Mary Joan Hinson | Brush & Oil: Equestrian Series

About Mary Joan Hinson, Brush & Oil: Mary Joan Hinson took painting lessons as a small child, developing a love of graphite as well as oils and the unique pigments they offered. She continued her studies into adulthood in the United States, Europe, and the Far East, immersing herself in the cultures and the stimulation they provided. Riding horses had always been a dream and so when she became an adult, that dream came to fruition. Combining her instant love of riding and her life-long practice of drawing and painting, she creates portraits of her own horses as well as for friends and patrons.

She taught painting, drawing, and art history at Florida State College since 1995 and received a PhD from Capella University in 2005. As an instructor, she guided many students to become professional artists, an achievement of which she is quite proud. Currently, Mary Joan is a working artist with upcoming solo exhibitions at the Jacksonville International Airport, the Jekyll Island Art Museum, and Florida State College, as well as an artist of private commissions. Please visit her website at or email her at brushandoil@gmail.comand read on to learn more about the special horse that inspired her Equestrian Series.

A championship show horse from equine royalty, he was so large we affectionately called him Battleship Bismarck. He was also a one-of-a-kind gentle giant, my protector, and my best friend.

The fresh spring air brought credence to Primavera’s promises in what would be the beginning of a 24-year journey of love and gratitude for the gentlest of giants.  

I regularly took dressage lessons from Charlotte, a wonderfully seasoned and kind woman, with the assignment to improve my Hunt seat equitation as opposed to creating a dressage arena star.  She had many connections and was acquainted with an amateur rider and renowned physician who had purchased a well-bred California Hanoverian gelding destined for the dressage ring named Prinz Gephard.  Harpo, as he was known around the barn, had been bought as a green-broke four-year-old and was shipped to Florida, with the intention of becoming the doctor’s dressage mount.  Two years went by, and Harpo remained untouched apart from care of the stable hands, vet, and farrier, who attended to his every basic need, without concern for any riding or groundwork. 

The situation was not a total loss, however, because this time allowed for Harpo to mature and grow…and grow.  As luck would have it, our physician contacted Charlotte to discuss his lack of time for Harpo, which is when she thought of a decent, tall amateur rider who might be a perfect fit for him – me.  With Charlotte’s encouragement, I made plans to go and look at him because she believed that I could ride him, and after all, his father, Prinz Gaylord had produced countless winning babies competing worldwide.  With that said, calls were conducted and an appointment was made for the next day to visit my dream mount.  

The cobalt and fuchsia sunset gave promise of the day that was to follow, as I anxiously decided to turn in early, praying for a restful night dreaming of what might be.  I awoke to a half-haze morning breaking as I hooked the Springhill, four-horse head-to-head to my Chevy 3500 dually gooseneck hitch, just as I had so many times in the past.  Foot cranked?  Check.  Tires inflated for towing?  Check.  Lights and brakes on point?  Check.  Latches secured?  Check.  Horse ready? Shavings spread and haynet filled and hung?  Check.  All tasks carefully completed, just like so many times in the past, but today was to be so very different.  Today the trailer left the farm filled only with dreams of possibilities, potential, and the hope of a living personification of the same for the return trip home.

The drive ahead was only a little over an hour, but went by quickly since the trailer was devoid of precious life, rolling along without a sound from the empty horse compartment.  An hour is a long time to dream.  What would he look like?  What color would he be?  Maybe grey, since his infamous father, Prinz Gaylord was a grey.  Would he be sweet?  Would he have good feet?  What about his appetite?  Some horses are not good eaters and have poor feet!  Load?  Oh my, some horses will not load!  So many thoughts and visions troll the mind when horse shopping. 

As I took the wide turn into the address I had been given, I thought it strange that the road sign advertised the property as a dog kennel.  Maybe he had learned to bark; that would be funny!  At least he should be used to the dogs that generally scamper, unattended, around all the horse shows.  My large trailer drew the attention of the tanned grooms who emerged from their morning cleaning duties, greeting me with smiles and pitchforks.

“Hi!  I am here to see Harpo!”  I said with the same big smile, but without my characteristic pitchfork.  Their heads tipped in acknowledgement as they turned to fetch the six-year-old Hanoverian gelding.

My heart beat loudly with anticipation as I spied the grooms rounding the barn’s corner with the largest horse I had ever seen.  Standing a true 18.2 hands, this kind boy looked at me with eyes of contentment and strength.  With the groom’s permission, I reached out my open hand, filled only with a chip of a carrot to offer as a greeting, which he carefully took, only to step closer and nudge me with hopes of another.  I stroked his nose and he moved closer, without hesitation.

After the Chukker | MJ Hinson | Original & prints available at

After the Chukker | MJ Hinson | Original & prints available at

He seemed just right…perfect, in fact, to me, but of course he would still need to be vetted for soundness and a clean bill of health.  I was getting way ahead of myself, which was my general propensity.  After all, I had not even ridden him.  In my anxiousness, I had been amiss in noticing that there was no riding ring or even grooming cross-ties, and although the Mexican grooms spoke only broken English, I could ascertain that I would not be able to ride him on the property, but could take him back to my farm for consideration.

