Horse Artist and Photographer Interview – Donna Ridgway

Silver's WorldName
Donna Ridgway

Website & places you can find my work online
Flickr: Donna Ridgeway
Redbubble: Donna Ridgeway
Follow Donna on twitter: @donnaridgway
On Facebook, you can find me as Donna Ridgway.

Where I am
Vaughn, Mt

Horse & Rider

Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I was born into a family that homesteaded along the Rocky Mountain Front, near Dupuyer, Mt. We lived on a cattle and grain ranch, did chores, before and after school, and spent summers on the machinery, haying and summer following.

As it is with people who love animals, and horses especially, that love becomes apparent at an early age. As soon as I could talk, I was begging my parents for a horse

My grandparents came to my rescue when I was 8 years old. They bought me a horse named Lucky, who was also 8 years old. I had Lucky until he and I were both 32. My children learned to love him as much as I did.

While I was ranching and farming, I didn’t have much time for my art, but things change. After a divorce, I met my husband Robert! He’s a cowboy poet and we’re able to combine our work.

There are times when I create a painting, he can write a poem specifically for that painting. It was at Robert’s urging, we bought our first camera, the Canon 10D. He’s a smart man! :)

At this time, we’re retired, and live on two acres with our donkey, Pedro and our two cats, Sing Song and Scarlet.

Here I Come

You are a photographer and an artist, which one came first?
Growing up, work was all important. There was little time for anything else. Money was short. I don’t think my parents owned a camera- for the only photos of my brother, sister and I growing up were taken by my grandfather!

He had a 35 mm camera with which he recorded church and school Christmas parties, and our graduations. I know if I’d had access to a camera of any kind, I’d have been a photographer from the beginning.

This is hard to believe in today’s world of plenty, but my first art materials, were donated materials from neighborhood women. I begged them for the white cardboard that came inside their hosiery packaging so I’d have a surface on which to draw.

Once again, my grandpa came to my rescue-he brought me his old carpenter pencil. It had a wide lead, and I could create variations in line and texture! I still have what’s left of that pencil. I must have been in the 3rd grade when I created a book for my grandpa. It was made of school paper and full of my horse drawings. I used a pencil to punch three holes in the paper on the side, and tied the book together with red ribbon.

The title of the book on the front cover, says, “To the best Grandpa in the whole world”. After my grandpa passed away, my grandma returned the book to me, they’d kept it all those years!

I was in high school when my grandparents gave me my first oil paints and supplies. I was in heaven! Real paint, real canvases and brushes, and a can of varnish spray to seal the finished paintings. My gram had thought of everything!

One evening when my cousins were visiting, while getting ready to go to a high school dance, my cousin Mary grabbed that spray varnish and sprayed her hair with it, thinking it was hair spray. She and I laugh about that to this day.

Sunshine Mule

If you had to choose one, which would it be?
If I had to choose, the camera would win.

There’s such a sense of adventure in my quest for photos. Sometimes we take the camper to the mountains and spend a week exploring all photo possibilities in an area.

I wake up early and head out with the camera, for that’s the time the wild animals are moving about, and the light is soft and warm.

I walk if I plan to stay somewhat near camp, and I take my four wheeler if I feel like roaming a distance. I never know what wildlife I’ll see, or what effects the weather will create. It’s an absolute treasure hunt!

On one such photo shoot, I spent 2 hours, lying on my stomach, taking photos of a green grasshopper. Every time I got ready to click the shutter, he’d move round his plant stem and I’d have to reposition myself. I finally got a great photo of that hopper as he peeked around the corner of his plant stem.

The horse and mule herds we discover are my favorite subjects. We’ve become acquainted with several herds, who seem to recognize us when we appear. One such day, when we were out roaming, we came across a herd of horses and mules. Many of them had been injured, possibly when a bear chased them through a fence, and some had run into a porcupine and had quills in their noses.

We cut our trip short, and came home. Robert told me to call every number in the Augusta phone book, until we found out who owned the animals. After several calls, we found a person who knew the owner of those horses! It was easy after that to contact the owner and let him know what had happened to the herd.

He took immediate action, one horse spent a month at the veterinarians, I think he would have died if we hadn’t discovered him when we did. We received a nice thank you note and updates on the horses and mules as they recovered.

The adventures the camera presents are to much to resist!


What kind of camera do you use?
My first camera was a Canon 10D, we keep it reconditioned and working. Our newer camera is the Nikon D300. I like using a 300mm lens but I also use a wide angle lens.

I’m learning photography-there’s so much I don’t know. In the early 90’s I worked for a newspaper, and learned to use a 35mm film camera, what I learned then is slowly coming back to me.

Who are your main influences?
My paintings don’t resemble Charlie Russell’s work, but he’s the artist who’s influenced me the most. I love the spontaneous feeling in his work. You can almost believe the action took place as he painted.

