Horse whisperers of Irish equine art

on .

Throughout history, the horse has been a symbol of battle and war, of travel, adventure, and companionship. Horses captivate artists through their form and motion, the ripple of their muscles as they gallop freely or the soft movements of their glossy coats in the sunshine. Irish Farmers Monthly meets two Irish artists who pay homage to these amazing creatures through their chosen media

Trish Findlater
As a child, Trish Findlater loved to paint and draw and her grandfather’s treasured sketches, which captured the plight of his fellow soldiers in the trenches of World War I, reveal the long history of artistic expression that runs in her family. As a past pupil of the ‘Bower’ Convent school in her hometown of Athlone, she found the emphasis it placed on art, music and drama allowed her to grow her creative talent and inspired her to attend art college at Ulster University in Belfast. From an early age, Trish fell in love with horses and she could frequently be found in the school’s stables, where she would sit on the horses' backs and talk to them. In this way she got to know the aesthetic shape of a horse and the anatomy of these noble animals.
“Everything about them captivated me, from their difficult-to-draw ears to their limbs, so structured and elegant even on the heaviest of horses, and how they taper down to the pastern and hoof. Painting this, especially when it is expressive and full of tension and life is simply magical,” she says.
Trish prefers the ooziness of oil colour paint to sketching. She believes that colour holds emotion in its expression and can tell a narrative in the way it is applied and the way it moves with the other shades on the canvas. For moments of sudden inspiration she carries a sketch pad, compressed charcoal and a soft pencil to capture spontaneous moments.
Her early work took her stateside to Denver, Colorado to paint wild mustangs while involved with the Wild American Mustang Campaign for the right of these wild horses to their freedom. Trish created a series of more than 15 commissioned paintings which were initially exhibited in Denver and then moved on to Ireland, culminating in her first display at the RDS Horseshow.
“My work has always been narrative-based, even more so now that my husband and I have moved west to county Mayo. The landscape, farm life, local hunt and my own horse riding pursuits all feed ideas and stories into my paintings.”

Sinead Ní Riain
Next year, Sinead Ní Riain will celebrate 25 years as a professional photographer. While working as a wedding photographer, Sinead met Faith and Peter Ponsonby at their cousin Jane Ponsonby’s wedding in Grove Fethard, Tipperary. They commissioned her to photograph their three daughters with the children’s ponies at their home in Kilcooley Abbey. The equine portrait of their daughter Sarah and her grey pony, taken against a red stable door, went on to win Best Portrait in the Irish Professional Photographers Association, which marked the start of Sinead’s fine art equine photography career.
“This led to photographing Aidan and Anne Marie O’Brien’s children when they first moved to Ballydoyle with their ponies. One day after finishing the shoot, Anne Marie showed me photographs she had taken at dawn when she was out riding. I could tell she had natural artistic talent for photographing horses in their environmental landscape. I ended up teaching her photography and, by accident, I learned how to handle and communicate with horses from two of the best horse people I know,” says Sinead. With Ann Marie’s encouragement, Sinead successfully held her first exhibition at the Dublin Horse Show and the rest is history. Growing up in Tipperary’s landscape of horses and lush green fields, it’s no wonder Sinead became an equine photographer but she explains that the relationship between a horse and its owner is what truly inspires her work. “These people spend 365 days of the year with their horses. People that are good with horses usually have a very quiet energy and watching them communicate with their horses is always very special. In my opinion, the three key things in a good photograph are lighting, composition and expression. Over the years I’ve photographed in every county in Ireland across all disciplines from hunting to eventing. Irish people have an amazing connection with horses and it’s why they are so successful in breeding and competing.”