Monday, 19 December 2016

Racehorse to Riding horse - Celtic Sage aka Harry

 I was very chuffed to be asked to do a portrait of the lovely Harry, the horse that started Hannah’s eventing career. 

Harry ran as Celtic Sage for about three seasons, winning a PTP at Southwell (that’s how long ago!). He retired from racing in 1995, and throughout his life has generally been an all-round good egg. His post-race, pre-Hannah tasks included foal-nanny surrogacy and and acting as lead horse for youngsters. He was Hannah’s first horse and they were both 12 years old when he went to her! 

Teenager’s horses in the right homes have the best life, and he did side saddle, riding club camps, dressage and eventing. He jumped like a stag (Celtic Cone as his sire probably having a say in that) and competed up to open PC eventing. 
When he retired from competition, he then had a couple of loan homes; leading kids and ponies out hunting, with his last job as a happy hacker. Harry retired properly when he was 25/26. You’ll (hopefully) see from the portrait what great shape he’s in for a 29 year old horse. Apparently there will be a big party in January for his 30th! 

His longevity is testament to not only Hannah’s watching after him all these years, but to the TB horse as a breed. Correctly turned around after racing, they make fantastic horses. I managed to break my camera just before I finished this portrait, so I don’t unfortunately have a decent photo of it. This fairly poor one at the top from my phone will have to suffice, along with the one Hannah sent me when it arrived. 

Possibly the most amusing response from a client ever is detailed below! 

Me: Can't wait for you to see it! 
Hannah: So excited .... Just need to move house as I know EXACTLY where it's going! 
Me: I do love a client that moves house to hang a picture ! 😂😂 

Happy Birthday for January, Harry!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

When Worlds Collide

I feel privileged to have been asked to immortalise this beautiful horse, this incredible athlete who, in the company of so many others, had been spectacularly thrown from grace, discarded into the downward spiral suffered by horses in the UAE once their spirit and bodies are broken.

Meceva is now in the lap of luxury thanks to Suzanne fighting tooth and nail to remove him from Dubai. His registered FEI name is GORAN. He was bred in New Zealand then sold by Chris King, of Canterbury, as a 10yo in 2010 to Sheikh Mohammed, the founder of Godolphin. He was 'trained' in the AL AASFA complex - follow the link for comment by Greg Wood of the Guardian.

Suzanne had already managed to acquire another reject from Al Aasfa, Yogi. His registered FEI name was MAGIC GLENN SOVEREIGN, although he arrived without a passport. He was considered ‘too wild’ to be of any use and was for sale for about £1,000. He was bought from a horrible stable yard where a lot of the Sheik Mohammed horses end up. Because of the poor stable management, and the abusive riding, notwithstanding the lack of aircon in those extremes of heat, she made the decision to send Yogi back to the UK as soon as possible, fearing for his well-being given his recent medial splint bone fractures (both back legs) and previous pelvic fracture. Before shipping him out, she moved him to another more suitable yard, run by an Australian woman.

Knowing she was sending Yogi to safety, Suzanne thought to rescue another endurance horse and if possible one she could ride. She asked at the yard, and was told another nine had arrived the night before. There she found Goran - a big, grey horse, very thin, with a sunken chest and a drooping neck with what seemed an enormous head. Closer inspection revealed a network of whip marks across his quarters, and blistering on a leg. Suzanne fell for him immediately, as despite all the abuse he’d suffered, he was still sweet and gentle.

When he arrived back in the UK.

As happens across the world with big racing/equestrian outfits, passports often disappear, and the big owners don’t want abuses traced back to them (and how well do I know about that at the moment). He had no value, he was a difficult ride, and eventually the then 'owner' gifted him to Suzanne. However, as he'd originally been in Sheik Mohammed's ownership, it took Suzanne a long time and a great deal of difficulty to get the letter of ownership that would allow her to move him back to the UK when she left. By sheer luck, she also managed to acquire his passport when the Australian woman was sacked, and the new manager took over. This was still not enough, and the UAE NF tried to prevent Suzanne moving him out of Dubai (no wonder). After discussions at FEI and EU level, a lot of help from the international transporters and a fortuitous timescale of a UAE official going on holiday, Suzanne finally managed to get him out of the hellhole.

Here he is, in his new UK home.

So, to bring this story up to date, I went to photograph Goran in August.

The scars across his quarters are still visible, the mental scars manifest in his behaviour and reactions, but for all that, he is still a very beautiful horse. He fills the eye with quality and class, he has exceptional movement, and such presence and generosity of spirit.

