Horse staying close at New Year opener Cheltenham

staying close acrylic painting in progress kathryn sassall

In Progress

The horses are blowing out cold air as they stay close around the bends. It is the first race-card of the year at Cheltenham 2017. Jockey silks billowing, goggles down they’re all standing on the stirrups.

A grey day captured in strong palette knife and brush strokes. The horses are not jostling but they are staying close. All eyes are forward and focussed. The horses heart rates are rising. Muscles pumping as they propel themselves and their riders forward.

The turf is still lifting despite the cold weather of the start of the year.  Grass and mud is flung into the air as the metal hooves pound the ground. Coming round towards the cheering crowds. More feet stamping but from the race-goers who need to stay warm.

Staying Close  – Oil Painting

A painting like this takes several weeks to build up layer by layer. First of all the canvas was blocked out in a magenta wash. Next light strokes of charcoal are used to roughly draft the shapes of the horses and jockeys to ensure a good fit on the canvas. Then it’s the background and the turf over a couple of weeks.

Once dry enough to work on without moving the background colour,  I work from two directions – top down with the jockey silks, and bottom up with the legs of the horses. At this point the background and turf will get some re-working to balance the colours appearing on the horses and silks.

I use a limited range of paint colours so that the overall tone of the picture stays consistent as the image starts to come out of the canvas. The final layer is highlights and shadows which pull the whole composition together.  Final painting is hung in a light warm space for a couple of weeks to ensure the thicker layers become dry enough to transport the painting.

More horse racing art here.

oil painting of horse and rider racing staying close Cheltenham New Years Day 2017 by Kathryn Sassall

Staying Close
60 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Oil on linen canvas on hardwood stretchers SOLD






Coming Home at the Point to Point

photograph of a start of ladies point to point race

Coming home is a watercolour painting of a point-to-point. It captures the moment the riders have finished their three miles of riding and jumping. Point-to-point is a regular weekend fixture in a field or land near me from November to mid-June. It takes place on farms and estate land with hurdles being put up for the race card.

The riders are amateurs but the racing is not.  All point-to-point riders must have a riders qualification certificate for the current year. This is proof that they are of a suitable riding standard, medically fit and they have insurance. As the horses are coming home to the post the care and attention to preparing the mount is clear in the beautiful brushed in patterns on the haunches.

Point-to-point horses are hunters and are amazing to be close to. Majestic, proud and powerful animals. Heavy breathing. Thundering hooves. Eyes dancing and ears twitching before they set off. Pacing. Racing for three miles. The crowds cheering them along as they are coming home.

This is Year of the Woman and point-to-point is a sport that sees women riders compete over the same courses as men.  The first Ladies’ point-to-point race was won by the Duke of Hamilton’s 17 year old daughter, Lady Jean Hamilton in 1921. Women had competed in open point-to-points from 1913.  They had proved to be very good at winning so soon got their own races. It wasn’t until the late ’60s that they were allowed to compete in open races again.

Coming Home – Point-to-Point Painting

The jockey’s silks billow with the wind created by the speed they are moving. Heads down and willing the mount forward.  Brampton Bryan on a May day was glorious. The women riding point-to-point now wear jodphurs but back in the beginning they wore skirts and rode side-saddle.


horse and rider two at a point-to-point racing to the finish

Coming Home £125
40 x 30 cm
Watercolour on Paper



Over the Last – Arabian horse race

Over the last is about an Arabian horse race held at the local racecourse. It captures that moment that the jockey has been willing their mount forward for that final rush for the winning post. Hereford has had a race course since 1771. Closed for a few years, it returned with Arabian horse racing in 2013. Now leased by Arena Racing Company it runs many  Jump racing events.

The excitement of the colour and movement of horse-racing must be in my blood. My maternal grandfather used to enjoy watching the early televised events. He would be silently cheering the horses he’d backed as they came over the last fence. Waving his folded and heavily marked newspaper. Wonder if that’s why I always read a newspaper from the back?

I love the colourful silks which fill out with the air as the race gathers speed. The jockeys silk hat covers matching the owner’s colours. Pristine white jodphurs soon turn to mud and grass spattered as the horse race unfolds.

Arabian Horse Race Painting

The thumbnail image shows the stages I go through when painting. First attend the event and take photographs or watch on TV or video channels to get a feel for the race. The moment to capture is a subconscious awareness now. I may do a pastel sketch on paper just to get a feel for the layout and shapes. Generally I go straight to paper or canvas.

This is an acrylic painting on paper. I ituitively strobe the background when painting. I don’t work from photos taken with a slow shutter speed which would ‘blur’ or photoshop the image.  Onto the background I block out the main shapes and then build. It’s layer by layer. Sometimes reworking an area to bring depth back or obtain a colour relation effect.

Finally it’s looking for those little flecks and details which either pull the whole image together or make the eye fill in the detail that I’ve actually left out.

horse and rider racing after last fence at Hereford racecourse in acrylic painting

Over the Last £290
50 x 40 cm
Acrylic on paper

Thundering hooves and skies

a photo of a jockey in blue silks focussing pre-race on a grey horse Thundering hooves certainly make noise. How so? They are metal shod ends to legs which look so slender compared to the body they hold aloft. The power in those legs. Thundering is the sound of the weight of the horse cutting the turf and soil below.

My grandfather (maternal side) loved the gee-gees. He’d watch on the television with the newspaper in hand. Later in life I lived just down from Brighton racecourse.  It fascinated me that they covered the road to the refuse tip with straw and turf eveytime a race was on.

Families in their cars with picnics. Children bored after the first race playing ball games. The horse could be heard as they approached.  Ground trembled. Nostrils flaring and their breath coming hard and fast the horses steamed by. Even the crack of silk as it flapped in the wind on the top of the hill and the backdraft of the movement.

I’ve visited Windsor, Goodwood, Ascot, York, Cheltenham, Hereford and Newmarket over the years. Sometimes trapped in corporate hospitality with a brief escape to the parade ring. Other times camera in hand getting as up close and personal as I can to the race.


The Grand National is not a race I’ve ever been to. Sweepstakes at various places of work have resulted in different results.  This painting was inspired by watching TV and video footage. It’s primarily one moment but the idea is to capture the energy and noise of the excitement of the whole race.

Yet, as is always the case, some of the jockeys and horses seem to be distracted. I love the billowing silks. The fly-like eyes created by goggles.

riders on horses galloping in grand national in oil painting

Thundering £Sold -STD
60 x 60 cm
OIl on deep canvas

60 x 60 x 2.5 cm
Oil on linen canvas on hardwood stretchers