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