Rescued Arabian Pays it Forward— Justin Time’s Works of Art
In March, 2011, animal control officers in Montgomery County responded to an abuse call and found a severely underweight 16 year-old Arabian gelding, severely underweight, with inadequate shelter that was also suffering from a case of rain rot. The horse was sent to Brook Hill Farm, a rescue facility in Forest, Va., where he received food, care and veterinary attention and began to bloom into a friendly, loving animal. By June, he was ready to find his forever home.
In the meantime, Barbara Ferguson of Lexington, Va., had been keeping her eyes open for a horse, trusting that the right one would find her. Having been active in the U.S. Pony Club (USPC) while growing up in Connecticut, Ferguson had put her equine dreams aside while raising her family. Her husband, Alan, had always promised her another horse, and now, 38 years later, the right horse came along.
Despite having ridden Arabians for a while during her youth, that’s not what Ferguson was looking for when she initially thought about adopting a rescue horse. “I never wanted an Arabian; I was more interested in a Thoroughbred, but you never know. With Justin, I threw my heart over first, and followed with my head. He’s the sweetest horse I’ve ever known.”
Ferguson met the gelding, who was still timid around people, and knew she had found her dream horse. After taking him home and giving him the appropriate name Justin Time, she began working with him on the ground and patiently teaching him to trust again. “He came here, scared of everything. In the beginning, he didn’t even like being brushed. One day I was just petting him ,but had his box of grooming supplies out. He reached over and pulled out his brush, picked it up and pushed it at me.”
Justin displayed more playful characteristics as his personality began to shine through. He loved to carry things around in his mouth. “He’s just such a clown. And his retrieval instinct— he’s like a dog; he’ll pick up anything, which is very helpful. He helps me carry things, and he’ll go out into the pasture and get his fly mask and bring it to me if he rubs it off. My friends call him our dog. He has more toys than a dog. Squeaky toys, horns, all kinds of things.”
Justin also exhibits other dog-like qualities, such as coming running when called. Once, he wandered through the woods on to the neighboring property. As soon as Ferguson saw he wasn’t at home, she called him and “he came thundering through the woods, ran right past me and when I called his name again, came screeching to a halt, turned around and came right up to me.”
Ferguson has a profound gratitude for Brook Hill Farm for saving Justin, and wanted to be able to help the farm, along with other rescues and therapeutic riding centers, in some way that would involve the Arabian gelding. She had heard of other horses painting, and Justin’s love of carrying things around in his mouth made her wonder if he could also develop the skill, with the paintings being sold to raise money for equine charities.
As the horse already loved to carry things in his mouth, Ferguson began having him hold a paint brush. He loved to carry it around, and would take it on walks, stopping to pick it up if he dropped it along the way. “He wasn’t satisfied unless he pleased me by carrying that darn brush” she laughs. Justin then graduated to target training, where he initially learned to touch the brush to a cardboard box on the ground ,and then a flat board to which Ferguson taped some paper. He would start “messing” with the target whether it was on the ground, held by hand, or hanging up. At first working with water, he has since moved up to acrylics. “The paint doesn’t always go where it’s supposed to! I wear a raincoat,” Ferguson laughs.
“I still have his first paintings. They’re small, and we thought they were terrific. I shared my idea of selling Justin’s paintings with my vet and she thought it was great.” The vet encouraged Ferguson, and also spoke of Justin’s project to the director of the Hoofbeats Therapeutic Riding Center, which is housed at the Virginia Horse Center. When Ferguson visited Hoofbeats at her vet’s suggestion, she was given a warm welcome, and Justin’s project of paying it forward had begun.
After Hoofbeats gave Justin’s art such a great reception, Ferguson began matting and protecting each of the paintings with an isolation coat of polymer and two coats of ultraviolet protective varnish to preserve them. The paintings that are done on paper are mounted under glass, while the pieces on canvas simply receive the protective coating. Ferguson’s husband makes many of the frames used to showcase Justin’s art. “He doesn’t ride at all, never has, but he supports my dreams and is very encouraging,” Ferguson notes of her spouse. “All the time I spend with Justin, grooming him, riding him, with all of the painting- he’s very supportive.”
The time the Ferguson’s have spent with Justin and his art have paid off on a wide scale. Not only is his artwork raising much-needed funds for equine charities, but he’s even been awarded prizes at art shows, and his works have sold as far away as Canada. It’s an amazing accomplishment for a horse with such a humble beginning.
Justin’s artistic talent has financially benefited not only Hoofbeats, as Ferguson has also worked with the Roanoke Valley Horse Rescue and the Wounded Warriors Equestrian Program. She’s very excited to be working with Brook Hill Farm as a way of thanking them for bringing her and Justin together. Her original goal of helping Brook Hill is being realized through coordinated efforts between Ferguson and Brook Hill Farm’s Chairman of the Board Leslie Graham. In addition to some of Justin’s framed pieces being donated to the farm for fund raising, the members in Brook Hill Farm’s United Neigh program for at-risk youth will have the opportunity to make Christmas ornaments out of some of Justin’s art and sell them to help support programs at the farm.
Brook Hill Farm, a 501(c)3, is not only a rescue facility ,but also an accredited center for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. In addition to its PATH certification, the farm is actively involved in community outreach, has gained accreditation as a USPC riding center and hosts an active 4-H program, with members of the United Neigh group earning chances to ride at USPC rallies and the 4-H state championship horse show. Ferguson and Brook Hill hope that Justin’s artwork will allow the farm to help many more horses to find their forever home, and enable more youth to be served by the farm’s programs.
If you’d like more information on Brook Hill Farm, you may visit its website at www.BrookHillFarm.org. You may also contact the farm if you’d like to donate art supplies to help Justin continue painting, or if you’d like to find out more about acquiring one of his pieces of art.
Penny Hawes is a freelance writer from Monroe, Va., where she lives with her husband, their daughter and several dogs, cats and horses, none of whom paint.