Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Critical Mass Part I


A lot has changed in the equine collectibles world in twenty five years—and looking back with hindsight, perhaps too much. It seems we've literally forgotten who we are, spellbound in some sort of strange, willful amnesia. And so much so that newer generations may not even know this current state of affairs is a relatively new set of conditions, and those that represent the polar opposite of how all this began.

Customizing started out as a do-it-yourself (DIY) pastime, people creating their own models for the sheer joy of it. Live shows were rare and people usually came to have fun with others who shared their passions, enjoying what everyone brought to show off. In short, it was about fun and friendship, and showing was really just an excuse to gather together. It was about people not placings, about community not competition.

Yet somewhere along the way things changed and right under our noses. Curiously, sometime in the 90s the priorities flipped and became far more intense, putting placings above people, competition before community—and the fall-out splintered this activity to the core. Indeed, the tenor of the genre radically changed. Stress ratcheted up, fear began to permeate the air, and arts participation turned anemic. The DIYer inevitably got pushed out to the point where they literally have no place to compete now in any sort of playing field that matches their prerogatives. As such, we've been sloughing casual artists and countless would-be artists wholesale. This isn't a sustainable paradigm for the long-term vitality of this activity. It could even be argued that the entire future of this activity rests in large part on what we're going to do about it.

Alarmingly enough, however, this isn't a new issue. The call for DIY space is an old one, dating as far back as 1995 when people started to notice this toxic change. They warned us of the future we now face yet we did nothing about it back then. Will we make the same blunder now? There's a big difference between evolution and artificially propping up something that's not sustainable. And our current state isn’t natural or normal. Indeed, it needs an infusion of progressive ideas. In this, we can rethink our activity as better governed by The Five Cs: community, camaraderie, creativity, collecting, and competition. In that order. We need to poke competition back to the end of the line not because it’s a bad thing, but because it’s better when it follows rather than leads.

Being so, we’re going to look at the DIY issue in this five-part series and how it speaks to the need for a NonPro paradigm shift—and how that could save the venue from itself. Because it may be that something is finally changing, a rebuttal to the last twenty five years of this doubtful status quo. Indeed, NaMoPaiMo has nearly six hundred enthusiastic participants this year whereas NAN had a tricky time finding a chair. Could it be that "the times they are a-changing?" If so, let's learn from our past mistakes to consider how to best facilitate this needed priority flip. 

In this Part I then we’ll look at the background influences that congealed into the problems for the NonPro today. In Part II, we’ll consider how bullying has pushed NonPros around, beating them down. In Part III, we’ll pick apart some prejudices that keep the concept under thumb. In Part IV, those things that a NonPro is and isn’t will be detailed, and we’ll come to define it in a simple, straightforward way. Finally, in Part V, we’ll explore how NonPro can result in a cascade of benefits for everyone, and wrap up the series with some ending thoughts.

[Please know this discussion only speaks to CM and AR halter. Performance is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish which probably needs more consensus. OF is beyond my scope of understanding.]

The Plasma

If this activity started so inclusive, casual, and amicable, what changed it into something so exclusive, stressful, and intense? And how did this come to exclude DIYers? To tease out how this happened, let’s journey back in time to see how things compounded into a hoary web of conspiracy against them.

Now it could easily be argued that NAN was the instigator, and this isn't entirely untrue. By instituting green cards to qualify for The Big Show, despite the original intentions, what actually happened was an endorsement of quality. As such, they became something people chased after as a means to gain a level of more intense satisfaction, but also as an added value to their models. Put these two together and with so many plunging after them, and we have a cycle of addiction that amplifies more every year as the stakes rise. Intensity increases, stress levels go up, pressure surges, and what it takes to succeed becomes more and more inaccessible to more people. So even though the founders of NAMHSA had such wonderful, benign intentions, the far reaching consequences of this new quotient fundamentally changed the showing equation.

