In the Beginning...
My father was a professional artist and my grandmother rode broncs in the Calgary Stampede. Perhaps there's a genetic reason why I handed a paintbrush to my horse! Actually, it started with an adorable yet troubled horse named Romeo.
When Romeo and I met many years ago, I described
him as a handful, and he probably would have described me as a pushover.
He was quite adept at pushing me over, or pulling me, or whatever he
felt like doing. It was quite a surprise for me to find that all the
skills that I had learned through years of horse ownership were
completely ineffective with him. From his papers it looked like he had
roughly 7 owners before me. So in his eight years he had plenty of time
to learn useful skills, like how not to leave the barn or how to keep
running when asked to stop.
After about a year and a half of getting to know each other, a whole new
creature emerged. This horse who wouldn’t let me touch his ears was now
burying his head in my arms. Once afraid to open his mouth for the bit,
he now was picking up my helmet and handing it to me while I was on his
back. He’d pick up anything and hand it to me, which was the impetus
behind giving him a paint brush.
Romeo & Juliet
This was an arranged marriage. We had moved and had to separate Romeo from his previous pasture mate/girlfriend. We didn't want Romeo to be lonely, so we had to get him a companion. (Oh darn.)
It was love at first site, for the humans. As for Romeo, he was more concerned about demonstrating his herd status by kicking and biting her. It's been a great training opportunity to teach Romeo to make nice faces and maybe keep his teeth to himself. Now that he realizes Juliet is here to stay and good things happen when he doesn't bite her, he's warming up to the idea that she belongs to him (in typical stallion-esque fashion).
Romeo appreciates her influence especially when it
comes to trailer loading. She hops right in and stands quietly, giving
Romeo the confidence to do the same. I love how the trailer does NOT
vibrate any more. Poor Romeo used to stand and shake. With his lovely
companion at his side he can conquer the world. Behind every good
gelding must be a good mare.
Juliet Paints BIG!
Not only is Juliet a positive presence in Romeo's life, she's also a painter! Every time Romeo would paint, we would make sure Juliet could see him. After a few times of allowing her to watch the master, she appeared curious, so I gave her a brush to hold. Her youth and lack of emotional baggage allowed her to approach painting with amazing enthusiasm.
We were invited to bring Romeo to paint at a horse show held at a therapeutic riding school called Artist's Gardens. We asked if we could bring Juliet along. They had plenty of space so we were able to set up Romeo's painting corral within a larger corral. Every time Romeo would leave his easel and exit his corral Juliet would wait a few seconds and run and 'steal' Romeo's position at the easel. With a big enough pile of hay before him Romeo didn't seem to mind that Juliet was standing at HIS easel. This set up the perfect moment for Juliet's first painting. Now I'm the new assistant to a pair of painting Pasos!
Two Styles of Painting
Perhaps painting gives Romeo and Juliet an opportunity to explore and express different sides of their personalities. Who knows, there just might be some validity for equine art therapy.
A few years and two more horses later, I found out there is! Watch the video with all four horses by CBS News, Art Therapy for Horses.
DaVinci became the focus of the CBS story. He was a
horse suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He
learned to paint before we could comfortably touch his
body. The skills involved in learning to paint offered
him a sense of control in his environment and jump
started his recovery. He was the horse that truly showed
me the power of positive reinforcement and attraction
based methods. He carried with him so much pressure from
the trauma of his past that any pressure would cause him
to erupt. The more he learned that I could give him more
of what he wanted (the ability to choose) the less
reactive he became. See more of our adventures in
The Diary of DaVinci.
Sir Walter Raleigh
We had to come up with a big name for such a big guy. Raleigh is a bay roan Clydesdale that was given to us when he was 15 months old. He represents a horse that has only had good experiences. I'm training him exclusively with attraction based methods. On the rare occasion I have to use any kind of pressure I can barely stand the look on his "Why'd you do that for?" face. Because of his naturally calm and trusting demeanor I often do tandem training together with DaVinci. Watch Raleigh's video.
Romeo's early riding experiences must have left a bad taste in his mouth, especially when he caught sight of a bit. So instead of reminding him of the past I started riding him in Dr. Cook's bitless bridle. He's done so well without a bit, why add one? Since Romeo's done so well with his bitless bridle, Juliet had to have one too.
Owning Paso Finos often makes a saddle unnecessary. We're frequently seen riding bitless, bareback and always barefoot (the horses, not me).
Cheryl Ward & Sam Sharnik
Cheryl and Sam work as a writing and photography team. Cheryl writes stories and trains animals. Sam takes photos and designs layouts. Cheryl and Sam are proudly owned by Romeo, Juliet, DaVinci and Raleigh. They are married and live in Florida with their family.
Cheryl Ward & Sam Sharnik
© 2004-2007 Cheryl
Ward & Sam Sharnik