Equine Tale: Local Author's Book Series Features Horse and Dog
"The nicest place to sort out the world is sitting on the back of a good horse."
At least that's what local horsewoman Claudia Coleman thinks. For 24 years she had "the best view in the universe" from the back of her beloved snowwhite gelding, Yo Yo, where the celebrated equine artist made sketches for her paintings that hang in public and private collections in the U.S. and around the world.
Yo Yo passed away in 2001 at the age of 27, over 100 years old in "people years." In 1998, he and another horse country legend, Ginnie Moss, 88, rode in the first hunt where he was older than she. Fellow equestrians nicknamed Yo Yo the "Energizer." He hunted for 23 seasons, a record few have ever met or exceeded.
"Everyone who knew him still talks about him," Coleman says fondly, "and so the Yo Yo stories grew from his lasting personality."
On Sunday, Nov. 30, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in downtown Southern Pines, Coleman will sign the first book she and Yo Yo "collaborated" on, "Yo Yo and The Great Flood," the first of four children's books featuring Yo Yo and his friend, Tracker, an old Bywater foxhound.
"Yo Yo stories are designed for people of all ages," Coleman says. "We feel the minimum age for these books is 8 years old, and 80 is just about right."
For years, Yo Yo "wrote" a journal on a computer "made just for him" located over his feed tub. According to Coleman, Yo Yo wrote the journal entries himself and left them outside his stall door for her to find and post. (Read his journals at www.am-portfolio.com/journal).
Coleman and Yo Yo began work on their children's books 10 years ago.
"Between hunt days," one journal entry read, "Mom and I have been working hard on the first of many-to-come children's books about me and my neighbor, Tracker, the hound. We have had a lot of fun writing them together and are excited that as many adults as kids like the stories."
Coleman worked on the watercolor illustrations for their book in her studio, "an old wreck of a house" as Yo Yo described it, between painting equine and dog portraits, fox hunting scenes, and landscapes, and illustrating Dr. Jessica Jahiel's "Problem Solving" series of books, including "The Horse Behavior Problem Solver," "The Rider's Problem Solver," and "The Horse Training Problem Solver."
"Yo Yo and the Great Flood" tells the story of a daring rescue of animals stranded by a devastating hurricane successfully masterminded by Yo Yo and Tracker. In the next book, "Yo Yo and Sharon Trail," soon to be published, Yo Yo and Tracker uncover an ancient map that leads them on a search for pirate treasure. In "Yo Yo and the Brass Spittoon," Yo Yo is invited to perform with a famous visiting circus and becomes involved with an international ring of thieves that infiltrates the company. Yo Yo and Tracker travel to the land of sun and sand for the greatest horse race in the world where the country is pushed to the brink of civil war when a national treasure is stolen in "Yo Yo and the Dog's Eye Ruby."
From the time she was a small child living in Southern Pines, all Coleman wanted to do was ride a horse.
"I wanted to own it, ride it, hug it, and sleep with it," she says. "So Grandma came up with the idea of riding lessons when I was 6, and that cemented my devotion. When I wasn't on a horse, I was drawing one. The rest of my life has been spent in pursuit of both. Now, painting horses is my profession, and riding is my passion."
Coleman's mother was an award-winning artist who studied in the U.S. and abroad.
"Mother painted longleaf pines better than any other landscape artist I have ever seen," Coleman says. "I loved to draw and paint from my earliest memories, and Mom gave me the right tools and encouragement."
After graduating from Virginia's Norfolk Academy, Coleman attended The American School in Switzerland for a year.
"This was the best part of my education," she says.
During her first year at Elmira College in Maine, her plan to become a marine biologist gave way to her desire to create fine art.
"I thought I could do both, but my mother made me respect the talent I was given," Coleman says. "She pointed out that there were many fine scientists in the world, but far fewer fine artists. I went back to school, changed my major, and immediately became frustrated -- so I left school, and have never looked back."
In the early 1970s, Coleman returned from New England to Southern Pines.
"I wanted to see whether the Carolina life I remembered could possibly be as good as it was in my memories. It was," she says. "I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the 'holy grail' of horses and hounds, and that started my real education."
During the next 30 years, Coleman became an acknowledged contemporary master of animal portraiture. She is represented in the U.S. Art in Embassies program, and her paintings hang in many noted collections, including that of the late August A. Busch Jr., the Masters of the Foxhounds Association of America. She is also much sought after for commissions to paint top show dogs.
Claudia Coleman resides in Southern Pines with her horses and Australian terriers.
For information, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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