Battle Born Art

One horsewoman’s unforgettable equine art is created on an irreplaceable medium that’s close to her customers’ hearts.

Article & Photography by Jessica O’Connor

Artists’ hands are often guided by the world around them. The people, places, culture and experiences that call to their hearts flow through their fingertips to create a visual representation of what ignites their passion and creativity.

Catherine “Cat” Davenport is no exception. A former rodeo queen, and currently a colt starter by trade, this quintessential West Coast cowgirl’s stunning watercolor, pencil and acrylic portraits are often heavily influenced by the buckaroo lifestyle she experienced growing up in California’s Sierra Nevada region.

Not content to corral her creations solely on canvas, Cat’s work, coined Battle Born Art, has adorned trendy leather handbags, jackets and boot shafts including those of Miss Rodeo California, and more. She’s best known, however, for working with a medium that is undoubtedly precious—and often irreplaceable—to the commissioner: original registration papers of horses that have made an indelible mark on someone’s life.

Artist by Birth, Cowgirl by Choice

Being an artist is in Cat’s blood. Her parents, Charles and Sally Gulizia, are professional artists too, so it’s no surprise that Cat showed an interest in drawing at a young age.

“When I started drawing I never thought I was that good, but everyone else around me thought I was pretty dang good,” she said. “My mom used to do portraits of people on the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk when she was in college—that’s actually how she put herself through school. My dad did abstract art and was involved more in art shows and galleries, things like that.”

At her parents’ urging, Cat began to enter art shows as a third grader. Although her efforts were successful, winning scholarships and prizes at local contests, Cat’s primary interest was horses. She’d been in the saddle since she was 5 years old, progressing from beginner lessons to riding jumpers at age 8 and eventually landing at a barrel racing facility where she was helped ride colts just a few years later. When Cat discovered the world of rodeo queen pageants, however, she found that both of her passions could become neatly intertwined.

“I wanted to start winning saddles because I couldn’t afford to buy my own,” she said. “I was Calaveras Saddle Queen in 2009, then went on to win a horse trailer when I became the Sonoras Rodeo Queen. I started getting more independent, found a truck, then found a horse to put in it.”

This newfound independence led Cat to run for Miss Rodeo Bakersfield. Prior to her campaign, the cowgirl’s confidence in her artistic abilities had been refreshed thanks, in part, to an inspiring art teacher at Feather River College. Instead of asking for sponsorships, Cat decided to sell prints of her drawings. These tangible tokens of appreciation helped her earn the title of Miss Rodeo Bakersfield—and yet another horse trailer—while simultaneously bringing exposure to her meticulously crafted, exquisitely detailed, Western-themed drawings.

Pursuing Passion in Pain

In the early years of marriage to her husband, Coltin, Cat’s artwork often ebbed and flowed with her military-spouse lifestyle and its frequent relocations. During his time as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Cat began taking reining lessons at Missy Benker’s Secret Hills Ranch, where her interest in Paint Horses was piqued. Described by Missy as “an amazing horsewoman, extremely capable in so many different areas and with a lot of natural talent,” Cat continued to hone her skills until a freak riding accident brought life as she knew it to an abrupt halt.

“I was riding my little stud colt, and honestly, we’d had a beautiful ride,” Cat recalled; it was October 11, 2018, just after 11 a.m. “We went down for a stop and when he went to back up I had my tail bag situated just a little too low in his tail. I thought about it earlier that day, but didn’t fix it. When we were backing up, he stepped on his tail bag and it goosed him; he went up and over. I stood up in my stirrups, and that’s the only reason why the saddle horn didn’t impale my chest.”

When the dust cleared, the severity of her injuries was obvious. Cat landed in the hospital with a compound pelvic fracture and a severed femoral artery. Faced with a lengthy healing process, she decided to keep her mind sharp and spirits high by diving back into her artwork, consuming hours of YouTube videos and scrolling artists’ sites in an effort to keep herself busy and sharpen her skills. The popularity of Cat’s custom work and prints once again soared, and she welcomed the opportunity to stay connected to the horse world despite her own isolation.

“I was able to still be in the community I’ve known and loved for so long without riding,” she said. “I was still considered a go-to person for artwork in the Western community, which was really uplifting and gave me small touches of hope.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2023 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.