But the truth is that NAN was only a mirror for what was already happening in the showing gestalt, only serving to intensify what was already there. Indeed, there was a strong underlying drive towards more intense motivations that predicted NAN, and it would be this that would willfully disenfranchise the DIYer. How did this happen? If the environ was so low-pressure and playful, what skewed it so sharply towards high-pressure competition? 

It's actually not so hard to unwrap: low-pressure only prevails when everyone is on the same low-pressure page. That is to say it just takes one person with high-pressure intensity to tip the scale in the other direction. Think about it—the more intense they are, the more they win and so everyone has to adopt not only the same to keep pace, but even more to do better. Now we have a showing environment skewed towards competition full of participants ever more willing to jettison everything else to feed it. 

However, as intensity compounds, only a few have the means to develop the skills necessary to meet it. And that's the critical point: it's not that these few have more skill, they have more resources to develop that skill. For example, they have the rare opportunity to dedicate the necessary time towards their art to not only leap that learning curve, but to launch new ones. These became the professional artists—the Pros—folks who could spend their days fully focused on one thing: developing their artistic skills. In stark contrast, all other creatives—NonPros—had either a 9 to 5 job or full time school and so didn’t have the same opportunity for unlimited time. This served as the first functional barrier to the DIYer.

Being so, this advantage created a sharp imbalance resulting in ten serious repercussions. First, we now had two categories of creatives: the Pro and the NonPro. They were separated by their resources with one automatically disadvantaged through no fault of their own. It also means that the number of Pros was—and remains—small in comparison to the number of NonPros, and especially the number of potential NonPros. Even today, the Pros are the minority and the NonPros and their potentials are the majority.

Second, as innovation progressed at the unprecedented rate unlimited time gifts a Pro, the nature of our arts became far more sophisticated to become one that required uncommonly high intensity to create in the first place. That meant the NonPros were stonewalled since the intensity now required in this new competitive setting skewed everything towards the Pro. Quite literally, the interests of the minority were forced onto the majority.

Third, because this sophistication requires an intense investment and only a few had this advantage, supply could never come close to meeting demand, causing a practical problem with access. There was just never enough highly competitive models to go around. This had a two-fold effect. There was a sharp increase in prices—dramatically and quickly. Models that once cost $100 now cost $500 and then $1500 and more, all within a span of about ten years. This created a new financial barrier that made these pieces inaccessible to most, creating an even more unbalanced shot at success. In short, it became typically more expensive to successfully participate in showing further tipping the advantage towards professional artists. This sowed the deep seeds of fear as folks now perceived a future where they'd be pushed out of their beloved pastime simply because of the growing costs of participation—and that was the beginning of the love-hate relationship showers would have with its artists. Now—yes—it could be argued that people could just save up to buy one or two great models, and that was bandied about a lot. But this misses the point, which we’ll discuss more in Part III. Even so, relatively few people could end up with one of these limited pieces simply because they had the lucky or privileged access to get them, further disenfranchising even more people based entirely on things beyond their control. And quiet panic began to roil.

Put all this together and there began a widespread resentment showers had for other showers, or specifically “deep pocket” showers who could literally out-buy everyone else. And this wasn’t their pocket’s fault either—these people were targeted through no fault of their own as well. As a result, however, this fueled an ever frantic demand for "fairness" in how people procured these pieces, how they showed them, how they were judged, and even how many ribbons they won, laying the groundwork for the fear, animosity, and suspicion that would come to later characterize today's social setting. This was the contamination point of our collective well. And for the NonPros, in particular, this joyful activity quickly became one of collective stress, frustration, and displeasure, and over pieces that had nothing to do with their own interests in the first place. But perhaps more insidiously, all this seeded the idea that those who were once peers were now competitors not only in the ring, but for the very access to success. And antagonism grew.

