The beauty of a horse

The Beauty of an Appaloosa Horse


While composing a prior post on the beauty of a horse, I was reminded of a portion of the Pslams – “{The Lord’s} delight is not in the strength of the horse (PS 147:10).” Yet, God must surely delight in the beauty of a horse, a possibility that may have occurred to some of us during the recent Triple Crown racing season and / or through admiring Dega’s renditions of race horses. Perhaps the Lord especially delights in the breed of horses known as Appaloosa’s.

Traveling back and forth between Japan and my parents’ birth home area of Minneapolis, in my youth, we met a family on one of the voyages across the Pacific who had a ranch in Montana. Among the many wonderful discoveries during multiple visits there was the beauty of the Appaloosa. A ‘spotted backside’ might not at all be desirable among humans and some other living beings, but in my view this common Appaloosa trait provides one of the most compelling amalgams of both solid color and random patterning that I know of in the animal world.

Most closely associated with the Nez Perce nation among indigenous American peoples, the breed initially suffered along with the decline of the community propagating its existence in the latter 19th century. Yet, despite that sad history, and perhaps because of its compelling beauty, the Appaloosa breed of horses has since thrived.

Our friends’ ranch had numerous Appaloosas, but three that I remember fondly, and for differing reasons. One, named Lonesome, a striking looking horse had Thoroughbred blood lineage and was tall and slim, with a reputation for being occasionally arbitrary as was another more dramatically colored one named Blue. Leo, like Lonesome, was mostly spotted all over, but when first seen with his more compact and robust physique, could be identified as having an American Quarter Horse lineage.

My favorite, the one with whom I became most familiar, was Marble, a mare of not-readily-evident Appaloosa lineage, among whom some are almost white and others appear almost black. Marble looked like a common brown Morgan horse, except for one distinctive detail – she had one blue eye, like one sees in some Australian shepherd dogs. Unlike the sometimes mercurial Lonesome, and the sometimes stubborn Leo, Marble would let me bridle her in the pasture, lead her into the stable next to the tack room, and saddle her without much difficulty.

An Appaloosa gelding, with a Morgan-coloring like “Marble” (note the slight brindle pattern)

The patterned coat commonly associated with Appaloosa horses may be an acquired taste, much like variegated plants among gardeners. I find horses of this background stunning to look at, and I especially appreciate how they have often been portrayed in Western art, such as in the paintings of Charles M. Russel (whose expressive Western-themed paintings I hope to feature in a future blog). It tells us something about the aesthetic sensibility of the Nez Perce that they they would have pursued breeding and cultivating the bloodline of these horses, not only for their utilitarian value but also for their sheer beauty.

The Beauty of a Horse


Arthur Kern, Silent Myth (2006)

Those who know Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who appreciate sculpture, will be familiar with Meijer Gardens. A principal monument among their collection of sculptures is the impressively large rendering of Leonardo DaVinci’s horse, by the artist Nina Akamu. As remarkable in size as that sculpture is, it is a fine example of how so many artists have been fascinated by the equine form. Consider among others, the ancient Etruscan horses; the ceramic figurines from the Chinese Ming dynasty; as well as Degas’ rendering of lithe race horses, or the roughly contemporary western bronzes of Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. In all these, this historically important animal companion to both our human community and our many activities has so often received sculptural tribute through artistic imagination.

Recently, I had the wholly unexpected opportunity to discover the powerful work of a 90 year old Louisiana sculptor, whose output until 2016 had largely been out of the public eye for over 30+ years. The Callan Contemporary Gallery in New Orleans has until late April an impressive show of 18 cast resin sculptures almost all featuring horses with riders, or with some representation of a human form. Two of the works are at a stunning life size, while the rest are roughly around twelve inches in height and width. I was not previously familiar with the artist’s work, and was bowled over by its beauty. Here is an example of a smaller work:

Here is another:

And another:

Wherein does that beauty lie? I think it is found in Kern’s studied sensitivity to the anatomic beauty of horses, while he also takes obvious liberty in moving beyond literalistic portrayal of particular equine breeds. Though some observers use the term ‘surrealist’ to describe his approach, I prefer the admittedly cumbersome phrase, ‘representationally explorative.’ Further, Kern’s employment of a lost wax process for producing the molds has given him an opportunity to play with the plasticity of the resin in those molds, as well as to manipulate the coloring of the results. And because of his employment of this casting process, originally used for bronze sculptures, each of the pieces in this show is one of a kind, and not an example of a numbered series.

Just as compelling is the knowledge that after a successful career as a painter and professor of art, Kern then burned his remaining paintings, and moved to a largely hermit life as a sculptor, working privately without any assistants while casting in several cases significantly large works at his home or in his garage. The series of horse sculptures, among other works, is the fruit of several decades of dedicated work, outside the notice of the commercial art world.

It is not evident whether Kern’s loving regard for the human and animal form reflects a religious or spiritual appreciation for the source of the beauty they represent. Yet, his sensitivity to these forms evidences a spirit of positive regard for the world around us that parallels voices of praise that we hear in the Psalms and in many other passages of Scripture. Men and women, throughout history, have loved and admired the form and structure of so many examples of ‘flora and fauna,’ and that of the horse in particular. To me that is surely due to the way that our appreciation for what enriches our lives reflects the transcending and loving regard of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for both us and all of Creation.


Photographs are by the author (all rights reserved) with permission from the gallery. Arthur Kern, Horses, at the Callan Contemporary Gallery in New Orleans until April 23. I encourage you to seek images of and reflections upon his work on the internet. Here is a link to the exhibit: