Trekking To Texas ... for an equine connection
Last updated 9/12/2023 at 10:26am
Looking into the eye of a horse can be mesmerizing. Within their gaze is a wisdom, light, and energy that's hard to portray. A horse's emotions, will, and acceptance are conveyed through body language like breathing, eyes, and ears. Kimry Jelen has sought a myriad of ways to understand the horses she paints and rides. It's her fervent quest for understanding and the ability to capture the indescribable that makes her a unique and compelling artist.
In one of Jelen's paintings, the profile of a bay stallion rises effortlessly off the canvas; its brown eye is lit with power and purpose. That image encapsulates Jelen's mastery of the paintbrush and as a rider. Whether she's finding the perfect color to convey an emotion, or her leg and seat position on a horse, it's because of her profound connection that she's able to bring out the beauty hidden within.
Her continuous quest to perfect her skills as a horse trainer and equine artist has taken her to foreign lands and over the back roads of the United States. Her latest adventure was shared with her four-legged family, her horse, Dhiaa, and faithful cattle dog, Harley. She was heading to Texas to realize a decade-long dream of learning from a master, Manolo Mendez.
After seeing Mendez at a clinic in Washington, she knew she could learn from him.
"I saw what he accomplished with the horses at the clinic. He used his skills as a trainer and intuitive to correct and promote proper muscular development. He could sculpt the horse into the most comfortable body position. As they understood what he was asking, each horse was calmer and more beautiful under his care. I had to know more about him," said Jelen at the stable outside of Sisters, where she trains horses and has an art studio.
Jelen knew it would take time to pull together a trip to one of Mendez's clinics. Originally from Spain and now living in Australia, Mendez hosts five-day clinics. They weren't close to Oregon, and they weren't cheap. In the interim, Jelen found other ways to learn from Mendez.
"I saw a DVD of the groundwork he does. I began practicing what he was doing with Dhiaa. The more I followed his training techniques the more I recognized what he saw. He sees and knows so much, which is evident in the appropriate bodywork he provided. He has stretches, massage, acupressure points, tension-and-release that he tailors to each horse's needs. He watches a horse move, then tries different things like positioning their feet using a bamboo pole. It's fascinating to watch.
When Mendez scheduled a clinic in Texas, Jelen didn't know how she'd pull it off, but she was determined to go. At first, the logistics and cost seemed insurmountable. Then the barriers began to crumble. Her concerns about transportation, timing, and money became less of a roadblock and more just detours she was able to navigate with the help of a friend loaning her a trailer, and unexpected commissions from art sales.
The trip to Texas was important because Jelen knew her heart-horse, Dhiaa, could benefit greatly from Mendez's gifts.
"I always try to do what's best for Dhiaa," said Jelen. "Dhiaa is an enlightened soul, and I'm learning a lot from her. She's my teacher. All I have to do is pay attention to her and she tells me things. She's made me face any bad habits I might have and inspired me to seek the growth that needs to happen."
Pulling a horse trailer across the country is no small feat. Planning for rest and overnight accommodations with a horse requires time and knowledge about what they will need along the way. Jelen knew for Dhiaa to be safe and healthy when she arrived at the clinic, she required as stress-free a drive as possible.
"I didn't ship her because she can get emotional when she doesn't like something," Jelen said. "Taking a week to get somewhere is a different story. I went without another person because I needed to listen to Dhiaa with no other influences. It was a training trip."
Jelen converted a two-horse trailer into a box stall full of shavings, with room to move around and even take a nap.
Staying in tune with Dhiaa required Jelen to take 10 days to reach their destination. But Mother Nature demanded Jelen's attention, too. They left in May, right after a spring snow. Her plan was to go through Idaho, but hailstorms were hitting the area.
"I couldn't imagine putting a horse in a box with that sound," she said. "I went farther south than planned. Every way I went, I just missed some torrential downpour and flooding. Through Nevada some severe flooding required road crews to put in culverts every half mile. Poor Dhiaa had one hundred miles of big bumps, going between twenty and forty miles per hour. There was no place to stop, so we both had to suck it up, chill out, and not stress."
About 30 miles before they made an overnight stop in Scottsdale, Arizona, the horse trailer got a flat tire.
"We were going over a really bumpy road, and just as we reached the crest of a hill I heard a big noise like something was hitting the side of the trailer," Jelen recalled.
Once again, the kindness of strangers and friends-of-friends turned a difficult circumstance into a series of blessings. While Jelen waited for help, Dhiaa remained calm, and Harley was a trooper. After getting the tire changed, they reached a beautiful dressage barn and a good night's rest. But the next day brought more challenges. This time, Harley was the hero.
Two states later in Texas, Jelen could tell Harley was sensing an oncoming storm. His behavior let Jelen know they needed to find a place to stop and hunker down. She found a place by a swap meet. Harley was getting more nervous just as Jelen saw tables at the swap meet flipping over and a huge roiling cloud coming their way. Just before the dust storm hit, Jelen got Harley in the truck and she climbed into the trailer with Dhiaa. It was the longest twenty minutes she'd ever experienced.
The journey to the Manolo Mendez clinic was mainly a fun and positive adventure. As Jelen had predicted, Mendez helped Dhiaa with body adjustments, and inspired Jelen with his graceful movements that reminded her of a dance.
"He's so coordinated and sure of each move," Jelen said. "As he goes, it becomes more and more beautiful. Over the five-day clinic, the horses' bodies changed from looking angular and tight to soft like teddy bears." The horses were transformed physically and behaviorally. "Sometimes when I paint, I know how the muscles should look and I'll make tweaks in my paintings to enhance the horse a little bit... Manolo was doing it in real life!"
Color and movement are the hallmarks of Jelen's work.
"I want my paintings to be a place of pause and to feel good. Horses have an immense heart and they put out an electric current that helps us ground. They are literally healing us. I want to capture that in my paintings and share it. It helps me, too, when I'm painting," she said.
The community of horse people at the clinic were highly educated and acclaimed riders, veterinarians, and bodyworkers. "I was in awe to be in that crowd. The knowledge that was shared and the intention of everyone was all about the well-being of the horses," said Jelen.
The trip also inspired Jelen's current project called "Colors of the Horse."
"It's my next big art idea where experiences through horses and color come together. The idea is to use a color wheel but of horse colors; black can be purple... bays can be red... chestnuts can be orange... palominos are yellow... green could be horses in a pasture or forests; grays can be blue. It will be an installation instead of hung on gallery walls. Viewers will enter the approximately 40-by-80-foot oval and be immersed in a continuous flow of transitioning color spectrum... absorbing all the goodness that horses have to offer."
To learn more about Kimry Jelen's artistic and equine endeavors visit her website at http://www.kimryjelen.com.