This is the first post on my new blog. I’m all about the circus, living my life as a creative artist and how wonderful my life with horses has been. I have many stories to share about my interesting life and have finally begun getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more and let me hear from you. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
An eight-week tour of Kentucky performing on the Shrine Circus materialized for the spring of 1993. By this time in his career, Souveran was performing consistently everywhere I took him. This circus tour went to small armories, gymnasiums and large coliseums all over Kentucky to raise money for the Shriners.
The spring of the year is an especially wonderful time to be in the Kentucky mountains. The extensive tour took this circus troupe all over this beautiful state. The rolling countryside, board fences and burley barns provided contrast to urban sprawl. I enjoyed the picturesque kaleidoscope of landscape features as I drove between engagements. A few openings in the tour occurred with which to visit Kentucky Horse Park, the Red Mile race track, and the big sale barn called Tattersall’s.
A friend in Williamsburg, Kentucky has a lifelong relationship with Saddlebred horses and an aspiration to perform. He visited often during the tour to watch me. Backstage he told many stories involving numerous horses. Phil Perkins also has the distinction of not missing a Kentucky Derby in forty-two years. Seeking adventure, when he goes to the most exciting two minutes in sports, he never has a plan. Sometimes he goes and pays the scalper’s price for a ticket. Other times, a happenstance meeting led to being invited to a skybox where an elegant party overlooked the racetrack at Churchill Downs.
His son Clay is a highly regarded cutting-horse and cow-horse trainer in his own right. With two days off near his ranch, Clay offered me two stalls so my stock could get some rest. In the cavernous indoor arena, I watched as he put cutting horses through their paces.
Seeing my interest, a conversation started about the differences and similarities between the High School and Cutting horses. We then realized they actually share much of the same prowess. We compared the signals between rider and horse. Although the results were similar we concluded the way we got them were quite different.
As we enlightened each other with this information, he finally asked, “have you ever been on a cow horse?”
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a western saddle on a spotted quarter horse, and my host told me where the buttons were for getting this horse to work. I leaned forward to exaggerate my seat to signal the horse to move forward. This is the opposite of how I communicate with a dressage horse. I had to learn new signals. Soon I had the cow horse going, halting and spinning.
Excited with my progress, I blurted, “Bring in some cows!”
Soon I sat on the horse while my host provided me the criteria for cutting a calf from the herd.
“There is absolutely nothing at all unmanly about holding onto the horn of the saddle,” he suggested, “As a matter of fact, I strongly recommend that you do.”
Soon, I walked the horse on a loose rein and guided him with legs only. We headed toward the herd. As we stepped closer to the cows, they moved cautiously as a group, away from us. Then, true to his word, one of them volunteered, or turned in a different direction from the rest. As we walked between him and the group the horse went into auto-pilot. As the calf attempted to find a route back to the herd, the horse took a stance that, would not only block the way, but would also allow him to launch in either direction the calf might take.
From this low stance, the calf finally did start running down the rail and the horse stayed right on his tail. Suddenly, the calf did a one-eighty and turned to run back. As the horse stayed in the advantageous position he was trained for alongside the renegade calf, I began to relate to a cartoon of Wiley Coyote I remembered. During his self-launching attempts to catch the Roadrunner, when, as the rocket device launched his body, his head, with a quizzical expression, would stay behind for just a moment, until, it too, became launched as a projectile. I was glad to be holding on to the saddle horn.
Later, over dinner, my friend Phil reported that while the group was watching my display that afternoon, Clay exclaimed, “That man can ride a horse!”
I cherish the memories of riding a working cow horse that day. The next morning, I loaded up Sir and Betty and headed for my next town.
The conclusion of the tour led to a series of circus performances at Rupp Arena in Lexington. When the tour was over, I took the livestock north to Roz in South Haven, Michigan and resumed chasing motorhomes. Week in and week out, the mural painting tour took me just as many places as the circus and the whole time I kept dreaming about the future with performing horses and the opportunity to do it again.
The River Ranch Talent Show
The residents at the ranch were going to have an amateur talent show. Word got around about this exciting event. When I heard about it, I thought that would perhaps be a good place to show off Betty the mule’s comedy routine.
The show planned to use an outdoor picnic shelter for the venue that had an open area adjacent to it. When I inspected the location, I saw enough room for a circus ring.
