By Shya Beth
Nancy Smyth has been surrounded by horses and art all her life. From growing up in the natural beauty of New Jersey to living in the equally beautiful — but slightly more humid — state of Florida, it doesn’t matter if there are mountains or everglades on the horizon. As long as horses are there, Nancy’s palette and brushes are sure to follow.
Catching the horse bug at an early age, Nancy’s pony experience started when she was about 2 years old, being led around on a pony. That stable is gone now, replaced by a large shopping mall, but those memories are still vivid in her mind.
“Horses have been a huge part of my life,” Nancy said. “I have photos of me as a toddler all decked out in my cowgirl vest and hat in the driveway of our home.
An Equestrian’s Mind
Drawing from a young age, Nancy’s first horse, an Appaloosa named Jody, became the subject of her portraits when she wasn’t riding.
“Jody was my present when I graduated from high school,” Nancy said. “I worked after school to pay his bills, and he was the best first horse I could ever have asked for.”
Whether she was exploring the valleys and mountains on trail rides or training in the ring, Nancy has used her skills and knowledge of horses to assist her with training and riding throughout her life.
She has owned Appaloosas, Hanoverians and off-the-track Thoroughbreds, and has ridden dressage, hunt seat and Western. Dressage is Nancy’s current challenge, and one that she enjoys learning while also bonding with her horse.
“During college, I rode hunt seat and worked with Jack Benson at his Briarwood Farm in Oldwick, New Jersey,” she said. “Years later, my horse and I were in dressage training with Chistophe Theallet at Waterbury Dressage in Warwick, New York. I was fortunate to have taken clinics with esteemed trainers such as Michael Godfrey, Isabel Judet, Lendon Gray and Gail Carmona.”
After attending college and graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree from Montclair State University, Nancy entered the corporate world and realized that she wasn’t going to have much time for her artwork. She would create a portrait every so often for her own enjoyment, which was enough to keep horses and art close in her mind and spirit.
“My enjoyment comes from learning and riding,” Nancy said. “My dear friend Ailene Cascio has been my eyes on the ground for many years, helping me polish up my riding and keeping me on course with practicing dressage. When it came down to showing my horses, I let the professionals do that. I love to learn and continue to become a better rider.”
Life Through Art
Artists tell stories with their paintings and Nancy is no exception. “I’ve always tried to tell a story in my art that others can relate to,” Nancy said. “Commissions range from a personal portrait of a client’s horse to candid shots of a young child and her pony.”
One of her favorite works of art is a pastel called “Waiting,” depicting a dressage horse tacked up without his rider. His rider was fighting cancer, which is shown by the pink ribbon on his saddle pad, and he is patiently “waiting” for her return.
“This piece was my own personal story that I wanted to tell. I used my horse Luc as the model for this portrait. Luc was a huge part of my life for 24 years and he taught me so much about riding. All of my horses hold a place in my heart,” Nancy said. “But he was my horse of a lifetime.”
“Waiting” and other artwork has been exhibited in art competitions and have won various awards. One of her proudest moments is when she won the Art Spirit Gold Medal award in the 84th National Exhibition for the American Artists Professional League in New York City. Nancy’s works also grace many homes in the U.S. and abroad.
Starting a new Journey
Moving from her home of New Jersey to Hobe Sound, Florida, has had its ups and downs. “I recently moved out of the state where I had lived all of my life to take care of my elderly parents,” Nancy said. “I’ve been fortunate to have made many new friends through our common love of the horse. Before my move to Florida, my dear friend told me that no matter where you relocate to, if you’re ‘into and around horses’ you will always make new friends. And her advice was spot on!”
Continuing to be involved in the equestrian community has been a great part of Nancy’s new journey, from meeting new riding buddies to expanding her art portfolio.
“Being around horses has given me the opportunity to study them up close, observe their characteristics such as conformation, movement, muscular and skeletal forms, hair growth patterns, color variations and facial expressions in order to hone my skills and train my artistic eye,” Nancy said, adding that this has been instrumental in helping her create realistic depictions of horses in her artwork.
“Although I’m actively creating art later in my life, I now have my perfect career, one that makes people happy while allowing me to do what I love: be around horses and make my art,” she said. “Growing as an artist has been a lifelong journey.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our everyday lives, Nancy is waiting it out like thousands of other equestrians. “I’m lucky for sure,” she said. “Since I’m staying home much more than I used to, I have more time to delve into new mediums such as oil paints and watercolors.”
As far as her plans for the future are concerned, Nancy can’t wait to return to riding and training. For now, she’s working on her equine and dog portraits.
“My plans are to grow my art business, hone my craft, get my work out for the public to see,” Nancy said, “and use the talent that has been given to me to bring happiness to people’s lives through my art.”
For more information, visit www.nancysmythfineart.com and @smythfineart on Instagram.
Art Of The Horse is the world’s first equine art platform, established in 2014 by Shya Beth. With weekly articles featuring up-and-coming as well as world-renowned artists, exhibitions and art news, Art Of The Horse is the premier source for all things equine art. Visit artofthehorse.net