Fourth, all this conspired to make the Pro the primary means to excel in this intensely competitive environment, making showers almost entirely dependent on them to participate with any measure of success. So what started as a NonPro activity now became one dominated by Pros. Subsequently, we saw the rise of the professional shower, those who had the financial means to collect their works paired with the intense motivation to develop that savvy Eye to spot the competitive pieces. And this isn’t a bad thing! There’s a lot of great synergy in this, they really enjoy it, and it’s a tremendously beneficial influence on this activity—but only if it remains a competition amongst peers. In contrast, however, this new showing paradigm that pitted Pros against NonPros now also pitted professional showers against them, too, and typically well beyond NonPro limitations.

Fifth, the collective knowledge base needed to understand the new sophistication of the arts was likewise intense as well, requiring a new layer of excessive investment. And all these changes happened so quickly! Predictably then, that knowledge base was slow to develop (and still lags behind in key areas) because it takes time to deepen, with a lot of disciplined hours of comparative study and typically in dry, technical jargon. It also takes significant financial investment to truly flesh out through workshops, books, classes, travel expenses, and time off work or school. The simple fact was then that most people just weren’t so invested either by motivation or practical means, things that are blameless in what’s supposed to be a fun, playful pastime. Yet this did mean that folks came to depend on Pros to furnish this knowledge for them as expressed in their pieces, making the venue further beholden to them. For example, a Pro knew how the Atlanto-Axial joint functioned, but the typical participant had never even heard of the Atlas and Axis bones. And because the knowledge base was now so intimidating and beyond the scope many, this actually stymied the desire for education rather than promote it. All this eroded the sentiment for NonPros even more, to the point of chastising them for not “doing enough to do better.” Literally a form of shaming, NonPros were silenced by peer pressure and deliberately cast aside and—by gum—they should be okay with that.

Sixth, this disconnection with the necessary knowledge base also meant that judging these pieces became more of a problem. Intensity simply outpaced most people’s understanding. Confusion, disillusionment, desperation, and frustration—even outrage—grew exponentially, causing the demand for "more knowledgable" judges to become quite shrill. Really though, who wants their $3500 model judged by someone who barely understands tobiano patterns or how a stifle works, right? But only a few judges had the adequate skills to do the job, leaving the rest—especially potential judges—at the mercy of an increasingly angry public. Accusations of bias, shenanigans, and ill intentions became commonplace and strident with such high-stakes. Yet the disconnection between the knowledge base of the typical participant and that required for high intensity work conspired against many who judged, and so many points of accuracy were simply invisible except to those few judges who could See them. And so judge shaming began, something still pervasive today. Smearing onto the rest of the community, of course, this affected NonPros as they were accused of simply wanting a pile of ribbons when they even mentioned a need for classes that catered more to their interests, as if they were being “selfish.” Apparently, they were supposed to miserably slog it out like everyone else, even when this morass didn’t match their sensibilities.

Seventh, as intense competition became the dominating priority, the expectation of live shows changed as well. No longer were shows allowed to be casual, friendly get-togethers, they had to be super-competitive, intense, and assuredly “fair,” and so now the resources and regulations required to put on a show today dwarf what was required in the past. Indeed, it may surprise many newcomers that live shows originally started as casual potlucks in people’s garages, living rooms, and backyards—even barns—where social interaction was the real impetus for coming together. What’s more, it was expected that at some point each shower would also become a host and judge, spreading the burden and helping more people understand how things worked from different perspectives. This encouraged cohesion and consensus simply because more people were on the same page.

So since live shows were once relatively easy and inexpensive to host, and often very local, costs were much lower, allowing more people access into them. And since these shows were depressurized, stress levels were much lower. Not so much today, right? Today investment on every level is quite high to both host and attend a show so they’re no longer the accessible, casual, friendly get-togethers they once were. Pair this with the blind fixation on intense competition and strident demand for “fairness,” as though a model’s value would bottom out without them, and we have a show environment now predisposed to be emotionally taxing. Even more, this is hardly a habitat that promotes the wellbeing or interests of the NonPro, further discouraging already marginalized folks.

