Prairie’s Declaration of Horse Love in Art

Alberta loves to trot out its love for horses in visual art, equestrian arts and competition, as well as rodeo events.

Plains Indian portrait. Hyatt Hotel, Calgary 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Plains Indian portrait. Hyatt Hotel, Calgary 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Mare and foal near Morley, Alberta at Rocky Mountain foothills and Ghost River. Approx. 70 km. northwest of Calgary. May 2015. Photo by J. Becker
Mare and foal near Morley, Alberta at Rocky Mountain foothills and Ghost River. 70 km. northwest of Calgary. May 2015. Photo by J. Becker

It wasn’t until I moved to  Calgary in the prairies, where I’ve met more ordinary folks in this Canadian region,  than Toronto or Vancouver, who have family members that own and ride at

Metal horse sculpture. Stephen's Ave. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong
Metal horse sculpture. Stephen’s Ave. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J. Chong

least 1-2 horses. It’s real horsey love when a teenager works to save money to pay for their horse stabling and care.  One employee owns over 10 horses with his wife on a farm 100 km. outside of the city.

Who anywhere in the world, can resist enjoying in art and for real , the galloping free spirit of horses?  Or the quiet graceful stance of a horse at peace, with its owner.

Centuries-Long Reverence for Horses
For thousands of years, it was the Plains Indians here, who enshrined the  horse’s grace and strength as part of their daily nomadic life for transportation across vast open prairies, and to help control and access food sources – ie. wild bison herds.  Their reverence for horses, is interwoven in their stories, legends, artwork, horse riding accessories (saddles) and  clothing attire.  Like some ancient wealthy Chinese who had  horse effigies buried with them, the Blackfoot Indians sometimes had their own horse effigies for their after life.

Plains Indian horse effigies for burial in hopes of a good after life. Glenbow Museum 2013. Photo by J.Chong
Plains Indian horse effigies for the after life. Glenbow Museum 2013. Photo by J.Chong

No need to wander far in Calgary, to stumble across public outdoor horse art. It ranges from  knight-like metal encased horse to cantering horses with bright roosters and story scenes embedded in their bodies.  Of course, we can’t forget the eternal images of prairie cowboys which to locals, becomes a bit ho-hum, like wallpaper.

Horse with metal cut roosters in its body. Part of horse sculptures at Alberta Courthouse buildings, entitled: "Do rei mi fah so".  Downtown Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J. Chong.
Horse with metal cut roosters in its body. Part of horse sculptures at Alberta Courthouse buildings, entitled: “Do rei mi fah so”. Downtown Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J. Chong.

There are some fabulous cowboy horse public art.  However for me, some bronco-rider sculptures bursting with  so much action and power, becomes more a portrait of high conflict between man and a horse that’s struggling not to be broken, not to submit to man.  I get my horsey behaviour knowledge from my partner, Jack who did own 3 horses as a farmer in Ontario.  The horse is made to buck by tightening on the belt over its belly ..or worse, as he was told, by its testicles.

Northwest Mounted police arrest rider for illegal liquor smuggled onto middle horse.  Hyatt Hotel. Calgary, AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong
Northwest Mounted Police arrest rider for illegal liquor smuggled onto middle horse. Hyatt Hotel. Calgary, AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong

For the Canadian prairies, everyone is treated to the Northwest Mounted Police, now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, on their horses.  They were instrumental in keeping rowdy settlers and bootleggers with illegal booze in check.  Somehow in art, a RCMP officer either now or in history,

Large painting depicts ordinary life of Nothwest Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) undertaking non-police work  --daily labour and tethering their horses.  On loan from Glenbow Museum, in permanent display, main atrium at Old City Hall. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong
Large painting depicts 19th-century ordinary life of Nothwest Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) undertaking non-police work –daily labour and tethering their horses. On loan from Glenbow Museum, in permanent display, main atrium at Old City Hall. Calgary AB 2014. Photo by J.Chong

is only complete in art with their horses.  My favourite painting is of them is unexpectedly in old Calgary city hall, right in the front atrium.  The  police are by a lake undertaking physical labour with logs, a paddle boat and tethering their horses.  It’s a slightly romantic, but beautiful painting with a Rocky Mountain backdrop.  An appropriate place to showcase the historic role of the police in the Canadian prairies.

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Horse rock star drummer art. 17th Ave.SW & 11th S. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong
Horse rock star drummer art. 17th Ave.SW & 11th St. SW. Calgary AB 2015. Photo by J.Chong

I have yet to attend the annual equestrian competition event at Spruce Meadows (south Calgary), where all horse lovers congregate or compete in dressage events like horse jumping.  It’s also a social event and place for business networking which probably is similar to going skiing in Whistler, British Columbia or dare I say, cycling with some work buddies.

Horses pulling winter sleigh riders. Lake Louise, AB 2013.  Photo by J. Chong
Horses pulling winter sleigh riders. Lake Louise, AB 2013. Photo by J. Chong

I’m just content to wander and cycle around to appreciate the many sides of horse in art, as a free spirit, a magnificent creature and as our companion, for thousands of years.

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. I have loved horses as far back as I can remember Jean. Taught myself to ride when I was 8 by climbing a fence and pulling my chubby body onto a horse by grabbing onto the mane, squeezing its side with my legs and galloping across the field – no saddle, no reins, the wind blowing my hair back, free and one with the horse. I had pictured it in my mind a thousand times before that day and finally did it. Great post, thanks for sharing it Jean. ❤
    Diana xo

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    1. Jean says:

      Wow. Innocence is bliss, Diana. I was a on a donkey in Greece and was terrified. The sure footed creature was walking up the steps of the Cliffside town. Below was the Mediterranean sea. I was glad not to look down at the ocean..I have some fear of heights..

      Jack owned 3 horses with his ex when he was part-time farmer in Ontario on weekends. So I heard about horse behaviour and certain breeds from him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would love to ride a donkey in Greece – I’ve seen that in movies! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mabel Kwong says:

    Lovely works of art of horses in Calgary. Really like the one depicting life in the 19th century and the police – sounds like horses were a form of transportation back then for those who could afford it. Didn’t know horses over there pulled sleds in the cooler months.

    There’s a bit of fondness for horses here in Australia. We have the Melbourne Cup each year – one the biggest international horse racing competitions in the world that some have argued are all about fashion these days, and in a sense are cruel to horses. In the city of Melbourne, you can ride on a carriage pulled by a couple of horses for a price, I think it’s around a hundred or so dollars per head. Pricey, but it’s something geared towards tourists.

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    1. Jean says:

      100 dollars per person for that Melbourne carriage ride seems very expensive! Neither Toronto nor Vancouver offer a carriage ride downtown. Probably because of the sheer volume of car traffic. But Montreal in the historic section does offer that. The downtown section there dates back to 1600’s, when the French settled in Canada.

      The annual dressage competition in our city, has not got to the stage like one event in England, where people wear dressy expensive hats and dresses. But it is an event for the rich to network and for others too.

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      1. Mabel Kwong says:

        It’s actually $100 per carriage for half an hour around some landmarks in the city, sorry, but which I think is still very pricey. You could walk to these landmarks all in one hour actually. In Melbourne, some of the city streets are blocked off to traffic, which would explain why horse carriage rides are possible.

        The event in England sounds awfully similar to the Melbourne Cup. More attention on what the ladies are wearing than on the horses. I don’t really see the point of it. Then again, I’m not sure why horses have to be subjected to such strenuous looking races.

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  3. Girl Gone Expat says:

    Albertans definitely love their horses! I have also noted all the public artwork including horses. The metal horse on Steven Ave that you have a picture of is great! There is really a lot of details in it, must have taken forever to make. The old picture of the Northwest Mounted Police is very nice, I have not seen that before. Thank for sharing it! 🙂

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    1. Jean says:

      You’re right, I never thought the level of metalwork that Stephen Ave horse required since its body seems to be a fusion of multiple metal mini-shapes and textures. The painting in Old City Hall is very large…over 4 metres long and there’s more to the painting. That photo only gives part of the painting. Just walk up the steps in old City Hall on main floor and it’s by the security desk.

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  4. Lani says:

    I have a strange relationship with horses because I worked for a digital company after college that sort of changed my view on them. This company shipped large animals around the world, primarily horses, race horses, too. I didn’t see any horses and our office was located no where near where they were shipped, but it was, nevertheless, an interesting business and experience.

    I rather adore that Ontario is where the cowboys roam. I think I would love it 😉

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    1. Jean says:

      Your former company must have dealt with some wealthy clients. The people I know with horses, don’t know anything about horse racing.

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      1. Lani says:

        Oh, yeah. It was such a different world.

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  5. diahannreyes says:

    What a cool tour Jean. Interesting how much horses are still part of the culture. I really appreciate these journeys you take your readers on- always unexpected and surprising with good writing and visuals. And like with your fish post, I love that the horses are part of the area’s art too. Your posts make me want to fly up there to look around.

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    1. Jean says:

      Glad you flew over to my blog posts for some viewing and learning! I did manage to latch onto some unexpected art work to show.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. We just got our tickets for the local summer rodeo. Our horse fix. Nice post.

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    1. Jean says:

      Your first rodeo? I’ve never been to a rodeo and our city has the biggest one in Canada –annually.

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      1. My third or fourth. Not completely my thing, but we go with friends, and it’s kind of an event. The women riders, ‘cowgirls’ ride around between men’s events carrying advertising banners. Don’t know if I’d recommend it or not. Either you like watching cows get roped or you don’t!

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        1. Jean says:

          Well, ours is full out –chuckwagon races, bronco-bucking, steer roping, etc. Thousands of dollars of prizes for serious professionals. There are serious injuries also.

          Outside of rodeos, one thing that’s fun to see is sheep dog competition. Where certain breeds of dogs that have been trained to round up sheep. It’s to see their individual skill with a group of sheep. The dogs look so happy in this challenge and they run around…healthy for them.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. That last shot in particular is beautiful. Of course – the Plains Indians. I would not have thought of the Indians there.

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    1. Jean says:

      I could not resist implanting some photos of real horses, holistic. 🙂

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      1. The next city over (border’s right here, so we’re talking 1 mile away) is horse town. We drive by folks ambling on their horsie. =)

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  8. Jane Thorne says:

    I love horses Jean, I always have, and the views of them and the Rocky Mountains in your post are wonderful. Thank you. Hugs x

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    1. Jean says:

      Good see you Jane.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’ve found some incredible pieces here. The sculptures especially! 😀🐎

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    1. Jean says:

      Have you attempted any paintings of rodeos? Maybe it’s not your thing..bucking horses, etc. No doubt, artists that don’t work in certain media, marvel over the work of others that do.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s an amazing sport but I’ve never really seen it outside of cowboy films! I guess now that we have the Internet, I could discover more about it, no excuses these days! It’s something I hadn’t thought of but will investigate! Thank you 😀

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