When a Horse Becomes A Canvas

Posted on: May 4, 2021

Question:   What do you get when you place 13 teenage girls, six horses and various art supplies in a round pen with no cell phone access?

Answer: 1) A fantastic creative expression of nature, art and trusting relationship-building with one another and the horses, 2)Thirteen young women who are excited and energized by their mastery, 3) Six horses that are loved and content, 4) All of the above.

St Joseph’s Indian School high school girls worked with their four-legged ancestors, the šúŋkawakȟáŋ – horse –  through a collaboration between St. Joseph’s Equine Therapy and Daughters of Tradition programs. To the Lakota, a šúŋkawakȟán is a relative. In equine therapy, the horse mirrors the student, providing healing from trauma, anxiety, and mental and emotional distress.

Family Service Counselors, Amanda and Darcy, collaborated with Equine Specialist Patty to challenge the girls to a contest where they paired up to groom and decorate an assigned horse. The Lakota painted their horses with symbols for special occasions (religious ceremonies or war), and that cultural tradition inspired this activity. The young women had 45 minutes, paint, ribbons, feathers, hair ties and other art supplies to create a theme of their choosing.

The six horses that became canvases were Sox, Cochee, Pony Boy, Blue, Violet and Grandma. Once black, brown, and white, their coats morphed into colorful works of art, displaying the sky, water, stars, feathers, flowers, tipis and more.

Afterward, a panel of judges toured the round pen. They asked the girls about their horse, the theme, why they chose that theme and what it meant to them. Public speaking and creative expression were part of the judging criteria.

The girls viewed one another’s horses and creations to gain full value from the activity. Once pictures were over and prizes announced, the girls offered their thanks and gratitude to the horses by feeding them apples, grass and hay.