Ninth, now that shows provided a validation of value and required more investment to attend—let alone do well in—they were no longer something we did together as a social event but became a kind of commodity, like a product provided to the consumer, even an entitlement as if showers were owed the shows they demanded “or else.” Quite literally, they became a means to an end either to gain access to NAN, legitimize a high expense, or inflate the value of a model. And the minute something appeals to avarice is the minute it becomes the most powerful thing in the room. So anyone proposing a tweak—for whatever reason—would soon meet with thinly veiled threats by many entrants who insisted that the activity cannot survive without their special brand of showing. No impetus to own hold their own shows or judge either, let alone even consider that another perspective was just as valid. It’s was all about their demands at the expense of anyone else. In essence, showers became so frozen with panic, desperation, and fixation, they literally couldn’t see beyond their own noses, even to the point where they were willing to throw their peers under countless buses. And so NonPros got covered in tire tracks. Yet in the past, showholders were almost revered and folks were grateful for their live shows, happy to have a show at all!

Finally, tenth, all this fear-based negativity essential stopped us from asking “what if.” Back in the day, “what if” was on so many lips and we were so open to trying new showing paradigms, new classes, new concepts, new approaches. We anticipated a need and we accommodated. We—as a community—were much more proactive and responsive. We just have to look at how quickly so much evolved between 1980 and 1995. But we’re not seeing that much, if at all today. Instead, we’re seeing entrenchment, dogma, fixation, denial. A distinct resistance if not outright hostility to “what ifs,” to new ideas and spins on a show, to how we regard all this and ourselves. People have now become inordinately unyielding and fearful—and fear makes people stop thinking, stop reconsidering, stop wondering, stop imagining, and stop innovating. Fear also throws up barriers between us, creating division, coercion, and corrosion, causing us to anticipate the worst in each other rather than embrace the good. This is incredibly toxic! Indeed, how judges are regarded nowadays is a clear symptom. The pervasive suspicion showers have of other showers is another. But we cannot evolve unless we’re willing to ask “what if.” And to do that we need a depressurized atmosphere to help people release their fear so we can all start asking this critical question. Above all, the movement for NonPro requires it so that people can shake off their fixations about it and start to reimagine the paradigm into something more inclusive.

The Meltdown

Put all this together and we have an activity defined by high-stakes, cut-throat competition rather than playfulness and community, by suspicion, confusion, and churlishness rather than fun and camaraderie, by exclusion rather than inclusion, by discouragement rather than encouragement, and by derision rather than cohesion. What’s more, in our fixation and our folly, we’ve even convinced ourselves that all this was actually necessary, that this was the “right” way to do things, that this was a normal and natural evolution. Indeed, we now believe that this exclusionary, high-intensity system is the ideal scenario for encouraging quality, innovation, fairness, and “better” competition. But if we’re really paying attention, we see this atmosphere has the exact opposite effect by discouraging the talent and the equitable playing field, chopping down the essential diversity and space, needed to amplify precisely those things. Indeed, what would today be like if we’d instituted NonPro classes twenty years ago? (Along with Novice and Youth.) And all this disintegration because we’ve decided that the minority should prevail at the expense of the majority, that competition and assurance of “best” is more important than anything else. This choice has left too many worried about their place in this, even the future of this activity. Truly, know it or not, none of this is good for anyone and especially not for the long-term viability of this activity.

Here’s the deal: competition as the #1 priority just isn’t a good fit. Instead, most people want fun as the top priority, and who can blame them? All this is supposed to be casual, social, and playful for most people—a true hobby. But that’s no longer the case, is it? It’s primary focus is now far too intense for most motivations and this paradigm’s ill-fitting points of friction and failure have been creating terrible blisters. Indeed, when the truth of the larger population is marginalized, we’re going to shed participants—and even more concerning—potential participants. How many NonPros are simply giving up? What are we catastrophically losing? And because our competitive arts have dwindled down to just the interests of a few, how many are choosing not to even participate at all? These people aren't vocal but we can better guess their numbers thanks to this year’s NaMoPaiMo. Honestly, we can no longer deny that this is a hobby for most and a profession for few. So can we really continue to allow the laser-focused interests of the minority to dictate the experience for the majority?

