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Inkameep Art Education Unit

Lesson 2: Horses and the Economy

Ranching and equestrian art

Catalogue Image: 00x2, FLocal people on horseback
[figure 6. Local people on horseback]
Catalogue Image: 00x2

Chief Batiste George was a man well advanced in years, possessing considerable wisdom and vision. It was largely due to his initiative that the vigorous bands of horses and herds of cattle were present on the Inkameep reservation. Raising horses requires many skills and considerable understanding. In the emerging economy, it seemed a perfect fit for the people of Inkameep. Photographs from the time as well as artworks created by the students reveal the central place of horses in their lives: whether for rodeos, recreational use, or as work animals for tending cattle. The drawings done by the young people reveal their familiarity with the subject; the anatomy is keenly understood as are the habits of the animals.

A theme as old as art itself

Among the oldest paintings known to the world are the cave paintings of Lascaux, estimated to be about 40,000 years old. Art historians marvel at the skill with which the artist or artists rendered the form of a running horse, along with many other animals that have either been domesticated or have long since disappeared from southern France and Spain. Perhaps it is ironic that the horses in North America first arrived from Spain with Spanish conquistadors and escaped to the vast plains of the American southwest and beyond.

For many educators, a theme such as equestrian art has a way of captivating the interests of young people and linking artworks from around the world and throughout time, an approach to art history that is more appropriate in some respects than the overwhelming survey method as it trudges across centuries in a dreary chronology. A thematic approach invites students to notice differences and similarities across time and culture. Ceramic horses with rounded bodies from ancient China differ markedly from the powerful, armored horses of Medieval Europe, for example, pointing to breeding for different purposes as well as stylistic interpretations. From this one theme there are opportunities to branch out to discussions about transport, wealth, warfare, and so forth.

In the Nemiah Valley of central British Columbia, the Chilcotin First Nation people are engaged in negotiation regarding their treaty rights which, in large measure, includes a longtime association with horses introduced by the Spanish in the 1700s. For the Chilcotin, horses are still an important part of their cultural heritage. For more information about the Xeni Gwetin (the Tsilhqot'in people of Nemiah Valley) explore the following web sites: and

Catalogue Image: 1963-113-008, Mare and colt
[figure 7. Mare and colt]
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-008

The young people of Inkameep were perhaps as familiar with horses as Canadian children are with bicycles. They learned how to expertly handle these large, powerful animals and to care for them.

In this painting of a mare and colt (figure 7) the close bond between mother and young is captured. The gait is remarkably accurate and the artwork effectively portrays movement.

Catalogue Image: 1963-113-003-d4, Rider thrown from horse
[figure 8. Rider thrown from horse]
Catalogue Image: 1963-113-003-d4

In this rodeo painting (figure 8) the bucking bronco shows a very different aspect of equestrian art the challenge of staying on a horse that is determined to throw its rider. The excitement and danger is palpable. It can be very challenging to draw a tumbling figure; the artist has demonstrated considerable skill and made the scene believable. From the two artworks we see the necessity of knowing one's subject. We also see the way the horse can be used expressively to reveal different themes ranging from gentle nurturance to struggle for dominance.

Creating and responding ideas for the classroom

  1. Invite students to gather reproductions of art about horses from many cultures and throughout history. The artworks could be sculptures, paintings, works on fabric or works in glass. Using photocopies of the artworks, create a wall display in which the equestrian art is arranged horizontally by chronology and vertically by culture or continent. From the display, note gaps in the record, similarities and differences among the works, and discuss possible reasons that emerge from such comparisons.
  2. Many artists create studies in advance of producing paintings or sculptures of a subject. Learn about the anatomy of horses by looking at books of skeletal structure, musculature and, of course, photographs of live animals in various positions and seen from various point of view. Create a page of horse drawings in which the knowledge is displayed as scientific enquiry.
  3. Investigate the mythology of horses, including Pegasus, centaurs, unicorns, and so forth. In art such as this, imagination reaches beyond reality to a more personal identification with the animal. Each mythological animal was first created in the mind of an artist or storyteller. Using your knowledge of horses, develop your own magical horse and construct it using clay.

Resources: Web Sites, and Books

Horses, Ranching, and Art
Canadian Museum of Civilization has sponsored a site called Legends of our Times: Native Ranching and Rodeo Life on the Plains and Plateau
The site examines the history of the horse in First Nations culture and describes aspects of both past and present ranching and rodeo culture. This includes the arts and industries associated with ranching and the rodeo circuit. The work of several individual artisans is featured with short biographies, and the site focuses almost exclusively upon British Columbia and Alberta. While there, check out the rodeo pages from the Okanagan region.

Culture Canada: Aboriginal Culture and Heritage
The Canadian Government site has links to dozens of other sites related to First Nations history, politics, education, arts and culture. It is informative and well presented.

The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin
Located in Williams Lake, B.C. the museum shows current and historical photographs of rodeo culture and artifacts relating to ranching.

Equestrian Fine Art
This is not specific to First Nations or even to North America. The site features art for sale, promoting artists whose theme is horses. Work spans a range of media including painting, printmaking, and sculpture.


Braidei, D. (1977). The life, history and magic of the horse. New York: Grossot and Dunlap.

Fein, S. (1984). Heidi's Horse. Pleasant Hill CA: Exelrod Press.
Written by art educator Sylvia Fein, this is the collected and annotated drawings of one girl named Heidi, from the age of three to seventeen. The book is a prime example of coming to know a subject through drawing and provides a longitudinal study of artistic development.

Macgregor-Morris, P. (Ed.). (1987). The complete book of the horse. London: New Burlington Press.

Tinkelman, M. (1982). Rodeo. New York: Quill.


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