The Giverny Project: The Horse Behind the Name Water Lily


Like a water lily finding its place in Claude Monet’s painting "Pool, With Water Lilies", the namesake mare, Water Lily, seeks to find her place on the canvas of the Canadian equestrian world. It is not, however, as easy a task for the horse as Monet makes it seem for the flower. RSE Ambassador, Candice Hudson, stands right beside her to help her find her way.

Funny the way one idea, one thought, one name leads to another, isn’t it? The mind plays with an idea or a name in much the same way as a kitten plays with a ball of wool, the ball unravelling as it is pawed across the room, then down the hallway, entering another until it becomes completely unravelled. Take, for example, the name of the horse central to the Giverny Project, Water Lily. When you hear the name “Water Lily,” what comes to mind? You might think of the horse, it is true, but you also might think of a wetland, a canoe trip among cattails and water lilies, you might think of Monet and his gardens at Giverny and his Water Lily Series of paintings, you might even think of a favourite, secluded pond you like to visit where they bloom. The horse’s name “Water Lily” leads your mind down one pathway, only to end up someplace completely different than where you were expecting it to. The name of this horse is, indeed, very much like that ball of wool.

We have in the first installment of this series suggested that Water Lily is like one of the water lilies depicted in the masterpieces of Claude Monet in the sense of needing to find her place in the Canadian equestrian landscape. Here we explore the further implications and questions that surround her name itself. 

The first question would seem to be about the suitability of the name “Water Lily” to refer to this tall, magnificent creature, a black Hanoverian mare standing sixteen two and a half hands high in the first place.  And then there is even the more fundamental question to consider of what is in a name, after all? Shakespeare both asked the question and provided his answer in Juliet’s soliloquy. “That which we call a rose,” he has Juliet answer, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene I) Would Water Lily the horse be as sweet by any other name? Would we think of her in the same way, by any other name?

Some would say, to be sure, straight away that ‘No, the name does not fit the horse at all. Water Lily is definitely not like a water lily. A water lily is something small, and fragile, a plant with its flower which floats passively on the surface of quiet water. Water Lily, the horse, is nothing of the kind.’ Which leads us to ask whether, perhaps, the name Water Lily has been given to this horse in an affectionately teasing way, as though bringing into relief the delicacy of the water plant on the one hand and the raw power of the horse on the other?

Or, could it even have been that the name was given in a slightly deprecatory manner, as if mocking the horse with a name unsuitably delicate. As if the delicateness of the water lily flower and plant are entirely at odds with the incredible power and spirited temperament of this horse, suggesting at first thought that this horse is like a water lily in name only. As if Water Lily could never achieve the delicateness of the water plant.

For others, still, it might be easy to say that a name does not really matter at all. A horse is still a horse, regardless of what you call the animal. The horse will trot and cantor and gallop and neigh regardless of the name printed outside of its stall.

It is, however, to our mind the more likely scenario, and a more hopeful one, that Water Lily was given the name in a moment soon after she was first born. Laying quietly in the corner of the barn on straw, perhaps late at night, moonlight bathing the barn, her owner coming upon her peacefully sleeping beside her mother. In the quiet of the night, in a peaceful countryside, the foal seemed as peaceful and quiet as a water lily floating serenely on a still pond.

‘Water Lily’ is a name that immediately garners your attention. It is not the kind of name you would often hear in the jumper ring. It catches your attention as signaling something different...

With all of the above said, however, you still cannot deny that the name ‘Water Lily’ is a name that immediately garners your attention. It is not the kind of name you would often hear in the jumper ring. It catches your attention as signaling something different, some kind of unusual combination of raw power and physical presence set off against, remaining in tension with, a hidden, unrevealed, unknown, gentler nature. It speaks to a contradiction. For this horse, we would argue, her name does matter and even makes her somewhat distinctive.

Indeed, Water Lily’s name seems to have itself become an actor in her story. The name seems to signal straight away that there is more to the story than what appears at first sight. It makes the need to understand her all the more apparent and urgent. It makes her seem a riddle that needs to be figured out, a mystery. The name makes you stop and think so as to try to understand the contradiction between the peaceful water flower that her name signifies, on the one hand, and her massive stature and musculature, her spirited nature on the other. You might even say that the name itself could conceivably be part of the cause for the misunderstanding of the horse.

The contradiction that hides within Water Lily’s name also suggests something of the misunderstandings that have followed her for some time. Water Lily was in her past, it seems, understood as one thing, when in fact she was another.

The contradiction that hides within Water Lily’s name also suggests something of the misunderstandings that have followed her for some time. Water Lily was in her past, it seems, understood as one thing, when in fact she was another. She has been, to a degree at least, misunderstood. Her name, then, suggests the need to look past these previous misunderstandings, in order to try to dispel them, to reach past them so as to know and understand and love her directly for the animal she in fact is. The goal needs to be to find the horse underneath the name and dispel the myths that have gathered around her like early morning late summer mist obscuring the water lilies in the small cove of a northern lake.

Just like Water Lily, there are times when we, too, are misunderstood. There are times when we get off on the wrong foot, as it were, in a particular situation. Take for example at high school. Perhaps it is with a teacher there that we did not quite connect with at the beginning of our time there. We are thought to be one thing by them, when we are in fact another, or when in fact we are more than one thing. Take, for example, a student who has the reputation of being great at sports, but also is a fine scholar as well. The initial impression or misunderstanding can hold great power over us, over that relationship. The misunderstanding in one relationship has a way of spreading to effect the way we are perceived in other relationships too. We get a “name,” a reputation for being a particular kind of student, or person in high school, and that reputation carries along with us throughout our high school days and can even spill over beyond them. Some individuals spend their entire life trying to undo the misunderstanding they experienced in high school, proving to others and even to themselves that the label, the name, they received was not deserved.

Something happened the other day that offered a brief, limited insight into her nature. In one brief moment Water Lily revealed a glimpse of her true nature. The moment came when Water Lily was being led out to the practice ring along the corridor of the barn. The tiniest of little dogs, a terrier, on extremely short little legs, was going hither and thither in its efforts to keep up with its owner who was caring for the horses in their stalls. The terrier was in the middle of the corridor as Water Lily came along. How the terrier did not hear the clip clop clip clop of Water Lily coming down the corridor it is hard to say. To some degree the terrier was walking around as if it owned the place. But the terrier was in the wrong place at the wrong time and at risk of being trampled on, however much accidently, by the roughly 1300 pounds of Water Lily. Water Lily, however, in the most gentle of manners paused, looked to the side, and waited for the terrier to get out of the way. Maybe it is a small thing. Maybe most horses would have done the same thing. But to even notice the small terrier from such a height and make allowance for it was a small window into the soul of this creature. Maybe it was the way that she paused, that captures our imagination. Water Lily paused as if to say, “You are a silly little dog, my friend, look after yourself” that reveals her tenderness of character. The nature of Water Lily is something we will continue to explore in the weeks and months to come.

Douglas Allen - Red Scarf Equestrian Guest Blogger

Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.