Think about it this way—tennis is a competition-based activity in which some are professional players but most actually just want to play for casual fun. But imagine if there was no setting to play for casual fun. Instead, everyone had to focus on cut-throat, high-stakes competition instead—that the actual hobby of playing tennis was about beating their fellow players rather than just having an enjoyable, low intensity game. Now imagine again if that participation in the pastime required great expense to even be successful. That’s exactly our problem.

The truth is that only a few want to pay Wimbledon when most folks just want to play tennis.

Conclusion to Part I

Despite what these trends have done over the last twenty five years, they’re only the byproduct, the symptom of a deeper toxin that was allowed to fester and course unchecked through our collective body. Instead, we cowered and acquiesced, perhaps even brainwashing ourselves that we were in the wrong. In doing so then, we willingly surrendered too much on the altar of competition, sacrificing the NonPro in the process.

In Part II then we’ll explore this systemic poison to help concoct an antidote—because we all deserve better.

“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.”


Friday, March 9, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 20


Welcome back to this exploration of the equine head, anatomically, biologically, and artistically. And here we are, at the end of this expansive 20–part series about it. It’s been quite a trek to be sure, but we’ve learned oodles of useful information that will inform our work in positive, provocative ways. So let’s think about a couple more issues before we wrap up…

Mulling It All Over

Being a realistic equine artist means more than simply parroting what we see with technical accuracy—perhaps it means a little bit more. Could it be then that a conscientious realistic equine artist needs to know more than simple structure? Don’t we also need to know the whys of that structure? It cannot be ignored that this additional insight gifts us with concepts relevant to our work while simultaneously providing context—and isn’t that critical for creating not only realistic work, but responsible work? In a sense then, our work speaks for this animal by representing values that can impact public sentiment. That's to say our work may go beyond mere representation and into culpability. Surely, we cannot ignore that our visuals endorse certain structures, and when it comes to the equine head, that influence is particularly important to weigh. As such, when we speak with a biological perspective of our work, we not only create a sounder basis for our creative choices, but a Voice that’s confident and clear. In other words, when we make our work an example of what it means to be an equine, do we not more completely express the fullness of his experience? There’s much more to equine realism than our reality—isn’t his reality just as important?

And that reality is rich and complex. Indeed, the equine has a curious and convoluted story to tell, full of tangents, dead ends, and an ultimate near–miss with oblivion—how unlikely he is! How fortunate we are he beat the odds—55 million years is a long time to play biological roulette and keep winning! It’s worth it then to consider what animal we’d sculpting if not for the happy chances that created the horse. He could so easily have disappeared altogether, or ended up with an entirely different anatomical blueprint, then what would we be sculpting? He’s here in his peculiar way purely thanks to serendipity, so we are blessed, aren’t we? That something so beautiful and gracious could have been produced by serendipity makes the fortuitousness of his presence all the more profound. It’s inspiring to remember that we’re lucky to have him around as his Fate could have been quite different. So maybe we can think of our work as both a celebration as well as an expression of our thankfulness for the existence of this splendid creature. 

And that being said, no where else on his body is this evolutionary story expressed so clearly than in his head, its every feature a direct result of nature’s design, perfectly built for his ecological niche. To understand its backstory and functions then lends a deeper appreciation of this animal, giving greater meaning to our efforts. If we can keep this close to heart as we work, we’ll come to better understand what it means to be a horse and that can inform our work in wonderful ways we may not anticipate. So perhaps being a realistic equine artist also means being an educator of sorts who helps others come to appreciate this beast on deeper levels deeper. The reality of this animal is far more than structure alone, and even his head embodies a story far more complicated than our value judgements. Therefore, only when we fully grasp this idea do we more fully mature as a realistic equine artist. Reconsidering it all, it's an incomplete understanding just copies what’s seen without due consideration of what we’re duplicating. To grasp the evolutionary history of his head then is to create with more validity and conscientiousness, and that speaks well of our endeavors.

