Here are some of the paintings the horses created this December. They painted more, but by the time we got photos of them many of the paintings were in their new homes with my vet, riding coach and several friends. The painting that has paint filling the canvass with two shades of blue was created by Kye, our 24-year-old.
The horses at Winsong Farm are always curious about whatever I present to them. They’ve been clicker trained and assume that showing an interest in me and my current paraphernalia is bound to be treat-worthy.
They took to painting like ducks to water. (or horses to hay…)
I am very careful to create brushes with handles that won’t jab into the horse’s mouth. Often I cut off the handle so it’s quite short and put tons of duct tape around the handle. By the time I’m done converting the brush for equine artists it is wider than the horse’s mouth and comfortable to hold.
Some of the horses hold a brush with their teeth and stroke the canvas which I hold horizontally at chest height. Others use the nose. For the nose painters I place treats on the canvas along with a small amount of paint and the horses “paint” while moving the treats and eating them. This December one of my neighbor’s horses used his chin! He really enjoyed rubbing his chin on the canvas and he created lots of interesting “brush strokes”. In each instance I hold the canvas for the horse. For all of the paintings the horse has been in the stall, limiting its movement. I place the paints, brushes, additional canvases, etc. outside the stall, within easy reach.
A few days ago (in an effort to find a way for the horses to paint without me holding the canvass) I attached a poster board to the stall wall. This was the first time I’ve asked any horses to paint vertically. Zelador and Zeloso have stalls across from each other and they can see what the other is doing. These two Lusitanos are my main “go to” equines whenever I want to try something out. I’ve been creating games and tricks with them for eight years. I started with Zelador. He’s painted some lovely works of art, but not for about a year. I chose to present the activity bit by bit. I showed him the brush. He looked at it. Click/treat. I held the brush near him. He sniffed it and the paint thoroughly. Click/treat. (Smell is very important to horses. Each horse needs an opportunity to acquaint itself with the smell of the brush and the paint.) I held the brush near his mouth and he touched the handle with his teeth. Click/treat. Step by step Zelador progressed to holding the brush and painting on the wall. After a few minutes I noticed that Zeloso was trying to get my attention. He wanted to paint!!!! I went into his stall, attached the poster board to the wall and presented the brush. He took it and painted. No baby steps for him!
Without a doubt, Zeloso likes painting vertically, but Zelador much prefers the painting surface horizontal to the ground. To help him paint and to meet my goal of not having to hold the canvass I placed a drawing surface on a feedtub that’s on his stall floor. He liked it, but I have a feeling that Zelador prefers nose-height painting.
Two of the BIG questions I need to answer with each painting is: Do we add another colour? Is this work of art done?
Three of the eight horses that painted this December were able to hold a brush. Generally speaking the horses are very polite and hold the brush until I say, “hand”. At that point the horse lets me take the brush from his mouth and add additional paint. However…Zelador went through a phase where he’d make a bold stroke with the brush in his mouth then tossed it across the stall which measures 11 feet by 22 feet. I’d have to carefully set down the paint jar and the canvass, then retrieve the brush which was now covered in shavings and needed to be cleaned. Even though the labour-intensive activity was a bit time-consuming I had to admire the length of the toss! Zelador did this again and again…one glorious toss after another. I had to laugh! For a couple of years I have occasionally presented “toss the toy” and this brilliant horse looks me in the eye and drops it! Obviously all I needed to do to get the word “toss” into his already extensive vocabulary was to hand him a paint brush.