Equestrian columnist Gilly Fraser discovers she has a talent for painting horses...

I HAVE a strong suspicion that most people who know me will be more than a little surprised to read this next sentence – to be honest, I’m more than a little surprised that I can even write it, says Farmer equestrian columnist Gilly Fraser.

So here goes… (drumroll)… I can draw horses.

There, that’s quite a claim coming from someone who has spent the vast majority of their life convinced she couldn’t muster a convincing stick man. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to rival George Stubbs any time soon.

I’m nowhere near being a real, genuine, bona-fide actual artist. But you know what? I really don’t need to be.

I’ll never win a commission or a competition or probably even many compliments with my daubs and my doodles, but that’s not why I’m doing them.

The honest truth is that discovering I can draw or paint something that looks even vaguely like the thing it’s meant to look like, has brought me genuine joy. Especially when that thing happens to be a horse.

I don’t think there was ever a single specific moment when I was told I was no good at art. I wasn’t psychologically scarred by a devastating revelation when someone told me the bald truth that a pencil, crayon or paintbrush in my hands was more likely to result in ridicule than applause. I just always knew.

I had a very good chum who could conjure up a pony on paper with a few deft strokes, but when I’d try to copy what she’d done, I’d end up with something more akin to a hippopotamus.

Actually even the hippopotamus would have had legitimate grounds for complaint. It was genuinely frustrating, and a source of regret, but I learned to be philosophical about it. Drawing clearly wasn’t my thing.

So how it then became my thing is all down to a brilliant landscape artist called Julie Dumbarton.

I attended a weekend workshop at her studios in Langholm so I could write a feature for a magazine and told her very honestly up front not to expect much of me.

She just smiled and told me I would probably be surprised at what I would manage to achieve.

Truth is, I was astounded. Julie’s style is big and bold and vibrantly colourful and trying to capture even a faint flavour of it proved astonishingly liberating.

I was a bit hesitant at first, not wanting to mess up a perfectly nice and blameless canvas with my splodges, but Julie encouraged us all to just let go – because after all, what was the worst that could happen?

Well, the results wouldn’t have had art gallery curators hammering at my door, begging to stage my first exhibition, but I loved them.

And that opened the floodgates. It’s never really my style to tiptoe delicately into something new, so in typical Fraser fashion I went completely overboard, buying paper and canvas, charcoal and sets of watercolours, tubes of buttery acrylics and coloured pencils galore.

I signed up with an online group and happily ditched television programmes in favour of watching Youtube tutorials and demonstrations. I was well and truly hooked.

At that stage I was still doing landscape-y things, probably figuring that no tree was ever likely to complain because I’d made one of its branches squint, or a bridge take the hump because I’d got its perspective all out of kilter.

I can’t quite remember when I made the first bold leap into attempting to draw somebody’s face – I’ve probably blocked the experience out of my memory because it was an utter disaster, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to any human who ever lived. But you learn from your mistakes and I tried again – and again.

From there it was a relatively short leap to drawing animals, dogs and horses in particular.

Many people get great results when they trace the photo first, or plot out on a grid, but somehow that just doesn’t work for me and while working freehand can be unbelievably frustrating, it can also be hugely satisfying when you realise you’ve managed to capture that certain something that makes the animal special.

It also trains your eye to work out proportions and perspective and to look for areas of shade and light that will hopefully bring the whole thing to life.

I’ve never tried oils because they seem way too grown-up and serious, but I’ve dabbled in just about all the other mediums and pastels have become my absolute favourite.

They’re easy, they’re messy, they don’t take forever to dry, the colours are incredibly vibrant and blend together beautifully. Perhaps best of all they’re very forgiving, so you can make loads of mistakes but just keep calm and carry on regardless.

Odd as it will sound, I reckon art and horse-riding have a lot in common – at least they do for me.

Both activities are challenging, both can be incredibly satisfying, both can leave me looking like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, covered either in mud or pastel dust.

I freely acknowledge I’ll never be fully in control with either of them, but those elusive, fleeting times of feeling at one with horse or paintbrush are truly moments to treasure.