I once read that Michelangelo loved to draw draft horses, as did Leonardo. The power and majesty of great horses matched the passionate expression of their art. This was back in the day (not all that long ago) when big draft horses were on every street, on the docks, at every farm, pulling wagons and heavy loads for which they were bred. They were the Mac truck of their time.
Nowadays it’s rare to find a genuine draft horse. Watch a beer commercial and you might see a few seconds of Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon, or you can go to a parade for a quick glimpse. There just happens to be a Clydesdale farm right here in Oklahoma. Becky and I went there the day before yesterday, and we discovered the joy of drawing giants.
In the little town of Yukon, west of Oklahoma City, there is a huge barn (fittingly huge) housing a collection of Clydesdales, owned by Bob Funk, the founder and owner of Express Personnel. I’ve seen hobby farms before, but nothing like what Mr. Funk has going on in Yukon (there’s even a pet zebra in keeping with his black-and-white theme). We happened to visit on a day when the horses were at home. Lucky us, because as we learned, these guys go on the road more than 200 days a year for parades and publicity events. One nice thing about this Clydesdale Farm: it’s open to the public. And worth a trip if you love awesome, beautiful horses.
It was freezing and windy when we visited, so we ducked inside the barn where it was warm and lit with glass and brass lamps, one for every stall. The floor was clean, the woodwork polished and the sweet aroma of hay and warm horses was as welcome to our noses as a fresh-baked pie. A dalmatian was curled up with a friendly boxer beside a pair of antique carriages. In a special bay, a Clydesdale was being bathed by Vickie, a small woman with a confident manner around enormous horses. Clouds of steam rose off his broad sides and back from the shower wand as Luke stood patiently on hooves the size of dinner plates. Becky and I got out our sketchbooks and drew.
What’s surprising in a horse so big and heavily muscled is that it is in no way slow-moving or dull. All of these Clydesdales were agile, active, intelligent, and intensely curious about us. Luke watched us drawing, his great head up, ears swiveling, neck arched, chest out. He radiated power and majesty, no question. I could easily imagine him in a full gallop. When he’d been curried nearly dry, he was led back to his stall. He paused for a moment as he came past us, dropped his head and shook himself dry like a big black dog. About five gallons of water flew off. Funny horse!