I'm no stranger to being asked to portray top-level horses, or sticking my head above the parapet for equine welfare wherever I can. It's not often both worlds collide, however. 
Recently, much of my welfare focus has been highlighting the sickening abuse suffered by Endurance horses in the Middle East. I’ll spare readers the stomach churning details here, but for those interested, the more palatable reports are documented on the WRITING WRONGS page.

Goran could have done anything - dressage, eventing, showing. Instead, he was just more cannon fodder for Sheik Mohammed, run into the ground. I know that those who read this blog don’t necessarily read the welfare stuff, but sharing this might help highlight what really happens to horses in Dubai. 

Mostly, I’d like it to persuade those with even a smidgeon of conscience not to sell any more horses to the UAE.

Friday, 16 September 2016


Many moons ago I did a portrait for Sue, of her fabulous horse of a lifetime, Count Rostov. She had a significant birthday coming up, so contacted me to do another portrait, this time of her second horse of a lifetime, the wonderful Tom.

I feel privileged to have been asked to portray him, although it was looking like a bit of a nightmare at one point as we couldn't track down the 'tog who'd taken the photo I wanted to work from! I love how he has that casual leg cross in front, that to me always signifies a natural, confident jumper. Pleas on Facebook, and lots of helpful people in the Scottish eventing community eventually tracked down Thane Rudi Brooker, who was extremely generous in allowing me to work from his photograph. So a huge thanks to him!

Tom has a brilliant life story with Sue, and it's worth a share.

Sue was finding her hips were giving her too much pain to ride, and as she had to have competition in her life she took up driving. The first driving horse was apparently talented but a tad scary, so she decided to a find nicer pony to play with! 

After finding an ad for a coloured cob from gypsy stock on A1 north of Luton, she flew down to see the pony. He turned out not to be suitable, but on nosing around, she found a just gelded, 4yo Tom in a back stable. His sire was a trotter stallion with mane to his knees! She really liked Tom, but he wasn't for sale. Clearly there was some serious persuading going on, as she managed to try him for 10 mins (with a plane to catch) and convinced the owner to sell him to her. 
This was however, early in 2001 and there was a race against time to get him up the road before the country shut down due to foot and mouth. He was the last load Gillies delivered before the transport ban and had to be dropped at the road end due to all the precautions. 

Tom proved to be the perfect gent to drive, they started competing and got to doing FEI singles and was long listed for the GB team for the World Championships. 

He was so special, that when Sue emigrated to Australia, she took Tom with her and had the thrill of her first Oz driving event only being at the Sydney Olympics XC site! Then, when she came home again to Scotland (oh, how I understand that desire!), he came back with her.

After her first hip replacement, she found driving a 'faff' so thought she'd try riding again and was delighted to have no pain. So having no event horse, thought to give Tom a try under saddle. He took to it like a duck to water, went BE, and other than once was never lower than 4th, always going clear XC, and only twice clipping rails show jumping over 2/3 yrs. He qualified for the Grassroots class at Badminton but Sue was over qualified having competed at 4*. After a second hip operation, Tom went on loan to a chum to hack/pc. 

The years of driving had taken their toll a bit, so they concentrated on SJ instead. In 3 years he'd won most of his classes (twice has won 9 on the bounce), been in the top 3 in 85% of his starts, is now out of Foxhunter classes on winnings, and is nearly Grade B! He's now just jumping 90/100 opens as age is catching up with him, but what a fabulous little horse!  

In Sue's words - "He outdoes his physical ability with his huge heart and generous spirit. He is awesome. Like having your childhood perfect pony back (he is 14.2), safe as houses but a winning machine, perfect for an ageing ex-event rider to live the dream."

I think he's just as lucky as Sue, to have found such a brilliant home.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Road Trip UK/Scotland

Woohoo! Road Trip!!

I'll be over in the UK to take photos the last week in August.

I'm extremely pleased with myself that I've organised the timing to take in Blair, link below, so if anyone wants photographs doing at the event, I'm already photographing so will have my camera with me.

I'm driving up from the south of England to Scotland on the 24th, Wednesday, and will be in Scotland for a couple of days.
If your horse/dog/cat/budgie is not already on my 'to capture' list, and you like him/her to be, please contact me either via my FB page below, or my email

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Eyes Have It

As the weather is pretty miserable outside, I'm catching up on some long overdue blog posts.

You may remember the extreme windswept photos of Vaila, a little orange Shetland girl on the Archie post.
I was highly amused at the time, and I do remember glibly commenting that they'd make a fantastic portrait, never thinking that my client, Jo, would actually want me to work from them.
Well, sometimes, the chickens just come home to roost.

