Monday, August 3, 2009

Horses are the Color of Earth

One of the things I love about horses is their colors - the infinitely graded palate of earth tones, ranging from the purest white to black with all the possible reds, browns and golds in between. And dapples, and roaning. And then there are the markings - those on the faces and the legs, and the more complex patterns of the pintos and the appaloosas.

A number of bloggers have recently posted about childhood experiences with horses. This is a story about imaginary horses.

When I was a child, about 8 or 9 years old I guess, I had a wonderful device for drawing horses. It was a flat horse, I think made from a heavy-duty plastic, or perhaps it was even metal, probably about 5"x8", made up of various articulated pieces, with small rivets attaching them to each other and allowing them to move. I was a big stickler for accuracy in my horse play - I hated drawings of horses showing the noseband attached to the bit, for example. This horse was accurate - all the pieces were the correct shape and size, and when you moved them to a different position, everything worked correctly. There were joints everywhere there should have been joints, and in the right places - you could even bend the hooves and pasterns. It was possible to position the horse so it was grazing, walking, trotting, cantering and galloping. Once you positioned the horse, you could trace its outline - the joints were just stiff enough that it would stay in position while you traced - and voila! a lovely horse outline.

I produced many horses. I would trace them and then color them and cut them out. I had a game I loved to play involving lists of colors and markings, and the various leg positions the horse could be in at the gallop. For each horse I made, I would roll dice to select all the horse's features - color, sex, head markings, the markings of each leg, and the position in the gallop. Each horse had a name - and they were proper racehorse names - these were Thoroughbred racehorses I was making. (In those days, the Sunday New York Times had extensive coverage, with photos, of the Thoroughbred and Standardbred races, and I had a large collection of cut-out articles, race charts and pictures - I always jumped on the sports section each Sunday as soon as the paper arrived.)

Once I had made a particular horse, it would be added to the collection - I kept all the horses in a small box. Then my horses had races, again involving dice to determine the positions at each stage of the race and at the finish, including the distance each horse was ahead of the next one.

I think the point of the whole thing wasn't the racing, although that was fun. It was the emergence, through the randomness of the dice, of the individual horse colors and markings, which made each horse as unique as each real horse is. No two horses I made ever were the same, and I loved the variety.

I still love that about horses - how each horse, even a bay with no white markings, is completely an individual in terms of its exact color and the way its coat catches the light, and the highlights and shadows. Horses are colored like the earth, since they are supremely connected to it, directly and forever.

Here is a gallery of the colors of the real horses at our barn.











And last in line, Blackjack:


  1. What a beautiful rainbow of browns. At the barn Bodhi was moved from we also had a beautiful example of varying shades; a chestnut flaxen(bodhi), a palomino, a buckskin, and a dunalino. A complete accident but an impressive collection of golden horses! :)

  2. To this day it drives me crazy how often you see toys, cartoons, or drawnings of horses who are not anatomically correct! Cool that when you were a child you were concerned with such things!

    Love the color pictures! So beautiful.

  3. I loved this post - really put a smile on my face!

  4. Oh, My Little Ponies must have driven you nuts. Did your daughters every play with those? And have you seen the modern ones? They look like skinny supermodel ponies!

  5. Katharine - No, fortunately no My Little Ponies - my girls didn't much care for them - we had gadzillions of Breyers instead - and still have them, in fact!

  6. What a neat collection of pictures showing not only differences in color, but also of texture. My two chestnuts are very different and of course, bay Tucker has his own agenda. *l*

    I hate all the commercials and ads showing horses with all kinds of out of place or strange tack combinations. Western curbs on English bridles, western bridles in supposedly English tack. etc. And, oh, yes, women riding barelegged in flowing white dresses--often galloping along in the surf. Yeah, I go out riding like that everyday....and, of course, no ad actually ever suggests that riding and horses can be a dirty, sweaty, heavy duty workout.

    OK, I'm done.

  7. The photos are awesome ......isn't it funny how we as horse people can pick out individual horses from a field all grazing and all the same colour. My non horsey friends say they all look identical. But we see all the beautiful tone changes, different hair patterns etc. I think to take the time to study your horse and see the beauty in their coats is a special thing

  8. what a gorgeous collection colours-one of the many, many things to appreciate in our horses!


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