I had no ring curb but a few of the residents raked the leaves into an equivalent shape. I rehearsed with the help of two men – the announcer and a prop man – and Betty did just fine.
Every animal trainer knows: if it works don’t change a thing. I had walked Betty a half mile from the stables to the venue to rehearse. For showtime I figured I’d save some steps and have the horse trailer nearby to tie her to. Since the horse and mule were constant companions, whenever I separated them to work, the other one experienced separation anxiety, because they were herd-bound.
With the horse trailer about a block away with the horse tied to it, I readied Betty and then got dressed. The talent show attracted quite a crowd. They brought folding chairs and were seated in a circle all around the makeshift ring. The volunteer announcer introduced us.
“Direct from the California gold mines, here to launch their career in show business, please welcome Gold Dust and the Old Cuss.”
I guided Betty into the midst of my friends and guests of the ranch. After I waved to the crowd, I asked Betty to begin the routine in the usual way.
She took off. She made a bee-line through the crowd, back from where we came to her companion on the side of the horse trailer. The crowd roared. I ran after her.
I caught up with her and led her back to the ring. After I caught my breath, I made another attempt.
She took off again.
As I ran after her, I realized my mistake. We hadn’t rehearsed with the horse nearby. Now I was in a pinch. It was showtime. I did not know what to do.
As I walked her back to the ring I pleaded, “come on Betty, you have just got to do this thing.”
Back in front of the audience, I had no other option. I started her again.
This time she stayed in the ring and did the entire routine flawlessly. The crowd loved us. Our conclusion included several well-deserved carrots. There is never a dull moment in show business. Such is the life of living with and performing with animals.
The River Ranch luxury RV resort had a Saturday night rodeo. During my winter time role as resident artist I created an opportunity to perform with my horse. I visualized an entertaining act with my horse in a different style. This gave me the ability to keep my horse on the property. Knowing that classic horsemanship, especially while riding an English saddle, would probably not be appreciated by this cowboy crowd, I created a new concept with which to perform. I became “Montana Slim” who, like most cowboys, wanted to go dancing on Saturday night with his constant companion, his horse.
I wrote some patter for the rodeo announcer to accompany my presence in the arena as there was no source of music. Our turn came when barrel racing was over. The announcement I composed began.
“After riding the range on his horse all week,” the tinny drawl came over the loudspeaker, “every cowboy likes to take a break from the rigors of his job on Saturday night.”
As I entered the large arena, he continued, “And what is it that he likes to do with his faithful companion on Saturday night?”
“Just like you and me,” he would exclaim, “they like to go dancing!”
By this time, I had ridden a few circles and became situated central in the arena. While I faced the audience, we began to side pass down the front side.
“Here, as you can clearly see,” he began, “is the Watermelon Crawl.”
The mixed audience of cowboys, cowgirls and RV folks responded with a blend of groans and noisy appreciation.
As I continued Souveran’s vast repertoire, the announcer, gave out names of the other western line dances that were all the rage, and would be mimicked by the folks in the saloon later that night.
“There you see the Tush Push,” he would say.
“That, ladies and gentlemen,” as I changed maneuvers, “is the Electric Slide.”
Then later he would banter, “There’s the Boot Scoot Boogie.”
My contribution at the rodeo, not only kept my horse and his skills fresh, but the glimpse at another facet of the artist was something the guests, many of whom were also my customers, enjoyed. Plus, this gave me the ability to keep my horse and mule with me on the ranch.
Writing Savvy Begins
One benefit of the winter routine at River Ranch was having access to professional people with specialties interested in promoting my success. Robert Maxwell Case was retired from a career in marketing at Kodak and became my mentor. He was very concise as he explained the process of creating an association with quality in the mind of the consumer for my marketing efforts.
While learning savvy from Robert, I recognized a need for the written word for these efforts and thought I needed a writer to help me. Later that year I put an ad in the paper back in Jackson. I received a response from a woman who claimed she could help me. I entered into an attempt to accomplish what I had been taught. I began to verbalize to her what I wanted and to communicate the information appropriate to include. I discovered the ability to put my ideas into understandable concepts. Thus, began my relationship with words. This simple beginning revealed another art form to use to express myself.
The surrogate writer never did produce anything usable but the experience did jump start my early marketing efforts. I began to interview clients and found out interesting facts about their lives. With this information, I composed interesting stories about my customers and their murals. These anecdotes appeared in early marketing efforts.
