A white chalk horse spreads across the Uffington hills of Wiltshire, England, though it is hard to distinguish the gigantic form without a bird’s-eye vantage point. It and similar figures emerge from the hills and dales all over England, dating back as early as the Bronze Age to as recently as 2003, when a millennial commemorative representation was commissioned at Folkstone. Various interpretations explain the initial purposes of these carvings, but most scholarship supports the theory that they are associated with “ley lines” or navigational landmarks established during Neolithic times. The unique chalky makeup of the regional limestone lends itself as a medium of artistic expression, regardless of its original function. After all, the aesthetic “art for art’s sake” movement had its roots in the same birthplace.
Richard Roney-Dougal hails from “white horse country” in England, though his contemporary gift shop is tucked among other equine-themed boutiques in Midway. Named for his exclusive handcrafted equestrian-inspired jewelry, The White Horse Collection offers arguably the most superb designs in a region rich with one-of-a-kind art. In 2012, Richard and his wife, Roz, moved their store to Midway from Paris, where they lived on a small farm, complete with its own white horse, an Egyptian Arabian. That horse found its way into the stables at Midway University—then Midway College—for a semester as the Roney-Dougals set up shop. Designing, showing and selling their work for 13 years at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, they also participated in other horse-related events, such as the Lexington Junior League Show, and the Arabian Nationals and the Worlds at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. The couple felt at home in the “Horse Capital of the World.”
The Three-Day Event inspired Richard’s first stirrup motif, which fills a special niche in the collection. A keen interest in history and horses led to his research on equestrian accessories, particularly focusing on the history of the stirrup. Richard’s first fabrication for the 2003 Three-Day Event initiated his “one-design-a-year” plan, which was quickly discarded as interest grew for more frequent renditions. Today, there are 18 different replicas of stirrups from the past—from 10th-century Anglo-Saxon to 20th-century American Western—that gleam in sterling silver or 14-karat gold from the shop display cases. His award-winning creations include charms, earrings, brooches and pendants—an extraordinary compilation of intricate designs.
The history of the stirrup is fascinating. Richard and Roz note that although the earliest stirrups, likely made of wood or leather, have not survived, the first evidence of these “mounting tools” are stirrups made of bronze found in China. The Mongols and eastern European nomads are the probable originators of this riding convenience.
“Shoes had a lot to do with the [stirrup’s] design,” Roz explains, pointing out the base of the stirrup may be flat or curved to accommodate the rider’s footwear. Richard adds that the stirrup became a means of displaying one’s wealth. Exquisite French, Italian and Spanish designs from the 15th-19th centuries in particular illustrate this claim. “Some were even encrusted with jewels,” Richard says.
Although he has yet to embed jewels in his stirrup designs, Richard is no stranger to diamond, pearl and other precious stone settings. Prior to concentrating on the stirrup collection, he created many pieces that glitter with every jewel imaginable, along with artistic renderings unique to his vision. He is amenable to taking commissions, resetting stones and other individual requests.
Roz learned jewelry making from Richard. Although she was trained as a nurse, her own creative talents quickly surfaced as she joined her husband early on in enhancing the trade. Her point-to-point horse racing background, encouraged by her horseman father, was not out of place with the eventual equestrian designs or their ultimate destination. Richard, also from an equestrian background, reveals his mother rode steeplechase and bred Welsh ponies.
Richard’s formal art training earned him a master’s degree in fine art and design from the Byam Shaw School in London. His paintings have been exhibited all over the world. One modest oil-on-gold-leaf landscape that could hold its own with the Turners or Monets of any gallery, is hidden away in his workshop at the back of the store. Other sketches and renderings paper the walls of his “method to the madness” studio. Masters and molds for the lost-wax process utilized in reproducing the original fabricated stirrups occupy their own corner of the “glorious mess.”
The American segue to Richard’s artwork is truly authentic. He received his first lessons in jewelry-making from Native American artist Frank Yellowhorse, a Navajo designer from Arizona. The young Richard had followed an American girl he’d met in an art course in London to San Francisco in 1967 during the Summer of Love. Although the relationship did not pan out, he ended up in Santa Fe, a well-known haven of artists and craftsmen, where his interest in Native American art was piqued. Although he did not try to emulate the Native American or Southwestern styles, his designs encompassed petroglyph patterns for a time.
Eventually returning to England, he met and courted Roz Henderson, student nurse, at—where else—the White Horse Pub. The two were soon married. Developing his skills as a diamond setter and goldsmith in Amsterdam, Richard then immigrated with Roz to Australia in 1981, fulfilling several corporate commissions before acknowledging the isolation of the continent was detrimental to the couple’s ambition.
A layover in America on the way back to England in 1987 led to an immediate settling, first in Santa Fe, where Richard knew the market, then in Maryland, where they both exhibited and sold their art jewelry in the finest galleries and fairs on the Eastern Seaboard. Three national NICHE Awards, along with multiple Best of Show honors, are evidence of the Roney-Dougals’ success. Multiple trips to Kentucky horse events from Maryland convinced the couple to make the Bluegrass their permanent home in 2003.
Arthritis, unfortunately, has restricted the artistry Roz once demonstrated so professionally and prolifically. Now she contents herself with “making money,” as she says with a laugh. She devotes her energies to adding to her husband’s jewelry offerings by stocking the shop with equestrian-themed gifts, handbags and accessories. The fox motif is particularly popular. The number of repeat customers who patronize the store and their website in search of “that something special” inspire the couple. Roz does not see her debilitation as an excuse for slowing down, although keeping horses will have to be a thing of the past.
Richard has expanded his work and its availability, being represented locally at the Hockensmith Fine Art Editions Gallery (finearteditions.net) in Georgetown and previously exhibiting at the Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington. His multimedia art pieces defy traditional categorization, although his fine art training and extraordinary creativity are evident.
The White Horse Collection, in the heart of Midway, will continue to evolve, possibly with more art pieces, although the equestrian themes will continue. The interwoven connection of horses, art and jewelry—or even England and Kentucky—are too enmeshed to unravel.
For more information, visit whitehorsejewelry.com.