Author and artist finds inspiration in UConn’s horses

ScanlonHelen Scanlon is huge fan of UConn horses. So much so that she’s written four books on the subject. Her first, My Horse, My Heart: The Morgan Horses of the University of Connecticut, appeals to readers of all ages.

“I am fascinated with the UConn Morgan breeding program history,” Scanlon says. “It goes back to the original government bloodlines. I’ve always loved the Morgan. It’s a breed near and dear to my heart. These were US Cavalry horses. They are incredibly versatile, very intelligent, brave, sturdy and easy keepers. A true American breed.”

The book is not only about the history of the Morgan breed, but also the students, owners, trainers and breeders who have loved and worked with these wonderful horses. “They were all extremely generous in sharing their personal stories about these unique horses,” notes Scanlon.

Scanlon wrote her next two books for children: The Great Red Horse: A Colt is Born, and The Great Red Horse: A World Champion. Both highlight UC Ringmaster, a UConn born Morgan horse and two-time national champion.

“I first met Ringmaster when I was helping a friend with her polo horse,” Scanlon explains. “I kept hearing nickering from a very chatty horse. I walked three stalls down and there was this cute little chestnut stallion with these incredible eyes and beautifully perked ears. He was gorgeous. I noticed his name and I remembered reading about him when I was an undergraduate. I knew then he was a magnificent horse.”

She continues, “He came right up to the bars and nuzzled me. He captured my heart and I would go back and visit him often. He and I became buddies until he passed away in 2012. I decided to write a trilogy of books as a tribute to him.” She hopes to complete the third in the series this winter.

Scanlon was born with a love of art and horses. She grew up around animals, first in Newtown then in Brooklyn, Connecticut. She says, “My mother owned a horse when I was a child. She was a wonderful thoroughbred mare and she thought I was her baby. When I was out of sight, she would whinny for me. I’ve had horses in my life ever since.”

ScanlonMorganWhile attending UConn, Scanlon lived and worked at a nearby riding academy and spent time with the UConn horses. She’s worked as a groom, enjoys dressage and takes weekly riding lessons.

Scanlon majored in art history and sociology. As an artist, she enjoys pen and ink, painting and watercolors and uses these media to illustrate her books. The Morgan horse on the cover of My Horse My Heart is from a painting Scanlon did of UC Doc Daniels, who was known as the “charismatic ambassador” of UConn’s Morgan herd.

For her day job, as she describes it, Scanlon is a social worker. Horses and art provide balance to her work within the criminal justice system. She uses art in the groups she facilitates. “It’s wonderful therapy,” she says.

This past December, Scanlon published her fourth book, titled Dust & Determination: A History of UConn Polo. “Polo is exciting to watch,” says Scanlon. “The horses may be a myriad of different breeds, but they all have a competitive spirit. It’s about attitude.”

While researching UConn polo for Dust & Determination, Scanlon worked closely with Jim Dinger, associate professor emeritus of animal science and long-time polo coach.

“It was the highlight of my day-month-year when he read the final manuscript and gave his approval. He kept meticulous records and provided all the archives.”

“I’m happy to write these books because I really want to promote the great programs at the UConn horse barns,” Scanlon says. “Between the polo training, riding and breeding programs, they provide wonderful hands-on education for students.”

By Kim Colavito Markesich