As my writing progressed, I composed elaborate musings to use as newsletter material. I had been collecting customer contact information from the Fleetwood, Blue Bird and River Ranch data bases for my mailing list. My plan for this aggressive project was to mail an admirable piece of literature to my expanding client base.
Not having a computer, I recruited the help of a typesetter at a printing company to arrange headline, photographs, story and footing with my logo into finished layout for my ads. The Ridge Printing Company in Lake Wales became a practical place to handle the process of composition, proofing, printing and folding. I worked with Kathy Flowers. She used the terms of a typesetter because she began in the business before the advent of the computer. She knew how old-time printing was accomplished. With her help, I learned many of the trade terms and achieved pleasant composition for these efforts.
Over the years, we created a series of several page, printed and folded newsletters to mail out to my growing client list.
Later, the advent of email changed the way marketing was distributed and Letterfly evolved. The musings did too. I began to compose interesting segments of my adventures on the road as an itinerate artist. I receive encouragement to this day from customers who enjoy these musings. They planted the seed to produce an accumulation of these works for an eventual book.
I met Frank Macdonald at the Rally in the Valley. He requested a painting of a reining horse on the back of his Wanderlodge and that was right up my alley. Our mutual interest in horses led to other ways to connect. Frank had a cabinet company in nearby Columbus, Georgia. Occasionally he built cabinets for Blue Bird. He also did custom interior work for owners of Blue Bird Wanderlodges. I was invited to his shop and bring my painting services to his clients.
After my month of serving Wanderlodge owners in Fort Valley I went to his shop. The spacious facility was fully staffed and equipped with modern tools of every type. I could also work on my equipment. He had stalls at his farm in the country for Souveran and Betty. Over the years Frank’s empire became a regular stop.
One year during the long trek from Michigan with my entire entourage, I barely made it to his home with the livestock. Something happened with the engine and the truck quit running. Forward momentum stopped. I made a phone call. I sat on the side of the road in that rural county. Frank came out to see me.
“It looks like you might need a new truck,” he commented as we guessed what was wrong.
He called a mechanic friend who worked on trucks. With his help we got it going. I made it to Frank’s farm to unload the livestock and then made it to Fort Valley to get ready for the rally. There I had friends who could help with the truck. Soon I was busy with Blue Bird Wanderlodge paint work and the truck repairs were underway.
Frank got the ball rolling for the purchase of a new Dodge diesel truck for me on his company account. The purchase of this cab and chassis gave me a significant upgrade. When the rally was over and all the work at the Bird’s Nest was complete, I returned to Columbus to begin swapping the truck bed and the ladder rack over to the new truck.
The process of moving the deck, rack, generator and compressor from the Ford started with disassembly. First the steel bed was removed along with the overhead rack pieces. These were all placed on a trailer and taken to a sandblast place to get them ready for new paint. The welding guy modified the truck bed to fit the new truck. Other features had to be accomplished including wiring for brakes and lights. Several setbacks during this project expanded the amount of time that lapsed.
My sister lived in nearby Pensacola. When Thanksgiving arrived, I called to say hello. She always had a festive holiday dinner for her family but never made an effort to invite me. When asked about this by my mother, Paula sluffed it off.
“He has a standing invitation,” She retorted.
Whatever that means. Starting as a child I had the feeling that I just didn’t fit in anywhere. At one time my sister was my ally as we went through this plight together. Now here behavior only promoted the shame, neglect and aloneness we suffered in childhood. I go all over the country to produce works of art and receive accolades from strangers but from my sister and her husband I get that cold reminder of being less than.
I receive more regard from my customers and friends than from my sister and her husband. They had four kids and no handle on practical discipline. When I did visit I found chaos. The lack of regard only promoted reluctance to see them. That may have fueled my appetite for adventure. There was safety in that unknown.
Once all the pieces were assembled and, on the truck, I began the paint job. I painted the bottom half of the cab and all the bed yellow. When the two-tone paint job was complete I began the artwork. I airbrushed a huge winged horse on each side. The name Letterfly went over the horse using a neon looking letter style. When complete, I clear-coated all the art. By the time this truck neared completion, we had frost in the morning. That meant time to go south. Over a month had passed.
With Frank’s help, I had a sturdy truck with a reliable Cummins engine. The diesel truck was a big improvement to my life in many ways. With double the BTU’s in the fuel, I immediately noticed my mileage double. The trip into Florida became a time of elation. On the inaugural run I gave the truck the nickname Rambo.
