Saddlebreds celebrated artistically in Shelby County

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By Beth Herrinton-Hodge

The rolling hills of Shelby County lined with 4-board fences and dotted with majestic horses create scenes captured in photographs, paintings and the mind’s eye as quintessential as any in Kentucky. Capturing this beauty is an elusive challenge, a challenge addressed by amateur and artist alike.


In a stroll down Main Street, one sees many renderings of the majestic horse: on street signs and banners, in shop windows, on posters, in statues. We love our reputation as the “Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World,” and we display images of these beloved horses prominently.

To unpack the challenge of capturing the spirit of the horse in art, you need only to make a stop at The Gallery of Shelby Artists on Main, where there is often an artist on site, willing to chat about his or her art and how the horse might be included.

Glass artist Pat Coe designed a prancing Saddlebred in colored glass. “I work from photographs,” Coe said. “I find an image I want to capture, and I take a picture. The Saddlebred in the ring is the image that comes to mind when you think of a horse show.

“The fun for me, in creating my glass pieces, comes when I’m piecing together the colors. I’ve got sheets of glass in a rainbow of colors. I select, cut, and place the pieces to capture the image in glass.”

One artist admits that she started as a child with doodles: “I’d doodle horses in the margins of my paper during class. I was at an age when girls love horses, and my mind would just go there. I’d doodle.”

Another said, “We had horses in the back. I’d glance out my windows at home and that’s what I would see. Then I’d just paint them.  Horses are fun to capture in my painting. They’re always moving and changing, but their movements can be very subtle.”

Stephanie Allison sees horses in color. “They’re such magnificent animals,” she said. “I love how they move, how they respond to their rider. I’m inspired to see them running free across the field.

“Using color allows me to express the horses’ freedom, energy, and joy.”

Bold colors like blue, purple, orange and red fill Allison’s paintings. You don’t get an exact rendering of a photograph, instead, you sense the emotion and feeling of the horse from the colors on the canvas. She lets color communicate the essence of the animal.

Many Shelby County residents have seen Cheryl Rankin Van Stockum’s horse photography on note cards in gift shops in the pages of The Sentinel-News and Shelby County Life magazine.

“Photography for publication is very different from taking candid photos,” Van Stockum says. “When I’m out on a scheduled shoot, I’m trying to capture the horses and riders in their best form. With Saddlebreds, the head must be held upright. The ears must point in a certain way. The riders’ hands are folded just so. There are very strict guidelines for the way the horses must be displayed.

“After the formal shoot, I get to have fun with my photos,” she says with a smile. “I love to capture the personality of the horse. The gleam in an eye. The gentle rub of a nose. The playful shake of an ear. I delight in photographing the animal just as they are: affectionate, playful, carefree.”

There also is artwork of Saddlebreds on the water tower at Weissinger Hills golf course, but the most prominent horse piece found in Shelby County stands at the confluence of Main Street, Washington Street and Smithfield Road. The beloved Saddlebred statue featuring Mary Gaylord McLean on her world champion horse Santana Lass is a ready reminder of the importance of the horse industry to the county.

Dedicated in 1997, and marking the opening of the annual Shelbyville Horse Show, this bronze sculpture was created by artist Gwen Reardon. Reardon was also commissioned to design the information kiosk set on Main Street near the History Center.

What figure sits atop the kiosk? A Saddlebred horse, of course!