Since I donate several pieces each year to local charities, I will often times approach a charity I’m interested in & ask how I can help. In the Fall of 2007, I spent a wonderful day on the Horse Protection Society farm – a volunteer had told me about the great work they were doing to rescue some of the most abused & neglected horses I’d ever seen. The stories were truly heartbreaking. During that workday, over 70 happy, spirited volunteers worked all day around the farm & the experience really touched me. When I left, I wanted to help the horses even more. They had an upcoming auction that Spring so I offered to donate an original pet portrait to their silent auction which got a lot of attention. The day after that event, the HPS organizer called asking if I’d donate a larger piece for the 2009 fundraiser as she’d gotten so much positive feedback about my work. I promised I would but I told her if we were going to really help raise money for the 40+ HPS horses, we needed to do a public equine figure…I asked if I could do Barbaro IF we could get permission as he is licensed. She agreed so I set out to try to get permission.
I know how much his tragic death had touched me & millions of others – I thought it would be very fitting to let Barbaro help other horses, even after his death. Just as God always brings something good out of sadness, this would be a wonderful way to bring a positive out of a horrible tragedy. So I started praying asking God to help me get permission as I was having trouble finding a contact for the Jackson’s who owned Barbaro. Shortly after, a good friend introduced me to his new girlfriend - she had attended college with the Jackson’s & offered to send a note & put in a good word for me. I gave her several horse portrait images I’d done to include along with info on HPS so that they would understand our mission to help these abused & neglected horses.
I had studied with John Fawcett & he had done Barbaro’s portrait for the Jackson’s for the Barbaro Foundation - I noted this in hopes that they would feel more comfortable with my work. Not long after, Roy Jackson called her & they spent time catching up – he said they would be more than happy to let Barbaro help the horses in need at HPS. Roy Jackson shared so many wonderful stories with her about how Barbaro had touched so many lives. He said soldiers delivered a flag to them that had flown over Iraq because Barbaro reminded them of their motto, “Strength to Persevere”; a group of terminally ill patients came to visit Barbaro because he inspired them to keep fighting; the story of the little boy who kept the scrapbook when Barbaro was injured & followed his progress but after Barbaro’s death, he said he knew he was now running around in Heaven with his dad who had also died; they received thousands of cards & letters of encouragement from people in 13 countries. They had countless stories like this that really touched them & they wanted to share them with others.
So I started working on the portrait – I prayed that it would be the best portrait I’d done thus far & it was – it turned out exactly as I’d envisioned it; I prayed that it would bring in a big bid for the horses & it did ($5000 which is exactly how much I asked that it would bring!). I honestly felt like Barbaro & I were a team - I know he was as happy to help them as I was. It taught me that God will use even the most innocent creature to do great things to help others.
After the auction, I sent the Jackson’s a heartfelt letter thanking them for giving me their blessing & told them what an honor it was to capture their beloved Barbaro. I also enclosed a color photo of the original portrait so that they could see how it turned out. I was a little worried that they wouldn’t think it captured his personality but I was thrilled when Gretchen Jackson sent the sweetest letter back & told me that I had “somehow captured Barbaro’s wisdom & his pensiveness…” That is what I felt from him but since I never met him, I wasn’t sure what he was like. That letter really melted my heart & meant so much that I had seen who Barbaro truly was. I understood that this was a blessed team effort - I am extremely fortunate to be able to combine my love of animals with my God given talent to help others. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of this simple effort to help the horses who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.