From an early age Blackshaw had a strong affinity with horses. The son of a professional horse trainer, there were always one or two horses about the family's yard while he was growing up in Co. Down, and this close connection would continue throughout the artist’s life, inspiring some of his most seminal paintings. These works display a clear understanding of not only the form and movement of horses, but also their innate power and that intimate relationship with rider. The range of Blackshaw’s approaches to this subject, from the energy and drama of such masterpieces as Grand National (Foinavon’s Year)
(private collection) to the serene ‘exercise’ works such as the present example, show the scope of his abilities. In Racehorses Exercising I,
vigorous brushwork and a dynamic composition is substituted for a gentler outlook with soft, tonal colours heightening the sense of harmony. Here, we have the moments of preparation and calm in contrast to the heat of race day.
The structure and overall atmosphere reveals the important early influences of Cézanne and Degas, whose love of horses is well documented and seen in his series of race pictures. Blackshaw picks up this mantle and an example such as Racehorses Exercising I demonstrates his place as one of the finest equestrian painters of the 20th century, in Ireland and beyond.