Welcome to the story behind The Wild Horse Club. This brand has been 38 years in the making and to get to know the brand, I’d like to invite you to get to know me, Caroline Towning.
Today, I am an artist, painter, designer, digital sculptor, and photographer. My horse obsession brought me here, as did a journey filled with self-discovery, failure, passion and a love of horses. I have never shared my story before, but I would like my fellow wild horse lovers to read it now.
Make yourself a cup of tea, sit back and here we go...
It started in Sixties Scotland with my mother Ann Fraser. She came from a sailing family, but for some reason she adored horses. After years of begging for a pony, her Naval father finally gave her some money to buy a horse.
A teenager with no experience, Mum went to the local horse sales in Kelso and bought Fellow, her first pony. She and her friend Fiona had no idea how to even get the horse back home to Edinburgh, but managed to get him there and keep him in a local nearby field. Mum rode Fellow every day, jumped everything in sight and put a splash of Guinness into his feed every morning - which is apparently what they do in Scotland! My mum is still riding and competing today, at nearly 70 years’ old.
Mum’s lifelong passion had started, and as you can imagine, horses were everywhere in my childhood in Yorkshire, England. I can't remember my life without horses in it. I only wanted to do two things: ride horses and draw them. I felt some sort of spiritual connection towards them and was enamoured by their beauty.
I grew up in an area of North Yorkshire called Alwoodley, which was right on the edge of the suburbs. If you turned right out of my street, you were in thick, gorgeous Yorkshire countryside in a matter of minutes. When I was 4, I joined a small riding school and rode a pony called Mitzi. I was taught the old fashioned way to ride, Pony Club-style: dressage, jumping, eventing and mounted games. I was also taught that it was never the pony’s fault, always the rider’s. My instructors were hard, brilliant and powerful horsewomen whom I admired.
My first own pony was called Domino. I was seven years old when I went to try him out. I was trotting him in a small circle, on the soft side of a field, in front of the owners and my mum. Mum asked me to put him into a canter and the pony put his head down, locked his jaw and then bolted with me across the field. I was terrified! My mum turned around to the owners and said, “We will take him." I was scared at the time, but a tricky pony is the best way to learn how to ride, and now I feel grateful.
The next decade or so was spent at horse shows and hunts. It was all early foggy mornings, bacon sarnies in the back of horseboxes, winning and losing. Falling off horses, laughing, having huge adventures. My heart was always in the show jumping arena. I was a fast rider and loved the adrenaline hit of jumping over a high fence.
The above photo was my horse Sky and me. At that time, were we spending most weekends at horse shows, jumping and eventing. What nobody knew was that I was extremely short-sighted- I didn't wear my glasses because when I landed after a jump, my hat would crash down on my glasses and hurt my nose. Strangely, we later found that Sky had bad cataracts, and could only see out of one eye. It was literally the blind leading the blind! The funny thing was that we used to win a lot together. I still have no idea how we did it.
Outside of riding and drawing horses, I was struggling in life both mentally and academically. My first school was a tough, private all-girls school that was very academic. It took a few years for the teachers or my parents to notice that I couldn’t actually see anything. I couldn't even see the teachers’ faces, or what was written on the blackboard. Although I excelled in art, I was terrible at everything else. My confidence was eroded.
This was the start of me going through life feeling as though I was stupid. I dropped out of that school and got sent to another all-girls school, where I struggled to make friends. I felt very lonely. I was getting bullied - partly for wearing glasses. So I took off my glasses, and still struggled to see in lessons.
My escape was the joy of getting on my horse after school and at the weekends, galloping across miles and miles of beautiful Yorkshire countryside. I didn't need a friend when I had a horse to ride - my horse was my best friend.
As I grew into a wild teen, still struggling academically at school I had started to play up. The only lesson I enjoyed was art and outside of the art room, I had become a bad student mainly because I felt stupid and so I just spent my days misbehaving. So bad I was now on my 5th or 6th school from getting repeatedly thrown out. My parents even turned up once at the wrong school for parents evening as they had forgotten which school I was at.
I scraped through my GCSE's only excelling in art where I got an A*- which was outstanding- but the rest of my grades were average or failed. I then started A-levels but things were bad at home at this point and I dropped out in the first year. My parents were at their wit's end with me and were not supportive of my wanting to become an artist- I was just seen as a kid going nowhere.
