Dutchess often leaned on her stall door to rest her joints, breaking it. This led to one of the barn owner’s proudest contraptions: Dutchess’s Butt Bar – a reinforced 2″ x 6″ piece of wood that could be swung out of the way to help spare the poor door some of her weight. When the Butt Bar was in use, on quiet days, you could often see flaxen tail hairs squished through the stall bars as she rested herself.
The stories I’ve shared here are only a few of my most prominent memories of Dutchess. As such a big part of our lives, her presence has been greatly missed. She may not be among us, but her spirit lives on, and there will be more portraits of her to come.
If you would like a memorial portrait of a beloved lost pet, or just one celebrating the ones you have now, you can hire me to paint it on Etsy.com