I was standing in a pasture in The Plains, Virginia, near Warrenton, basking in being somewhat surrounded by longhorns during the winter after a snowstorm in February.
I watched this truly magnificent longhorn cow amble down a path that was well traveled during other times of the year, when there was no snow. It struck me, as I watched her, wondering how many times she had traveled down this path.
The owner of about 50 longhorns occupying this pasture said that this longhorn was about 23 years old. He said he doesn’t really do anything with them. He started collecting them as lawn ornaments several years ago and loved watching them as they made everything peaceful. He was certainly right about that. I can watch them for hours on end. They can be very entertaining. The calves scamper and play around, burrowing into the hay that is scattered over the snow, making comfortable “nests” to stay warm in. Of course, I am impressed with the length of the winter coats they grow in colder climates.
I loved the way this longhorn carried herself gracefully with each step. I noticed that her head stayed perfectly still with her heavy horns balancing symmetrically across the top of her head. I just had to paint this moment in time. I loved her horns, which are referred to as the Texas Twist type. There are many types of horns that adorn longhorns. I have seen some grow almost straight out, while others are straight and then turn upwards and continue growing towards the sky, and occasionally I have seen a rather corkscrew (backward twist) looking pair. The fascinating fact about their horns is that they grow their entire lives. By the time a longhorn reaches its first birthday, the horns have grown up to about 50 percent of their tip-to-tip length. By the time the longhorn is five to six years of age, their horns reach about 95 percent of their growth.
Longhorns are fascinating to watch. In many ways they look rather primitive as compared to other bovine. I think this is because of their many different styles of horns and their different hide colors. The longhorn’s ancestors came from the Canary Islands and Portugal. The longhorns we experience are descendants of cattle brought across the Atlantic by the Spanish in the late 1400s and early 1500s. It is little wonder that they are an American Icon. They naturally evolved on their own, being left to fend for themselves and to their own devices, so they became very hardy and rather disease resistant.
I really do not know of another breed of cattle where there can be so many different colors and patterns and horn styles. I can see why they are addictive. They are like potato chips; you can’t have just one. Sometimes I think I am obsessed with painting them. They are simply beautiful creatures, each one looking so different and majestic. It is always a privilege and exciting to zero in on a subject longhorn, such as the longhorn in Sentimental Journey, and honor a moment in time with a painting.