Love of horses inspires art

Linda Pirri celebrates equine therapy with a painting that will raise funds and become part of the Shea Center.

By SARAH NOONE | Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot | June 17, 2008

Linda Pirri with her painting, Lifting to the Light, photo Sarah Noone / Coastline Pilot
Linda Pirri, a Laguna Beach resident and artist, is watching her love for horses come full circle at “Cirque du Shea,” this year’s theme for the Shea Center for Therapeutic Riding’s Annual Gala Saturday at the Montage Resort & Spa.

Pirri’s love for horses began at an early age and eventually brought her to the center in San Juan Capistrano. Hoping to become a volunteer, she soon realized that her schedule would not permit this, so she was determined to find a way to donate her time. And she did.

“My travel schedule prevented me from committing to the (volunteer) hours, so I asked the Shea Center to forward me an inspirational picture that I could then use to create a painting for them,” Pirri said.

A few months later, Pirri received a photograph of a little girl receiving Hippotherapy, a form of physical therapy where the disabled rider stands on top of a horse as volunteers walk alongside holding on to their legs.

Hippotherapy allows the rider to feel the motion of the horse, which is the same three-dimensional motion as the human walk, thus preparing them for their first steps.

According to the center, which provides more than 4,500 lessons per year, there is no piece of rehabilitation equipment that can replicate this treatment.

In addition to Hippotherapy, the center also offers two other categories, Therapeutic Sport Riding and, for skilled riders, Vaulting/Gymnastics on a horse.

To capture the “freedom and flow” of the photograph — the little girl stretching her arms out like wings and trying to touch her nose to the sky — Pirri brushed boldly colored French dyes onto handmade silk to create “Lifting Up to the Light.”

The painting also depicts the combined efforts of the volunteers symbolized by the exaggerated, multicolored, human hands that raise three volunteers, a horse and a child all standing on a giant, red heart with wings up to a giant sun disk as horses gallop across the sky.

Initially, “Lifting Up to the Light” was an item for auction at “Cirque du Shea,” but after the Shea Center received Pirri’s donation they instead decided to showcase the painting in their reception area at the Klein Family Education and Therapy Building alongside a plaque acknowledging donor’s pledges in perpetuity.

“It gives me goose bumps that they found it so meaningful and moving. I’m honored that so many will get to see it,” said Pirri.

“Cirque du Shea” will also feature several former members of Cirque du Soleil, including performances by an aerialist and stilt walkers. A “ringmaster” will lead performers through various vignettes during dinner and the auction followed by dancing and live music by Stew and the Crew.

During the gala, the J.F. Shea Co., Inc. will be honored with the Corporate Leader Award in recognition of their 20-year support and a seven-acre land gift made to the organization in 2001. Also, the 30th Anniversary Founders’ Award will be presented to the Lewis Family. Nancy and Derick Lewis were instrumental in founding the organization 30 years ago. Their son, Michael, has cerebral palsy and was also one of the center’s first riders.

Now Pirri feels as though her life has come full circle.

“I started out drawing horses, and my whole art gift bloomed from that. I am so happy I get to use my little gift to give back.”

WHAT: Cirque du Shea

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Montage Resort & Spa

COST: $400 per person

INFORMATION: Susan Martin (949) 240-8441 or

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