Terry and Doris
My role as a traveling artist took me every winter to a luxury RV resort built out of what was once a dude ranch. Oak hammock shaded campsites lined with tropical flora gave the motorhomes a sense of being in Eden. Hayrides, musicians in the restaurants, airplane fly-ins, added to the boating, fishing and horseback trail rides available every day. The complex was lush with plenty of flowerbeds and the Wild West saloon with a Saturday night rodeo provided flavor for this magical place. Things were hopping.
River Ranch hosted rallies of all types. Because of the hotel, lodge and airport here, fly-ins of aircraft occurred almost every weekend. Beechcraft, Cessna, amphibious aircraft, kit planes and others convened for these gatherings.
Motorhomes rolled in and out constantly during the three-month winter season. The developers This provided me with an endless supply of new customers. During the day, I ran my business and provided all sorts of custom painted options for motorhomes and their owners at this resort. The creation of airbrushed murals of wildlife, patriotic scenes and whimsical art of all types were the most popular. Here I had found a demand for what I love to do.
While making my rounds at River Ranch, I remained diligent about noticing what was going on around me. I made it a point to wave at everyone I saw. When I noticed someone provide more than a friendly response to my gesture, I knew they might have a request I could accomplish with paint.
A couple from Indiana often called out to me to stop by as I motored through their area of the campground. Terry and Doris were here to escape the cold and weren’t necessarily interested in a mural for their class C motorhome but they were friendly, curious and wanted to know more about the interesting person in the VW bus who kept busy all the time all over this place.
When I stopped, they invited me to sit down under their awning and simply sit. Their beaming friendliness demonstrated sincere regard and appreciation for what I was doing. Although they never commissioned a mural from me, their campsite became a regular stop, especially late in the day when we would visit around their campfire. The appearance of their humble motorhome, camping equipment and Terry’s bass boat reflected good care. They loved being here. Terry was here for the fishing. I even went with him on a boat ride or two.
Terry invited me to come see them in Indiana during the summer. Destinations with projects took priority at that time. A year went by and I never did stop to see them. The next winter while we all sat around the campfire at River Ranch, I heard the invitation again.
The next year my busy summer schedule yielded an opportunity that took me close to them. When I did stop at their rural home near Muncie, I found a small horse farm in a stand of hickory trees with their excavation business quartered behind their lovely Bedford Stone home. They had a place waiting for me to park my rig back near the horse barn. When evening came, due to the abundance of sticks under the trees, we had a campfire. This is when I became familiar with their connection to the community.
Terry and Doris operated an excavation company made up of several dump trucks and flatbed trailers needed to move the specialized equipment around using a crew of a men. While I surveyed his operation, I learned the names of the machines that did the work – excavators, back hoes, pans, dozers and a loader. Often times on a Saturday morning, Terry would be in front of his shop washing a dump truck. This demonstrated affection and pride for his equipment. This regard was also evident in all he did and influenced the men who worked for him.
While raising two boys, he became connected to the 4-H community and promoted good horsemanship with all the kids. Still quite active with horses, Terry and Doris made regular trips to a state park with two horses to ride the trails and dry camp in an area with no electricity. While there they enjoyed a campfire, remote nights and skies filled with stars.
I have a fond memory of a time spent with my friend Terry during a horseback ride on his trail riding horses, just the two of us. His property shared a common border with a neighbor, the cartoonist who created the character, Garfield. His neighbor had hundreds of acres and loved wildflowers. We found vast pastures seeded with wildflowers and on one outing, we approached a vast spread of vibrant blossoms that created a sea of yellow about as high as the barrels of our horses.
As we rode through this sea, all that was above the vast spread of color were the heads of our horses and us from the waist up. The expression on my face radiated the wonder of this sight. My friend Terry beamed, also quite pleased with this wonder of nature. Even today, I still think about this special experience Terry shared with me. I see his radiant smile imprinted in my mind as I recall our fun afternoon in this vibrant setting.
Terry was fascinated with my mural creation service. Terry told me I could bring two motorhomes at a time to his place. When I received a request from a couple from Virginia or North Carolina, I had them meet me in Muncie to get the work done. Terry and Doris were sincerely interested in everyone they met and hosted a campfire while they enjoyed my guests at their place.