At one time, I thought artists were born “talented”. Meaning, they could either paint when they were born, or they couldn’t! It was when I saw Charlie Russell’s first paintings, I realized, becoming a good artist is a learned skill. Much like riding a horse, you can learn as long as you live, and still not know everything!

The Warrior's Vision

Do you have a favorite horse breed?
My favorite horse is the Missouri Fox Trotter. Smooth riding, people friendly, and they seem to have a great sense of humor too!

I’ve had the pleasure to ride three truly great horses in my life. One was Lucky. He was a mixed breed of draft horse, saddlebred and quarter horse.

The next great horse I rode was a thoroughbred named Moss Bar. He belonged to a neighbor, who let me keep him at a time when I was horseless. Moss Bar was that “one man horse” we dream of having. He took to me, and I took to him. He was like riding a responsive freight train! So much power, so much speed, so much gentleness!

Then there was my Sadie, the Fox Trotter I lost in the divorce. I can’t talk about her to this day.

Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
I once saw a painting where a cowboy sat on his horse, watching a never ending stream of cattle flowing by. When I saw that painting, I was the cowboy, watching the animals I’ve known in my life as they passed by…

When I paint a black lab, it’s in memory of my dog, Nike. When I paint a sorrel horse with a blaze, it’s in memory of my horse Lucky. The border collies remind me of Peppy. When I paint a high headed, wild eyed cow, she reminds me of the cow who was so hard to get into the corral…or the one who blew snot down my neck when I put an ear tag in her calf. Paint a pig and it reminds me of Henry. The list of muses goes on like a river of life.

Bucking Horse

Do you have any secret rituals you do to help you get in the zone for your art?
Spreading gesso on canvas or hard boards puts me in a mind to paint. As I spread the gesso around with my brush, I begin to wonder, “What subject would look good on this canvas…?” “What color should I make this horse, or I wonder if I can make a realistic looking horse using red and green?” The simple act of beginning, leads me on to the finish….

I also like to listen to country western music. John Anderson, Just a Swingin’ and Dwight Yoakum, A Thousand Miles from Nowhere are two of my favorites.

Where were you the most inspired, but without a camera?
Years ago, I helped neighbors when they were rounding up or moving cattle. If someone needed a rider, they called me-they knew I’d be happy to help. I loved to ride on new ground, and I had a horse that was always ready to go. So many photo opportunities, but no camera! I could have recorded every ranch activity in real life, no staged performances, this was the real thing.

Blue Roan Draft Horse

What effect do you think the Internet will have on art and photography in general?
Three ways I can think of right off hand, education, purchasing and reach.
Using the internet, I can google information I need. I search for tutorials on art and photography. I’m constantly learning without going to university! I can also research products I might need to purchase, whether it be a new camera, a lens, or paint and artist supplies.

Living in Vaughn puts us 20 miles from the nearest store of any kind. So I’m able to save money shopping online!

With the internet, my work goes to countries around the globe. This never fails to excite me, as I live a fairly isolated life here in Montana.

Has it had an effect on yours?
It has. Through the internet, I can join art guilds and haunt photography sites. The comraderie of people who have similar interests has been wonderful. And as I mentioned before, the internet has opened up a global audience for my work.

Rope Horse

Which one is your personal favorite image/ piece?
At this time, I’m kind of in love with my Rope Horse image. I like the intensity I caught on the horse’s face as he gives his all to get his rider near a steer.

Another painting I like is called Sienna. Both are on the front page of my website.

What else are you passionate about?
Inside of me, is an almost insane desire to spend time alone in the mountains. Whether I’m on my four wheeler, walking or riding a horse, if I can be alone on the mountain I’m happy. Spending time in the mountains regenerates me.


Working on anything new?
I’ve been working on a new photography blog, about traveling the back roads of Montana. I’m going through photos, sorting, editing, and uploading entire photoshoots, (in the order in which the photos were taken). There’s a different perspective when you see the photos as they happened, versus seeing one shot on a website by itself.

Robert and I were talking one day about how so many of the photos sit here on my computer and no one sees them. We wanted to think of ways to share the photos, and perhaps a bit of the adventure we feel, while capturing the images.

On St Pat’s day, I painted a green horse and a green llama, just for fun!

More to Come

Thanks to Donna for answering the interview and sharing her art. Be sure to subscribe to her blog for updates about her latest works and photographs.

Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists and photographers.

Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.

13 Comments on “Horse Artist and Photographer Interview – Donna Ridgway

  1. Linda

    Donna is a wonderful artist and storyteller. I can’t wait for her to publish a book of her stories. Although I only know her through the Internet, she has become a great friend as well.

  2. Kimberly Santini

    I am delighted to count Donna among my friends. She is a dear soul with so much tremendous talent – we’ve only seen the beginning, the tip of the iceberg. Congratulations, Donna, on such a great article!

  3. Sue Steiner

    I am also a big fan of Donna! I love her use of color in her paintings and find her photography to be breathtaking! What a joy to learn more about her life and inspiration! thank you.

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