Olaf was born to Karl and Anna Wieghorst on April 30, 1899, in the village of Viborg, Jutland, Denmark. He learned horseback riding working on a stock farm, and horses became a major focus of his admiration and later his painting. Wieghorst was only nineteen years old when he came to New York on December 31, 1918 aboard an old Danish steamer. He had only $1.25 in his pocket and spoke no English. For better or for worse, Olaf had come to America to stay.
Making his dream of going west a reality, Wieghorst served in the 5th U.S. Cavalry on the Mexican border in the days of Pancho Villa. He later recalled a favorite horse from that period and said that riding through El Paso in 1921, the horse fell on Wieghorst’s ankle and broke it. The outfit was heading to Douglas, Arizona, and not wanting to be left behind with his injury, he stayed on the horse, which carried him all the way through the New Mexico desert on one of the hottest days of the year. The horse died during the night, having expended all his energy on saving the young soldier. Wieghorst later wrote that when the Cavalry discarded the use of horses, “they took the soul out of that great branch of the service.” (Widening Horizons)
After leaving the service, Wieghorst wandered extensively through the West, finding work in Arizona and New Mexico as a cowboy. Then he went to New York and served as a mounted policeman until 1944, spending most of his time on a horse named Rhombo, patrolling the Central Park bridle paths and saving many people injury from runaway horses. He began painting in his spare time, and was successful enough that the Biltmore Hotel represented his work.
Acclaimed by critics as an outstanding contemporary Western artist, Wieghorst earned these accolades during a lifetime of observing, handling and painting horses and the West. He said, “I have been observing horses for so many years that I guess I’ve begun to think like one. That’s what I mean when I say that the horse has been my greatest teacher. Horses have been my companions under nearly all possible conditions. I have frozen with them at night, ridden across the desert in the hottest days on record, starved with them and hunted water with them.” He added that he had also been kicked, bitten and fallen off of horses, but “with no regret.”
Here was a man deeply in love with the West, its people and its way of life, and who possessed the talent to put that love on canvas. Wieghorst did numerous horse portraits, spending time on ranches studying their unique personalities. These portraits included such celebrity horses as Roy Rogers’ Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion and Tom Morgan’s stallion.