The time spent at the home of Terry and Doris became an annual respite that resembled going home. My advance planning began to include Muncie because I was welcome to bring motorhomes to their place two at a time. Because I spent weeks at their place, I expanded my involvement in the community. I found out about Toastmasters, the club that promotes good communications and leadership. I found a small group that gathered each week at a cafeteria in the local mall.
By watching the efforts of the members with public speaking and encouraging each other, I began to accumulate a desire to develop my ability with communication. Because of the rigorous pace of travel to rallies, projects or visits to one of the RV plants, it was quite difficult to be a regular attending member. Since Muncie became a regular stop, the members allowed me to participate whenever I was in town. Thanks to them, I gave my Ice Breaker and a few other brief speeches in the midst of this hectic schedule.
A creative mind is creative in all areas. Immersed in the lifestyle I admired as a youth, I combined music, art and later, classic circus horse training. Later, mural making became my primary focus and vocation. Writing and speech making utilized the same creative mindset that produced the endless stream of custom painted masterpieces that appeared on the backs of motorhomes.
While in Michigan I couldn’t resist seeing what was going on at the Elliott Amusement Company. Years ago, as a sign painter in Michigan, I found an interesting outlet for my work at the fairgrounds. I discovered a fun place to work. With several weeks open I headed for the winter quarters.
Upon arrival at the barn, I saw Red had a new ride partially set up in the yard. Delighted to see me, he filled me in on this quest. He had a friend in Europe with a large fabricating company that built exhaust systems for ocean going ships. This same man had a hobby building carnival rides. This man had created a large spoked unit that stood high in the air. When his ride was complete, he asked Red to give it a shake-down on his route.
This ride was plain. It had tubs that actually looked like Fred Flintstones car and this unit was heavy. Red had stories about having to get overload permits and how he became familiar with the overload laws of the states he trucked through. While using this ride Red discovered the tubs created a claustrophobic feeling for the passengers.
Here at the yard Red was busy removing the roof and side pieces from the tubs. He had another idea for a theme and asked me to make it look science fiction. I got busy with my airbrush. The dog-house, or operator’s cubicle, the lower scenery and back-wall scenery soon received a fantastic other-worldly-scape with outer-space garbed figures in various poses.
I collaborated with sign friend Tom Gonder who had a computer and a plotter for making vinyl letters. I composed twelve different space sounding names to place on the underneath side of each tub. He generated these large names out of white vinyl.
During set up prior to the Lenawee County Fair, Tom had the vinyl names ready for installation. While the tubs were in the air, our installation began. We had a challenge installing the letters overhead on the bottom of each tub, but when complete our contribution gave this unique piece some personality.
By this time in my career, the only people in the carnival industry I painted for was Tim Bors and Red Woods who partnered the Elliott Amusement Company. I always made time in my schedule to work for them. The following summer they acquired an office semi from Floyd & Baxter, an early FRP paneled unit. The exterior panels developed a consistent pattern of stress cracks due to some aspect of the resin formula. Tim wanted me to make it look like a party. I enjoyed the challenge.
I began by making a detailed scale drawing of my concept – a large carousel horse flanked by marble pillars with coils of confetti coming down. Tim gushed over my concept. Once my idea was approved, I began drawing my image full size on the semi-trailer.
Using a large brush, I started to cut-in the background to delineate all the features. One at a time each color shape was established. The large horse was depicted using the wet-blended technique. After a week of work the effect was spectacular.
Tim had the ambition to become a show owner and had me design a logo for T&T to initiate his partnership with Tom Arnold. I finished the rear of the trailer with that design.
Soon I responded to yet another request for a mural on a motorhome and headed away from the carnival.
I have the carnival to thank for where I am today. When the bread and butter of the sign business began to erode, due to the computer arriving on the scene, I had my hand with the airbrush. I accidentally discovered a huge market for murals on motor homes. The transition into this new field of endeavor was seamless, thanks to my fairground prerequisite. I soon transitioned to attending motor home rallies where I provided this service to the demographic immersed in the motor home experience.
The following year I heard from my friend Debbie. She called to tell me that Tim had died in his car after going off the road. That was a shock. I painted for Tim since the beginning. I helped him with his ambitions that hinted toward having his own show. That loss affected my being around the carnival because I wouldn’t paint for just anyone.
Later that year Red died prematurely. Red was one of my favorite people of all time. This news also prompted grief. I now had no reason to return to the carnival.
