Equine Artists

Artists like to paint horses. The long, flicking tail, lithe muscles and shapely head make great fodder for paintings.

But who would have known that horses make great painters, too?

The resulting art--by horses in collaboration with local artists--will be highlighted in a "Vincent Van Horse" art auction at the fifth annual Horsin' Around fundraising dinner for Therapeutic Riding of Tucson (TROT). In addition to their aesthetic value, these pieces of art are popular for their provenance. After all, it takes creativity to paint without hands, and most horses don't have any formal art education. This, says TROT director Leslie Esselburn, is where the collaborating artists come in.

"The artists thin the paints down with apple juice," says Esselburn, "so the horses smell that and try to get to it. In the process, they create a pretty fantastical design, and it's up to the artists to find something in it to highlight.

Some of the horses use their tails dipped in paint, and some artists create a design with the horse and interpret it in another medium."

The finished pieces to be sold at the auction include "Painting With a Paint," by TROT horse Blitzen and artist Martha Braun, and "Bisbee's Fishing Fantasy," by horse Bisbee and artist Diana Madaras. Some horse/artist teams went beyond painting. Horses Tiny, Frog and Shady worked with Leiloni and Kim Kammerer to create a sculpture with found objects from the TROT property, while horse Pepper and Barbara Conaway created a design in fused glass. Last, but not least, horse Sister created a design that Tracey Kennedy will replicate with beads, glass and gemstones on a small table. Last year, the artwork auction raised $8,000 for TROT.

Horsin' Around is about more than just interspecies art; it is a major fundraiser for TROT. The casual event features a "quick draw," in which guests can donate dollar bills to TROT in exchange for a chance to win raffle prizes; a silent auction of horse-related art objects; and a dessert auction featuring unique treats created by local chefs. It's worth noting that the delectable desserts are made to serve 10, so the lucky winner of a dish can share with tablemates--that is, if the winner can bear to part with it. Other highlights of the event are the "TROT Tradin' Post," where guests can trade $5 for a chance to find a great prize in a grab bag; a baked chicken and barbecue pork ribs buffet; and an after-party at the Red Garter Saloon.

"It's priced right; the food's good; we do fun things; it's casual," Esselburn says. "It's a blue-jean event."

Best of all, this horsin' around raises funds for a great local organization. TROT uses several different methods of horse-centered therapy to help local people with special needs. Children and adults with physical, mental, social and emotional disabilities benefit from the contact with the well-trained horses, as well as from their individual therapy regimens.

TROT uses three different types of therapy: therapeutic riding and vaulting, utilizing gymnastics on horseback to provide skill development and recreation; hippotherapy, in which the horse's movement is used by physical, occupational and speech therapists to help patients; and equine experiential learning, the use of horse-related activities to benefit the overall well-being of riders.

"TROT has been providing programs of therapeutic riding and horsemanship for people with special needs since 1974," Esselburn says, "and it is only through the generosity of the Tucson community that we have been able to sustain the important and life-changing work we do here."

Esselburn credits the success of the group to the trained and dedicated staff, volunteers, medical professionals and, of course, the horses. Not only are the animals accomplished artists; they are gentle animals who, Esselburn believes, are attuned to their work. The organization only utilizes animals of a particular disposition, to ensure the program's safety and efficiency.

"More than 130 volunteers show up each week to help our riders work toward their goals," says Esselburn. "It is a joyful place for everyone who comes--the riders, their parents, our staff and volunteers."

TROT invites interested members of the community to visit the facilities and learn more about the program, but requests that visitors call ahead. More information about TROT is available at horseweb.com/client/trot. Donations are accepted via the Web site, but why not kick up your heels this weekend and horse around for a good cause?

Horsin' Around begins at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, with cocktails and a silent auction at Hidden Valley Inn (4825 N. Sabino Canyon Road). Dinner begins at 7 p.m., followed by dancing, auctions and the "quick draw" raffle. Tickets are $40 per person, and tables for six or 10 people are available. Reservations can be made through Friday, Oct. 7, so don't delay. Call 749-2360 for tickets or more information.

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