To that end, it’s encouraged to continue with proactive research since there’s even more to the equine head than discussed in this series. Our work also benefits from our sensitivity for individual variation since each head is as singular and distinct as ours—no two heads are alike! And not only in terms of bony structure, but also fleshy structure since squishy bits can have varied manifestations between individuals, too. We have countless variations to play with, and what wonderful possibilities await us! Undoubtedly, remaining open–minded and resistant to formula will serve us well when it comes to sculpting the equine head, and that motivates us to do the same for the rest of his body. In this way, sculpting his head can teach us lessons that apply to our inspirations and skill sets, further expanding the potential of our efforts.

Better grasping the structure of his head not only makes our work more realistic, but more authentic, too. Indeed, we cannot truly appreciate its nature as related to a specific breed without also recognizing the special history of that breed that contributed to the shape of his head. This means our work not only improves when it comes to breed type, but helps to celebrate the particular history of a breed more faithfully, and that can have a positive influence on how our work is received. When we understand both the biological history not just of the genus, but also of a particular breed, even of a specific individual, that authority makes our work all the more genuine and our creative choices all the more reliable. We cannot deny that breed type factors heavily into our priorities, and what better way to pay homage to it than to fathom the whys of that novel structure?

What’s more, getting the head right on our sculptures is important for the appreciation of our work. It’s the first thing people gravitate towards and it’s the one thing that most impacts their response to it. That’s because it embodies not just the biological niche of the animal, but also his breed, gender, and age, and even more, his spirit and expression. Undoubtedly, if its structure is flawed, not only will our illusion be compromised, but its aesthetic appeal will be as well. Truly, there are few ways to turn people off than an incorrectly sculpted head. And since the head itself is so difficult to get right, getting it right speaks well of our talents—the better our heads, the better our standing. Likewise, if our sculpted heads are correct, people learn to better trust the totality of our work, too. Let's face it, if we can sculpt a convincing, accurate head, it’s likely the rest of the anatomical structures we sculpt are correct, too. One reaffirms the other. In addition to all this, we gain a pronounced advantage if our heads are more technically factual. Being so difficult to sculpt, many artists make errors so if we can avoid them, we’ve gained a measurable upper hand. To these ends, it certainly pays to take extra care when sculpting the head since it has so many implications for the rest of our work and even our standing in the field of equine realism. 


The equine head is truly a marvel of biological engineering and to understand it more thoroughly helps us not only to improve our work, but to also nurture a new appreciation of just how amazing the equine actually is. This creature has been shaped by nature with an economy of structure, yet look how beautiful pure function turned out! The horse is easily one of the loveliest creatures alive, yet this is accomplished by making so much of so little.

Hopefully this series has impressed just how truly important and wondrous is the equine head. To think that such a relatively small part of his body could be so pivotal yet so economical, beautiful, expressive, and capable of so much, all simultaneously, is extraordinary. How many other animals have such a boast? And as artists, we can highlight this novel combination to help others appreciate the biological marvel that is the horse, too.

And the good news is that as we progress in our work, sculpting the horse’s head can become easier, something not quite so daunting to sculpt. If we’re feeling a little frustrated or intimidated then—don’t worry. We’ve all been there! Each of us are a bit daunted each time we sculpt one since so much rests on its successful recreation. Just keep at it though—keep practicing! We’ll make mistakes, but that’s how we learn, right? If we use the right techniques, our job is made easier, and if our intentions are informed, we’re on the right track. And if we get stuck, there are always fixes. Never forget that what we create we can fix! We also have a plethora of options for bony and fleshy expression of his head—each head is unique so we’ll never get bored. To that end, stay curious to stay a conscientious, creative explorer, the most important habit we could nurture. The horse is an exquisite example of evolution, and his head is a perfect illustration of his biological story, so have fun exploring this most curious, quirky feature of this most marvelous animal! Those lucky stars were very good to us since now we get to honor this lovely creature in this splendid form! Until next time then…stay a proactive learner to stay ahead of the pack!