Demand for mural work on motorhomes increased. By this time, I had a regular route between hot-spots of activity, rallies to attend and requests to travel to homes and businesses to create beautiful art.
My life was a blur of custom painted images and a series of intimate touches into the lives of the wonderful people I served. My life was full.
The Itinerate Artist
Back in the seventies, the van craze placed custom decorative paintwork in the limelight. That led to spectacular paint jobs on tour busses for country and rock bands. Those busses sported scenes of a Mississippi paddlewheel river boat, a multicolored airbrush version of an album cover or a mountain view with a super-imposed masthead of the band’s name. The movie Smokey and the Bandit made the hand-painted image of a running team of horses pulling a stagecoach famous. In those days the only decorative work on any vehicle was hand painted.
As I drove along the highway in pursuit of the next painting opportunity, I occasionally saw a circus performers rig. I beeped the horn in response to their wave and reminisced the camaraderie that took place when I was part of a group that trouped together, performing in a new town every day.
I evolved thanks to this background. With the skills and the uncanny advantage to be efficient on the road, I embraced the emerging trend among motorhome owners and satisfied their desire to look like touring country stars.
By this time, my travel pattern took me to most of the states east of the Mississippi. I had a formula to keep travel efficient. Between motorhome rallies in various vacation areas and regular stops at the Blue Bird and Fleetwood plants, I filled the time with the requests received to travel to their home to accomplish the work. I waited until I received three requests from one state and, like a circus, planned a tour through that state to accomplish those works in an efficient run. I thrived using the lifestyle learned during tours on a circus. I drove across various parts of the country to accomplish works of art on location. I even visited John Herriott at the Land of Little Horses in Gettysburg where he performed for the summer season.
Michigan remained a regular stop each year because the horse and mule spent the summer there. I still considered Jackson headquarters although I pursued little sign work there. My business had changed since my sign painter days but still I had to handle correspondence responsibilities. My new clientele needed a way to contact me. I utilized a telephone answering service. Getting my mail was another challenge.
There was no procedure available with the Post Office to provide what I needed with this itinerate lifestyle. Postal regulations require the submission of an official change of address. That would create a mess. Since I travel, I never wanted permanent change. Rather than attempt anything at the giant post office in Jackson, I took my quandary to where one person ran the little post office in Clarklake.
I personally enrolled her to my situation. This wonderful lady understood. We created a solution. We adopted a procedure where I called in occasionally with a request to have mail forwarded to a specific location. She used the petty cash I left with her for that purpose. Her willingness helped with the success I enjoyed during those nine years on the road. I could never have accomplished so much without her.
Years later I was delighted to see her and her husband retired and camping in their motor home in south Florida
A Startling Revelation
The principles of balance with the horse, although started by previous instructors, were further imprinted into my manner of being by my gentle teacher Dorita Konyot. Through her courage and tutelage many principles were revealed, some discarded and others developed into artful finesse with the horse. All along the way due to our mutual diligence, dedication and regard for the discipline, we became close friends.
During this growing intimacy, she welcomed personal aspects of what was happening in my life and career. I responded to her encouragement. I began to explain I had discovered an interesting parallel as the result of supporting my aspiration to become a great horseman with the means available to me as a sign and mural painter. Piqued, my friend invited me to continue. She listened intently.
I went on to explain. As I accumulated a command of the artform and various aspects of horsemanship – the development of finess with all parts of my body and the maintenance of the attitude that translated into harmony with my surroundings and especially with my equine partner – the developing finesse showed up in my artwork. I had begun to notice that one art-form complimented the other.
As I centered the focus of my horsemanship aspirations on achieving balance, attention to detail and finding a new ease and delicacy, these goals also showed up in the paintings and murals created on motorhomes. As I let go of the preconceived need to control the animal and embraced the concept of harmony and connection with the horse. Those aspects also became a subtle part of each hand-painted masterpiece.
At one time, I painted solely to get by until the next circus season commenced. The ability to travel learned with the circus was a big key to the success I had found. Mural projects took place nationwide. During the years I knew Dorita, demand for airbrushed murals on motorhomes increased exponentially. Mural painting provided the ability to excel with my passion. A dramatic shift occurred.
I still traveled with my horses, but now my entourage went north in the summer and south in the winter so I could be in the proximity of motorhome gatherings. As the resident artist at River Ranch during the winter, I had the perfect place to blend these two objects of my affection. I was a motorhome artist by day and a horseback performer at the Saturday night rodeo.
