Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prairie Horses

Bill C-322 has been reintroduced recently in Canada. If passed, it will stop the importation of horses for slaughter and exportation of horse meat for human consumption.

I find it timely that while this Bill is being presented to Parliament, a new permanent work of art featuring running horses has been installed just down the road from Canada's Parliament Buildings, on Sussex Drive outside the National Gallery of Canada. Our Prime Minister and our Governor General will have to pass this sculpture each time they leave their residences. I hope these beautiful images will have a positive impact on Bill C-322. :-)

Joe Fafard has fonder childhood memories of horses, which is why you can drive up Sussex Drive and see the Saskatchewan artist's running herd installed outside the National Gallery of Canada's main entrance. There are 11 horses, and they are beautiful and graceful, just like the ones Fafard remembers from so many years ago.

"When I was a kid, I went to a country school," Fafard said this week, sitting on a bench just inside the gallery, where he had come for one day to check on the installation. "In the wintertime a lot of farmers just turned out their horses on the prairie, and the school was on the prairie, so a herd of horses formed that lived on the snow, and ate the prairie grass through the snow. We could even, during class, observe a herd of horses of all types, of all colours. In the spring, the farmers would come and collect their horses."

That quote will not surprise anyone familiar with Fafard's work. Since he finished university in the 1960s, his art has been a testament to animals, nature, the environment and those farmers and country folk who are most closely in tune with the land around them.

Over the decades he has worked in clay and bronze and on paper - a recent sale of prints at Jean-Claude Bergeron Gallery in Ottawa was reportedly a great success - and, in later years, in steel.

His images of cows have become a sort of trademark, though the rest of the barnyard also gets its due. None are more spectacular, more purely invigorating to see, than his running horses.

The herd is laser-cut from sheets of steel and painted in earthy tones that, especially at this time of year, bring to mind the autumn leaves.

Each horse has its own pedestal outside the National Gallery, on an island of gravel (there'll be greenery come spring) next to the entrance ramp to the parking garage. Tens of thousands of people will pass daily, by foot or pedal or car, and perhaps take a moment to consider, as Fafard puts it, "a magnificent creature that has few needs, not like a human that has all kinds of needs."

The sculptures were purchased in 2007, with funding provided by patrons of the National Gallery Foundation. The horses' new home outdoors expands the gallery's sculpture park - the "precinct of beauty," as gallery director Marc Mayer recently labelled it.

Jim Hart's totem pole The Three Watchmen was erected two weeks ago where Sussex meets St. Patrick Street; Roxy Paine's bare, steel One Hundred Foot Line, stands nearer the Ottawa River; Louise Bourgeois' extraordinarily popular spider Maman is only metres away. It and Fafard's horses now flank both sides of the gallery's main en-trance.

"I feel really good," Fafard said, in that soft, unassuming voice, as he looked through the gallery's glass walls to the horses outside. "I hope that having people see something that gives them some awe for a fellow creature can translate into some care for the environment."


  1. Funny that Canada is introducing this bill when the US just signed a bill to overturn the Equine Protection Act, making horse slaughtering legal again. There is also a possibility of inspecting horse plants and having horse meat available in the US. Disgusting!

  2. The horses are beautiful works of art. I hope Canada passes that bill. As Allison said above the US has not been a friend to the horses. Personally, I don't think anyone in the government knows what the hell is going on with the horses. And don't get me started on the BLM jerks. I did send a letter to my representatives online opposing their decisions. If enough people do inform their legislatures how they feel maybe they will stop slaughtering these beautiful animals. It's not a good feeling to feel helpless in these situations.

  3. I thought the same as Allison- I wonder if this has anything to do with the recent decision in the US to re-open the slaughter plants?

    Beautiful sculptures, they'd certainly brighten up an urban landscape. I really like that final quote from the artist too.

  4. Interesting, in a bad way, that the U.S. is considering opening up slaughter plants again.

    Allison - I find it disgusting also...I guess if C-322 passes, then we will be shipping our horses to you for slaughter..??? WTH??

    GHM - I believe you are correct. No one knows what is going on with horses. I have written to provincial government, federal government and the Canada Inspection Agency, who actually monitor the plants. They really don't have a clue. It sounds like your BLM has the same way of managing land as our Ministry of Natural Resources. Don't get me started on MNR!!! Grrr!!

    Shannon - They are very beautiful, aren't they. I think they have captured the essence of the horse.

  5. When I read your post, my immediate thought was that it was unusual that Canada would sign this bill when the U.S had just overturned a bill banning horse slaughter.

    It's infuriating.

    Those sculptures are nice though =)

  6. Hi Megan - Boy, you would think that both countries would get their acts together and just decide to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption for the whole of North America. So frustrating. However, money is usually the reason behind most decisions and if there is an opportunity to make some, it will be the motivation, unfortunately.

  7. Man I sure am confused between these two countries and there legislature. Too bad the horses are stuck in the middle.

  8. I hope this bill gets passed. I would love nothing more to see all the horses removed from the plant in Fort McLeod. I've driven by there and it's one of the saddest things to see, the field after field of horses, waiting their turn.

    I am so, so disappointed that the States have lifted the ban on horse slaughter, especially when it seems like Canada might be able to ban it ourselves.

  9. Golden - Nice to hear from you. It is confusing and you are absolutely right....the poor horses get stuck in the middle.

    Cjay - I can't imagine how sad if must be to see horses waiting to die. Breaks my heart just thinking about it.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this, the sculptures are so beautiful & capture the movement brilliantly. Wish I'd had horses to look at during my school days ...
    Fingers crossed that the bill gets passed, but so awful & sad that the US has made horse slaughtering legal again.
    Hope things are ok with your dad.