Jim Reno, renowned equine sculptor, 1929-2008

November 1st, 2008

Renowned equine sculptor Jim Reno, 79, whose work included larger than life-size monuments of Secretariat and Dash For Cash, died on Saturday, November 1, after a long illness.

Reno was five when his father deserted his family and his mother went to work in an auto factory in New Castle, IN, to support her two young sons. At seven, Jim got a job cleaning stalls at the county fairgrounds, where he fell in love with horses. Ten years later, after a high school shop teacher encouraged him to take up woodcarving, Reno won a five-year scholarship to John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis on the merits of one of his first pieces – a woodcarving of a horse.

Upon graduation from Herron Art School, Reno turned down a position with a prominent sculptor in New York, as well as an interview with Walt Disney Studios in California, to move to Texas.

“I read in the Indianapolis Times that the president of the Houston Livestock Show had offered Roy Rogers $150,000 for Trigger,” he explained. “I thought, man, if they’d give $150,000 for a horse, maybe they’d give $500 for a sculpture of one. So I went to Houston to see if I could find work sculpting horse. And I became a horse trainer because I couldn’t make a living as an artist.”

But work as a cutting horse trainer opened doors that might otherwise have been closed to a struggling young artist. One of Reno’s first commissions was of the Arabian champion Surf, owned by Douglas Marshall of Houston, president of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo from 1958 to 1960.

During his career, Reno created 16 monumental statues, as well as scores of coffee table pieces, which he produced in limited editions. His statue of champion runner Dash For Cash greets visitors to the headquarters of the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, TX., and his life-size rendering of a cutting horse and rider stands in front of NCHA headquarters in Fort Worth.  The monument of Secretariat at Kentucky Horse Park, however, remained one of his favorite works.

Herbert Haseltine was my hero in art school,” said Reno. “He did the life-size sculpture of Man O’War at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. I never dreamed when I was in school that I’d have a life-size bronze sitting next to Herbert Hasetine’s.”

Reno, who lived in Kerrville, TX, was former president of the National Cutting Horse Association and a member of the NCHA Hall of Fame. He and his wife, Mary Jo, who survives him, bred and showed cutting horses and co-owned the leading stallion Shorty Lena.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, November 5th -1:00 pm -First Presbyterian Church, 600 Jefferson – Kerrville, Tx.