Goin Gray. Photography: Mallory Beinborn

The artist’s love of horses and love of art both arrived at an early age.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, Joni Beinborn’s first horse was an imaginary mount named Cochise that she “rode” to school every day. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t wild about horses and all animals,” the artist says from La Crosse, Wisconsin, where she lives on a 20-acre ranch. “My books from my childhood were covered with horse doodles — from the time I could pick up a crayon. I couldn’t have a horse, so I drew them.”

She rode Cochise and broomsticks till she wore her dad down and he got her a pinto pony named Stormy. But it was a quarter horse gelding named Pard that Beinborn got when she was 12 that really inspired her lifelong love of horses — riding, drawing, and showing them. She started competing in local shows in her late teens. When Beinborn had her children, she took them to shows. “My daughter and I shared a horse for many years,” she says. “We just liked the open shows. You get to know the people and develop lots of friendships and camaraderie. Our weekends were kids, horses, and horse shows.”

Beinborn currently has a 27-year-old American Quarter Horse Association gelding named Tigger, whom she’s had for 26 years, and a 6-year-old AQHA gelding named Yankee, who’s named after her father. She still goes to four or five shows a year in the area, often with daughter Mallory, who seems to have inherited her mother’s equine passion and whose equine photography provides inspiration for many of Beinborn’s pastel portraits. “I do oils, too, but mainly pastels. I tried pastels six or seven years ago after seeing Lesley Harrison’s work. I thought if I could do what she does, that would be all I need in life. She was my inspiration.” And the medium itself inspires her: “I love the rich, vibrant colors and how they can look so silky smooth.”

Quintessentially Quarter. Photography: Mallory Beinborn

A rural mail carrier for 32 years, Beinborn retired five years ago and now is busier than ever working on commissioned horse and dog portraits and other pieces. Her post-retirement occupation has won her fans, awards, and the distinction of being the signature artist for this year’s America’s Horse in Art Show & Sale. “I started exhibiting in the show in Amarillo [Texas] four years ago,” she says. “The first year I got juried into it, and, incredibly, they awarded me the Steel Dust Award for the best body of work submitted. This past summer [the AQHA] called and told me that I had been unanimously selected as the signature artist for 2017. I think I about fell on the floor.”

Feeling “truly blessed,” she got to work right away on some potential signature pieces for the show. “The first things I thought were dramatic lighting, incredible eyes, and lots of hair.” She did pastels of a “cute, cuddly baby” foal, an old mount who’s going gray, and a saddled and ready black quarter horse looking intensely at the viewer straight on. Beinborn’s particularly proud of the latter. She seems astonished not so much by her own talent but by the breathtaking beauty of the horse itself. “I looked at that and just thought, Wow!”

Visit Joni Beinborn online. The 10th annual America’s Horse in Art Show & Sale runs August 12 through October 14 at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum in Amarillo, Texas.

From the May/June 2017 issue.