Donna Clair

Southwest Contemporary Artist

How I Came to New Mexico and learned about Art and Life



1983 – Llano Quemado, Truchas, New Mexico – The horse trailers with our six new guests arrived in late winter after the first of the year.  Three were definitely with foal.  We purchased many bales of hay in anticipation and when the day came, we had read the book on “how to foal horses”. We felt we were up to any challenge and ready to become “ranchers”!  The joke was on us – truth is when the time comes nothing can stop life from happening!
The ranch was built by a Dallas doctor  to raise his prized Peruvian Pasos – large beauties being bred specifically to cover long distances on mountain trails,
creating a smooth-riding horse with a big, ground-covering stride. No expense was spared.  The huge wooden barn had many stalls, a training circle in the middle, a viewing mezzanine, an office room, and a small sleeping apartment next to the foaling stall separated by a large glass viewing window.  By the time we arrived the
Pasos were gone and we never knew why. The enormous barn was silent and empty, just waiting to be brought back to life.
Our group of six filled all the empty spaces.  Each horse had her own personality and our man of the moment happily took charge of their care and feeding.  He mucked out the stalls with great energy, wrapped the pregnant girls’ tails in preparation for birthing.  I painted every day, tended to the house – cleaned and cooked.  Once the horses arrived,  my studio was moved across the exercise field down to the mobile home just in back of the wooden teepee platform. I set up my oil paints on my palette, arranged the canvases and easel and took out my brushes. Time for some new work.  Winter became spring, we planted a small vegetable garden and waited for our payment from the owner of the horses.  We never heard from him with his promise of monthly boarding fees.  Oooops!
My favorite horse was a beautiful white Arabian named Radiant Wind.  One afternoon we noticed that she was restless and started making small kicks toward her belly.  We took her into the foaling stall.  I had fallen truly, madly and deeply in love with this horse! This was her first baby!  Wished my partner goodnight, took my pillow and blanket down to the barn and settled into the apartment next to the foaling stall.  In my human arrogance, I decided I would act as her doula encouraging her through the labor and birth pains.  Truth is she was a stoic through and through and just tolerated this silly human who kept blabbing all through the night.  Exhausted from all my encouraging words, I fell asleep.  When I opened my eyes, Radiant was nursing her sleek new baby boy.  We named him Paco!In reality my partner and I were living a rich fantasy life.  Tons and tons of Magical Thinking skewed our vision of reality. Our afternoon toddies also fueled our imaginations.  We were definitely not thinking straight.  The other two pregnant mares gave birth soon after Radiant Wind.  We now had three dogs, nine horses and an orange barn cat named Maxie Mozart.  The owner of the horses was nowhere to be found when it came time to paying us for the boarding fees.  Our winter supply of hay was almost gone. And my Santa Fe gallery had gone silent as far as sales were concerned.  Tensions began to build. Cracks were beginning to appear in the walls of our happy honeymoon cottage.

In all honesty this was not a marriage made in heaven – both of us were escaping, running away.  One morning I looked at my new partner and said “You are my father”.  There were a thousand reasons why this was Truth with a capital “T”. I never parsed the words.  I only knew that our being together on this journey was no accident.  Until that moment it hadn’t been apparent to me that I was running away from what I hoped was my old life – that in some magic moment I would be reborn without the need to escape from anyone or anything.  In the click of my heels I would wake up the next day perfectly shiny and new – without the need to numb myself with scotch.  Tell God your plans….raucous laughter resounds!  The dawn broke and it was apparent why this man, this ranch, these horses were now my reality….what to do?

Our imperfect union lasted less than 18 months.  Although I sensed my partner had secrets, I never dreamed all his reasons to hide away on a horse ranch in the mountains of northern New Mexico.  The Big Ball of Reality was poised to drop – mysteries were soon to be solved and terrible secrets revealed.  Wait for it…..