I photographed her two horses that day: Kerry, a lovely big bay warmblood cross mare, and Vaila of the mane. Once home, and having worked through the photos, I sent them to Jo and we discussed how I was going to do the portrait. Jo was determined she wanted them together, liked the heads-on shots, and much as I tried to gently dissuade her she was adamant. As 'the customer is always right', I agreed, but inside I was dying a death because I had no idea how I'd make it work.

Individual portraits are relatively simple. If the execution is good, all vagaries of light and colour are insignificant. Put two horses into the mix, and immediately you have several contrasting elements to consider.
The light needs to be (or appear to be) the same - both from direction of source and time of day. Light is colder (blue) in the morning or when overcast, and warmer (yellow/red) in the evening. Bright sunlight can be bleaching, and poor light loses detail.
The heads must be at angles that complement each other, and the colours of the horses compatible.
If their heads are markedly different in size, there's necessarily a fair degree of practice and juggling that goes on to make sure the balance works on paper.
Chestnuts are notoriously difficult to match with other horses.
Head on shots dictate that the eyes and muzzle have to tell the whole story, which is fairly tasking.
Wind blowing manes in different directions is also challenging.


I won't lie and say it was a walk in the park, because it wasn't, and I had the whole 'I can't do this' (artist's version of writer's block) running through my head a fair whack of the time. It was only really in the last few hours that it all fell into place and I knew I'd nailed it. I am more than delighted with the end result, and it's often the case that the works that test me the most end up being my most successful.

A huge thanks to Jo for pushing me (albeit unknowingly) out of my comfort zone, and to Kerry and Vaila for saving me with their beautiful eyes!

Monday, 29 February 2016

Sprinter Sacre - in the presence of greatness

This should probably have been written a week ago, but as ever I'm a bit tardy - I blame my creative genes that seem to overrule the clock that everyone else lives by!

Earlier this season, on social media, I saw Hannah Bishop looking for sponsorship to ride in a charity race to raise funds for Greatwood, an amazing facility caring for ex-racehorses. I contacted Hannah, offered a portrait, and we thought that a famous racehorse would be the best idea. 
Sprinter Sacre was my legend of choice.

I was lucky enough to be at the Festival when he won the Queen Mother in 2013. He took my breath away. His effortless, flawless jumping at speed left me reeling. He was magical, a deity of the turf. I even forgave him for beating my hitherto favourite two mile chaser, Sizing Europe. 

I ran, trying to beat the crowds, to see this towering genius in the winner's enclosure. Always, there is a special kind of magic surrounding every winner that stands there, but this horse, this horse for me transcended all others. The roars of applause that accompanied his walk to the coveted First Place spot were spine-tingling, the emotion was huge, the wonder wide-eyed. Yet he gave even more than that, this horse acknowledged the adoration. He lifted his head, and looked up at the crowd. He knew, really knew, that all this was just for him. 
From that moment onwards I was forever smitten. 

I hoped to try and have some of that memory in the portrait. The very talented Fran Altoft, top class racing photographer, searched her portfolio and found some excellent images to supply the look I was aiming for. A huge thanks to Fran, this wouldn't have been the same without her help. 

No piece of art can convey everything I felt that day, but I am so privileged to have had the opportunity to try. 

The portrait, now signed by Sprinter Sacre's supreme trainer Nicky Henderson, is in the online auction below which will finish on the Charity raceday at Newbury on 5th March 2016. 

Friday, 22 January 2016

Changes and Coincidences.

Changes afoot chez Lupton, as I've made the decision to return to Edinburgh to live.

I have a few exciting projects in the offing back in the UK, not least a portrait of a legend of the chasing world to be auctioned at Newbury racecourse on the 5th of March as part of the fundraising day for Greatwood, an incredible ex-racehorse charity. I've not done the best job at keeping the horse a secret as I'm so pleased with it and keep showing the proof to people!
Watch this space for all to be revealed very soon!

Coincidences have been flying at me from all directions, and all of them good.
Recently I was asked by a previous client to do a portrait of her new horse. It transpired he was purchased from a longtime good friend of mine who had also bred him. 

I confess I coveted this horse when he was a youngster, so was lovely to see him grown up and looking splendid. 

He wasn't the easiest to photograph, as he was convinced some stranger pointing a camera at him was pointless, and he'd really much rather be elsewhere, thanks! He was fairly determined to execute a circuit or two of the field, and much throwing some moves ensued, but eventually he gave in, and I finally had photos to work from. 

He's very very handsome, and an incredibly tall horse, so the angle of shot is slightly different to normal. 

I think it worked well, and even better, the frame that my client had chosen for previous commissions worked perfectly with him too.