I hastily signed a paper stating responsibility and terms of the trial and loaded Harpo for the hour trip home, which could not happen quickly enough.  Thoughts raced, excitement mounted, during a fortunately uneventful but white-knuckled journey home, where the truck never exceeded 45 miles an hour even though the speed limit was 60.  As we passed through the farm gates, all took notice; peacocks paraded their blue-green plumage with extra frivolity, ducks ran with feathered flurry, a wild bird serenaded a welcome, and all the horses stood tall and august to greet their king.  Harpo was home, a place that would celebrate his life, his sweet moments of success, his vivid personality, and the fact that he was so obviously loved.  He was never ill or unsound, a tribute to good breeding; he never complained or showed discontent, an acknowledgement of supreme training.

Harpo settled in like the royalty he was bred to be, treating his realm and retinue with respect, the expectation of obedience, and acknowledgement of hierarchy. 
— Mary Joan Hinson

Mary Jo with Harpo, who competed under the name Bismarck

Harpo settled in like the royalty he was bred to be, treating his realm and retinue with respect, the expectation of obedience, and acknowledgement of hierarchy.  He was comforted by a regular schedule, with me supervising the barn’s activities with a microscope, micromanaging the feeding and turnout order as well as training schedules, which had to be regular and prompt.  Entering the barn first, exiting first, and training first kept him content and quiet.  Only the best of everything for this king: the farrier came two hours from Ocala to build shoes for pizza-pan sized feet; the chiropractor flew in from Ontario to maintain a strong skeletal system; the veterinarian was up-to-date on all the latest medical advances; trainers were the finest available; nutrition meant alfalfa from Canada with the perfect blend of grains and supplements to target bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  I was but a small part, a pilot and facilitator for the Battleship Bismarck.

I remember one stormy Ocala show of over 1000 horses, each horse was accompanied by its entourage.  Riders were impeccably dressed in hand-made, custom, tall black Vogel boots, black velvet Patey helmets, perfectly starched rat-catchers with initials intricately embroidered on the collar, black lamb’s leather gloves, dark hunt coats of the finest wools, and even their belts cross-stitched with care.  Grooms came with their bucket of brushes; there was a soft one for shining and a hard one for removing every spec of dirt from the mount or rider, a towel for the horse, a towel for the rider, and a bottle of spring water that the rider gladly shared with their four-legged champion. 

It was a typical day in “sunny” Florida.  The clouds rolled in and the showers fell, coating the clay rings with a reflective layer of water.  As the horses entered the ring, splashing accompanied every footfall, making even the steadiest of mounts balk at the thought of jumping in and out of questionably deep puddles.  Bismarck took to the rings like a star, galloping flawlessly through the muck and mud, without a single misstep, while water flew, dotting close spectators with the red clay of Ocala.  I rather liken it to riding the amusement park water rides where guests participate knowing that they will get soaked. 

This kind and gentle boy guided me to a championship that day. He returned to the barn, covered in mud and blue ribbons, proud that he could take care of his mother, like no other horse could.
— Mary Joan Hinson

This kind and gentle boy guided me to a championship that day. He returned to the barn, covered in mud and blue ribbons, proud that he could take care of his mother, like no other horse could.

You know a horse will loan you freedom, give you courage, and teach you to dance; riding a show hunter/jumper can be likened to dancing the waltz and tango at the same time and teaching you to fly without wings that bind.  His career was accolade filled, a recognition of power, gentleness, and humble beauty without pride and a tribute to the hard work of the perfect storm of trainers, vets, farriers, chiropractors, massage therapists…and, and, and.  Bismarck, as he was known in the show ring, was a friend, never a slave, giving me the gift to soar, to fly as a hawk, ever so gracefully galloping effortlessly across grass covered rings sprinkled with looming obstacles.

What a treasure and partner he became over the years, as he carried me to many championships: the Ocala HITS Circuit, the Biltmore Challenge, and countless others up and down the east coast.  Competing in many different hunter, equitation, and even jumper divisions, Bismarck brought honor and commanding attention from on-lookers, due much in part to his size and his announcement of presence with a huff and loudly rhythmic foot fall.  He was a champion in every sense of the word, giving his heart and strength whenever called upon, regardless of inclement weather, footing conditions, or rider malfunction, which was quite often.

It was his habit to sleep for hours, curled up in a little ball, to be as small as 18.2 could possibly be.  Even at horseshows, when the barn was abustle with grooms, braiders, farriers, vets, dogs, small children, exhibitors, trainers and more, he would sleep, all curled up in a ball.  One fresh day at home, he ate his dinner, just like he had so many times in the past, curled up in a ball, and went to sleep, but on this beautifully clear and peaceful night, 24 years after he arrived, he just kept sleeping.

Special thanks to Ashli Archer, editor and Scott Blake, photographer for their contributions to this story!

Cristina has been in graphic design and marketing since 2006, and was blessed with the opportunity to work with Barb to bring her dream of HRL to life! She lives in Central Florida with her cat and loves music, movies, and travel.