Christmas Portrait

What’s the ultimate Christmas present? Well, I guess it might be that dream pony that many of us once asked for every year but few of us ever got. Sometimes later it became a dream horse for Christmas. Maybe the dream horse arrived on some other occasion, or maybe we bought or bred our own dream horse, but that Christmas wish always seems to float through our hearts every year no matter how old we are or how many horses we have. It can be kind of tough for those who love us to come up with the perfect gift. (Can anything really match a pony with a bow around its neck!)

Well, even a couple years later, I still remember the feeling when I opened my “ultimate” Christmas gift. My husband Henry had a portrait painted of me and our first foal Midnight, a Hanoverian cross by Abundance out of my wonderful grade mare India. The painting is based on a photo taken by my brother Tom 35 years ago, and it has always been a favorite of ours — my brother had asked me to see if I could get Midnight to face the camera. I had a rope in my hand to catch him, but I put my arm around his neck instead. He rubbed against me and I started laughing. It was a perfect moment captured in the photo.

A neighbor of ours in our home in Tryon N.C., Richard Christian Nelson, is a wonderful artist with a national reputation specializing in portraits. Henry somehow arranged for Rich to do the painting without me finding out. Rich doesn’t normally paint horses, but I feel he nailed this painting. I am amazed how much more it makes me smile than I even do when I see the photo.

I am reminded of a favorite quote of mine from the play “Harvey” – “A photograph shows only the reality; a painting shows not only the reality but the dream behind it.” I feel Rich’s painting catches that feeling I had that this wonderful colt was my future. (Henry and I were both in the play in our high schools – 3,000 miles apart – and we still have the scripts. We even went to see the play on its Broadway revival last spring.)

Actually, Midnight had already focused my future, since Henry had a lot of fun the year before telling everyone we had to get married “to provide a home for the baby.” India was already pregnant when we started dating, and when we got married we combined the resources of our two townhouses to buy a farm. Henry’s mother came up with the next great gift – her wedding present to us was a stud service so that we could breed back and maybe get a matched set. By the next spring we had two full brothers.

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