George Soper was an artist of no formal training who lived from 1870 to 1942. His artwork captures the heart and soul of an era that only exists today (and miraculously at that) in the scattered Amish communities and a few other nooks and crannies of what has become an otherwise machine dominated world. He rendered a mostly bygone era then, and did it like no other. It is no accident that he dearly loved the working horse, as this animal was the heartbeat of his day, as it was of most of the days of civilized man.
Soper was something of a wildlife conservationist, and when he died, his home on four English acres reserved for wildlife habitat was kept on by his spinster daughters, Eileen and Eva, who also kept up his conservation work. When the sisters eventually became old and ill and entered a nursing home, a family friend, Robert Gillmor, was invited to sort out their father's artwork, most of which had never seen the light of day. Gillmor had no idea he was about to unearth the largest selection of drawings and paintings of horses at work, ever.
"Winter Sun" c1938
What makes Soper's depictions of working horses and their people so arresting is the fact that these are no works of the imagination - Soper was there on the scene, tools at hand, recording what he witnessed for posterity. I for one am very thankful this gifted man took the time to do so, as much so as I am his incredible artwork came to see the light of day, for all to enjoy.
"George Soper's Horses" is now available from our General Store (click link tab at top of page.) We heartily recommend it.
Chris Beetles Ltd. of London, England took over the Soper Estate on behalf of the Artists General Benevolent Institution (AGBI) in 1995. Visit the gallery online at WWW.CHRISBEETLES.COM.
So we finally got the old bobsleigh to the new location from the old farm, with help from our friend Kris Vester of Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms. I was glad it was still there. Some so-and-so stole my anvil from the Quonset, you see. I hope he dropped it on his foot. In fact, I have been accosting everyone I see who has a limp. "You stole my anvil!" From the reactions, I can tell so far the folks have been innocent. Maybe some anger issues.
Loading the sleigh onto the trailer went well until we started talking about how well it was going, then it quit going well. But these things never do go entirely smoothly. You get used to that. We had a good time. I bought Kris dinner on the way home. Cheesies.
I am using the big sleigh to start getting the horses back in shape this winter. Horses are like athletes, or sometimes, like most of the rest of us. Then you have to get them back to being like athletes. When you have four big horses to give a workout to, and short winter days, it helps to have a big bobsleigh and some heavy snow. This day we just so happened to have both on hand. To save on time, I decide to exercise them all in one big batch of horses, three-and-a-half tons or more of equine. The hitch is called a "four abreast", that is, four across. Clydesdales, left to right: Emma the blue roan broodmare, Raven the black Clydesdale/Percheron cross with "four whites" (feet,) Sarah, blue-roan first daughter of Emma, and Gwyneth the bay sabino. Four horses hitched like this are a handful at first, but they get into the swing soon enough and it's not so bad. The lines are a little slippery in my hogfat greasy gloves due to the wet leather in the strong Chinook. And the hogfat i've been feeding the nuthatches and woodpeckers .
Just as with loading the sleigh, things go very well today in the driving of the horses - until they don't. Today was in fact a lesson in why you want to have well-trained horses before you ever hitch them to anything. We're passing a little close to some small trees, when Gwyneth on the far right suddenly darts around the far side of one of them. Of course, this doesn't work so well, all the horses being attached to each other as well as to the sleigh. A situation like this with horses that aren't really ready to be hitched and aren't fully trusting of you can be a full-blown wreck - all proverbial hell can break loose. But our horses don't get driven until they've demonstrated they're trained well, and knowing who their best friend is to boot, and this is the sort of situation where this cautious approach to training pays off.
"Whoa!" I intone, and they all immediately do. What would have been panic in the wrong horses was merely a brief confusion in these girls, with Gwyneth sitting on her bum in the snow like a 1900 pound dog and simply going inert, ditto the other three, only still standing. They trust that when things like this happen, i will make things right, and so I do. That's my job, as far as they are concerned - they work for me because they know i'll make things right. That's the deal between us.
"Just rest girls" I tell them, and knowing these words from long days in the fields, they do, letting their heads down and blowing out their stress through now relaxed lips. I unhook Gwyn's lines and tugs, move everyone forward just a bit by their bridles to clear the young aspen, and hook back up. Gwyn's nuzzling me now, opportunistic for some affection, the other girls just standing, their breath already slowing again. It was just another minor bump in the day's road for us all, no big deal, she's letting me know. I'm very proud of them all and their ability to remain calm in times of trial, and I make sure they understand this. I am so often proud of them, and so grateful for them.
Then off we go again, dashing through the soggy snow on a four-horse open sleigh, another circuit around the back fifty. All's well that ends well. They'll be hardened back up in no time.
Have a look at our "Education/Contact" page for info on the author.