Then I discovered boys, clubs, travelling and life. Like a lot of horse girls, my interests changed and I wanted to go out and live my life. I was never trendy or cool as a kid, and struggled to make friends, but as soon as I hit my late teens, a shift happened. I discovered house music, nights like Speed Queen and Back to Basics. I loved getting dressed up and dancing. I got into a cool crowd, primary made up of gay men and wild girls. For the first time, other than being on a horse, I found something that I belonged to.
The next few years were an adventure of self-discovery. I spent time in China and I lived in New York for two years. I went to art galleries and museums and I did work experience at a gallery downtown. I had no money, but did odd jobs here and there, working in various clothes shops, doing bar work and modelling work. I even worked at a car wash at one point. I did try to become a DJ, but I was absolutely terrible, however I once went on tour with a band, and mimed the keyboard because the real keyboard player couldn't attend. That was fun! I got to see Europe as part of a band. I I loved living life on the edge and exploring every single possibility.
Eventually, I decided that I wanted to return to education and get a degree. I had no A-levels, so had no idea how I was going to get into university, and my parents had made me believe that I couldn’t have a real career just being an artist. Still, I started putting a portfolio together when I settled in London in 2005. The University of Hertfordshire had launched a brand new Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Animation. They were also promoting it to women, as very few women went into 3D animation. I had no idea what this course was or what it entailed: all I knew was that it was a degree and that you could get a job at the end of it. When I went to the interview, they were so impressed by my portfolio that they accepted me purely on a portfolio basis, overlooking the fact that I had no A-levels. A few months later I started my three year degree.
I found the first year so difficult, I thought that I was going to drop out. We were learning very technical 3D software, which they use for big-budget visual effects films and gaming. Programs such as 3ds Max and Maya. As it was very tech-heavy, and I am not mathematical at all, I struggled. But I stuck with it and I worked hard - I wanted to make something of myself and not just be a drop-out.
Halfway through the second year, things started to fall in place for me. Once I had got over the initial hurdle of the software, I realised that the computer is just an expensive pencil, and primarily these programs are art tools. I eventually graduated with a BA First Class Honours, which is the highest mark. My final end of year film was a woman chasing a unicorn - very surreal and weird.
Together with my degree, that film landed me my first real job: working in Soho for a small animation company.
I worked in animation and film for about 10 years. Unfortunately, like a lot of women in the industry, I dealt with a lot of sexism. I also found working in animation very stressful as the work is very labour intensive with tight deadlines. It wasn't uncommon for us to stay and work all night in the studio. I did enjoy working commercially, and working with the constraints of a brief, as I love coming up with ideas and pleasing clients. However, I was yearning to be creative on my own projects, and after working for so many years on the computer, I decided that I wanted to go back to working with traditional art materials such as oil and canvas.
In the meantime, I had fallen in love with yoga. It was something I’d done on and off since 2003. I originally got into it to help combat anxiety and depression. As the years went on, I was finding solace in the yoga studio. What started as a way of coping with stress had turned into a passion. Yoga gave me confidence. It made me feel like a powerful strong warrior, and was starting to become part of my identity. It was also a driving point for me to pick up the courage to become an artist. I felt strong and sure enough in myself to do this, thanks to the self-belief yoga was giving me. I now do yoga practice every day. It keeps me strong enough to look after people I love, and to create the art I want to make.
I had a bit of a crazy venture back in 2014-16. It was between working in animation and becoming a full-blown artist. London’s Soho had long been my stomping ground: I became a Groucho Club and Soho House member very early on, and grew a love for the little drinking dens, the restaurant scene and the creative, flamboyant locals who frequent Soho’s streets.
When I was becoming disenchanted with working commercially, a few drinks in The Groucho Club with an investor who had put in the money to buy an old members club on Dean Street, that had not changed or been touched since the early '90s. And I was going to run it!
How hard can this be? I thought. Change the logo, build a website, spruce up the interior, invite all my friends to become members, throw some parties, have some art shows - this is going to be fun!
I couldn't have been more wrong. I had no experience in running a club. I knew nothing about the hospitality industry - even though I’d spend a good portion of my life in restaurants and clubs. I knew nothing about Westminster Council, The Soho Society, A Grade 2 listed building or the politics behind the scenes of a club with such a big heritage.