My two interests, horsemanship and artwork, seemed to complement each other. As serious progress in one genre occurred, a breakthrough showed up in the other. Over the years Dorita influenced me with her particular brand of wisdom and I excelled. Change was inevitable. With her help both fields experienced dramatic upheavals.
As I rattled on to my dear friend about options and dreams with various examples, my friend noticed my run-away thinking and did her best to pull me back.
Dorita calmly encouraged me to trust the process. Performing for performing’s sake is something I love. I remain eager to show off the ability and proficiency of my horse, now in his prime. Perhaps performing at the horse shows would have a double benefit as a perfect place to also showcase my talents as an artist to horse people.
As Dorita contently listened to the tug of war that seemed to be going on in my brain and heart, she casually reached out with a delicate yet masterful aged hand and flicked off the lengthy ash that had accumulated on her cigarette and summed it all up with just a few words.
“It sounds like you have two saddles and just one butt.”
A Perfect Destiny
As a child, my life’s destiny seemed apparent. Prolific and gifted from the start, I saw the world around me differently. During the springtime of my life the circus made her indelible impression. I knew what I wanted to do. At sixteen I played the drums in the circus band, painted images on the trucks and dreamt of performing.
The years went by. I began to learn circus horsemanship from the old-timers. I started with ponies. I absorbed the discipline of liberty training while my six-pony act developed. I performed with my wonderful group of six palominos and that became my primary livelihood. That and sign painting became the perfect small business for me. Incidentally, the ponies were really what made me such a good painter, because when we weren’t working, they kept right on eating. Sign painting was the perfect trade to use anyplace, during my time off.
Next, I began to learn the tricks of the Ménage on my first horse, a quarter horse. He would kneel, bow, lay-down, sit-up and march as part of his repertoire. Sign painting and circus horsemanship continued.
Later, I was introduced to another training specialty known as Haute E’cole, or a horse schooled to the highest level. This was commonly referred to as a high school horsemanship.
My choice of mounts became the American Saddlebred. During the eighties, I performed with an elegant mare named Class n Sass who danced her way into hearts during circus performances from California to New England. One highlight, the result of a special invitation to Dallas, was to perform for the society of Saddlebred aficionados at the Big D Saddle Horse Show.
My next horse, a 16.2 Saddlebred gelding “Souveran” as an eight-year-old, won first place at the Sarasota Int’l Circus Festival and Talent Competition. He was also featured in the American Saddlebred Association Versatility Issue of 1992. My passion continued. I still aspired to shine.
With the advent of the computer, the onetime exclusive realm of the artisan was invaded. I was fortunate to find a niche for hand-painted work on motorhomes. Also affected were jobs with the circus, not so much by the computer but by a combination of foreign talent competition, the influence of animal activists and the decline in attendance by the children of today who are satisfied with electronic diversions.
In the middle of my life, I had the opportunity to meet and work with a very special and influential woman Dorita Konyot. I actually felt Dorita’s influence long before I ever met her. The hands of her family had influenced horsemanship all across this land including the riding instructors I had worked with.
When I first arrived at her farm, the result of being referred by John Herriott, I asked her to watch me ride. I saddled up my gelding and demonstrated his many movements. I showed her his high steps, the bow and the stretch I had taught him. Soon thereafter Dorita Konyot accepted me as her student. For several years she provided private lessons between my tours. The result became our close connection.
Although her eyesight grew dim and lengthy sessions taxed her, she still had plenty to teach. As Dorita and I became close, she revealed something startling to an enthusiastic yet conceited horseman. She gave me a review of our history.
Her comments that first day, although designed to be helpful and kind promoted an arrogant resistance as evidenced by my response. She later confided that she almost threw me off her farm that day. But for one reason or another she took me under her wing.
As the years went by, she recognized an opportunity to introduce me to myself. She now added a lesson on how the ego will trip us up. She went on to explain the function of the ego. The ego scans our surroundings, experiences, statements, concepts, beliefs and even thoughts with a single motive – to find out that is it is right.
That means the ego driven person is not open to new information. It is only through humility that we allow new information in. That means the arrogant student will not benefit from teachings taking place. Only when a mind is empty will benefit be realized. Dorita carefully handled this subject and made me realize how gifted she was as a teacher, philosopher and a good friend.