Danada mourns Nick, the horse that could paint Pollock-style

Nick, part Clydesdale and all talent, never starred in a Super Bowl commercial.

He was no thoroughbred athlete.

But in equine circles, Nick “the painting horse” had his own brush with fame. Nick required a treat ‒ he also accepted hugs ‒ to put paint to canvas for his fans at the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton.

“He absolutely enjoyed working in front of a crowd,” said Brad Doweidt, Danada’s equestrian program supervisor.

Nick, the 31-year-old “artist-in-residence” in the Danada barn, suddenly died on Jan. 27. As one of the horses at the top of the herd, Nick easily was recognized for the Appaloosa white splotches on his hindquarters and whenever he donned a painter’s beret.

Nick’s abstract art appeared in newspaper articles, television interviews and special events. His “painting” demonstrations often stole the show from the four-legged footwork on display at Danada’s fall festival. His work drew comparisons to Jackson Pollock.

But when he was out to pasture, meeting summer campers or just horsing around, Nick was a sweet, friendly guy.

Nick, a horse known for his artistic output, enjoys a brush down at Danada’s fall festival. Nick was donated to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Danada Equestrian Center in 2004. Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

“Nick had a calm, confident way about him,” Doweidt told the Daily Herald via email. “When he was determined to go outside, he let you know by tapping the stall door until he got his way.”

Nick arrived at Danada in January 2004 and started to paint in retirement. His trainer, Margaret Gitter, recognized how quickly Nick took to painting with the assistance of Danada volunteers.

“Nick was very motivated once he learned treats were involved,” Doweidt said.

How does a horse become a painter? Danada fashioned a large rubber wedge attached to a paint-laden brush. Nick held the device in his mouth and applied brushstrokes to a canvas placed on top of a bale of hay. His trainer selected the paint colors, but Nick had artistic license.

“He used mostly sweeping strokes with an occasional blotch if he felt it was needed,” Doweidt said.

A horse named Nick was trained to paint at the Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton. His caretakers used a method called clicker training to break down a task into simple steps. Courtesy of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Danada has nurtured other painting horses using a method called clicker training. The activity, Doweidt explains, allows horses that have been retired from the riding program to still interact with the public and “share their creative side.”

Captain has already begun the process and has done demonstrations for visitors to St. James Farm and Danada’s fall festival. But Captain has big hooves to fill.

Nick had hundreds of fans “who were delighted by his painting demonstrations and now own one of his masterpieces,” the equestrian center posted in a Facebook tribute.

There are about 60 remaining pieces of Nick’s artwork for sale in the Danada Equestrian Center administrative office.

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