We came in like a couple of cowboys and wanted to change everything. But the old members were furious. Whenever I changed anything, I had hate mail and endless complaints sent to me. I even had a complaint saying that the new chef had made the food "too nice". I can't even begin to tell you all the drama behind the scenes.
I will write a book about it one day: it was the best and worst time of my life, but one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. Highlights were refurbing the club, filling the club full of dogs for a photoshoot to show off the new interior, creating a Christmas hamper for the new launch, endless parties, dinners, building a new bar, creating a strong team, the best New Year’s Eve party ever and making so many new friends along the way.
However, next time someone asks me to run a club in Soho, I will gracefully decline and say: been there, got the T-shirt, and never again!
So: time to become an artist, I thought.
I went to an art shop, bought some supplies and started painting. It all felt so natural to me: my calling in life. I loved the smell of fresh paint, and was feeling like a child discovering something for the first time. It was no surprise that the first few things I started drawing and painting were horses.
I set up a website and an Instagram channel and started posting my work online. Almost immediately, commissions started flowing in. This was all too exciting for me. I was getting paid to paint portraits of people’s horses. It was like a dream come true. I started to build up a reputation as an equestrian artist and worked on mastering my craft for the next few years. I painted horse after horse, and even had a private commission to paint a Saudi Arabian Prince.
I took studying the horse very seriously. Drawing after drawing and painting after painting, I taught myself how the muscles and proportions of a horse are put together. I also started studying and reading the methods of the Old Masters. I continued to research and train myself in the intricacies of art, using everything from textbooks to YouTube tutorials. I love learning new tips and techniques, and I am constantly learning and staying curious about how things are done.
Oil and watercolour are my favourite mediums, though I feel that my true passion is in oil painting. I love spending months layering up a painting to create the most intricate of detail. I started buying pigments and linseed oil, and creating my own paint from scratch, like the Old Masters.
Over the next few years, I painted every day and took on a few large commissions. I was very limited to how many commissions I could take on as the large, high detailed ones could take up to six months to paint. I would take many photos of each subject so that, visually, I had enough to work from.
I was also painting a lot of human portraits. I enjoyed painting women, in particular, almost as much as I enjoyed painting horses.
I love taking pictures, and because I have a technical 3D background, photography was an easy and natural progression. Before I knew it, I was starting to get booked as a photographer as well as commissioned as a painter. I learnt about lighting and started to teach myself how to shoot properly. I also gained monthly regular fashion clients and was making quite a good living. The photography also felt social. When I am painting, I am on my own most of the time. so it was a really lovely mix for me to do a few days of painting and then a couple of days as a photographer and feel part of a team.
Everything was going well, then in 2020 the world went into a pandemic and suddenly London went into lockdown. All my photography shoots were cancelled and a few of my fashion clients went bankrupt. For the first time in my life, I had so much time on my hands. It was so weird living in London, normally such a vibrant city, and suddenly a ghost town overnight. I decided to use this time to combine all the skills that I have built up over the years and create something amazing.
Since I completed my degree, the technologies in 3D printing have progressed dramatically. With my 3D Skills, I decided to create a collection of resin horses, as well as jewellery and lifestyle pieces. I wanted to push myself as a designer and creator, making unique and interesting pieces, all playing with the form of the horse.
The Wild Horse Club was a name that suddenly came to me. I had been working on this idea for a while: a range of horse collectables, with art and jewellery and fashion. As soon as the name hit me, I could see what the brand was.
It's a fashion brand: not an equestrian brand, but a fashion lifestyle brand that celebrates the horse. The name "The Wild Horse Club" made sense, because the horse can also be a metaphor for a wild and free spirit.
The connections between free women and horses fascinate me. This is a female-led place, full of self-discovery: a place to be free and wild, just like wild horses are. This is an art site, a fashion site, a place for fun and unique pieces for your home. It’s a place that best reflects me as an artist and a designer who is constantly empowered and inspired by strong women who have touched me throughout my life journey.
I have so many ideas and designs in the pipeline, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to create everything. I am so inspired and in love with this brand and concept.
Feel free to reach out to me and say hi. If you have made it this far down the page, then we most likely have something in common, either a love for the horse or love for strong women. Either way, I hope you want to be a part of The Wild Horse Club.
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