“An attitude of gratitude brings great things.” ~ Yogi Bhajan


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AN ATLAS OF ANIMAL ANATOMY FOR ARTISTS, W. Ellenberger, H. Dittrich and H. Baum. 1956.  Dover Publications, Inc., 180 Varick St., NY NY 10014. ISBN: 0-486-200082-5.
COLOR ATLAS OF VETERINARY ANATOMY: THE HORSE, Raymond R. Ashdown and Stanley H. Done. 1987. J.B. Lippincott Co., East Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA  19105. ISBN: 0-397-58304-4.
THE EQUUS ILLUSTRATED HANDBOOK OF EQUINE ANATOMY, Ronald J. Riegal, DVM and Susan E. Hakola, BS, RN, CMI, 2006. PRIMEDIA Equine Network/EQUUS magazine, 656 Quince Orchard, Road, #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. To order online, go to: ISBN-13: 978-1-929164-33-2
HORSE ANATOMY: A Pictoral Approach to Equine Structure, 2000 2nd Edition, Peter Goody, J.A. Allen, an imprint of Robert Hale Ltd., Clerkenwell House, 47-47 Clerenwell Green, London EC1R 0HT. ISBN: 0-85131-769-3.
THE TEETH OF THE HORSE: Horse Health and Care Series, #1, Caballus Publishers Box 132 East Lansing, Michigan 48823, 1972. ISBN: 0-912830-02-6. 
THE ARTIST’S GUIDE TO ANIMAL ANATOMY: AN ILLUSTRATED REFERENCE FOR DRAWING ANIMALS, Gottfried Bammes. 1994. English translation. Chartwell Books Inc., A Division of Book Sales, Inc., 114 Northfield Ave., Raritan Center, Edison, NJ 08818. ISBN: 0-7858-0055-7.
THE EXTERIOR OF THE HORSE, Armand Goubaux and Gustave Barrier, 1892, 1904 2nd Edition, translated by Simon J.J. Harger, V.M.D., J.B. Lippencott Company, London, 5 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.
THE COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO EQUINE VETERINARY MEDICINE, Barb Crabbe, DVM, 2007, Sterling Publishing, Co., Inc., 387 Park Avenue South, NY, NY 10016. ISBN: 978-1-4027-1053-7 or 1-4027-1053-4.
HORSE ANATOMY - ILLUSTRATED, Robert F. Way, VMD, MS, 1973, Dreenan Press Ltd., Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520. ISBN: 0-88376-007-X.
MODELING AND SCULPTING ANIMALS, Edouard Lanteri. 1985. Dover Publications, Inc., 31 East 2nd St., Mineola, NY 11501. ISBN: 0-486-25007-5.
THE COLORING ATLAS OF HORSE ANATOMY, Robert A. Kainer and Thomas O. McCracken. 1994. Alpine Publications, Inc., PO Box 7027, Loveland, CO  80537. (303) 667-2017. ISBN: 0-931866-69-3.
HORSE STRUCTURE AND MOVEMENT, Smythe, Goody and Peter Gray. 3rd Edition 1993. J.A. Allen and Company, Ltd., 1, Lower Grosvenor Place, Buckingham Palance Rd., London, SW1W 0EL. ISBN: 0-85131-547-X.
EQUINE PHOTOS AND DRAWINGS FOR CONFORMATION AND ANATOMY, Equine Research Inc., PO Box 535547, Grand Prarie, TX  75053. ISBN: 0-935842-13-6.
VETERINARY NOTES FOR HORSE OWNERS, Captain M. Horace Hayes F.R.C.V.S., 17th Edition 1987, Simon and Schuster, Rockefeller Center, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020. ISBN: 0-671-76561-2. 
ANATOMY OF THE HORSE: Horse Health and Care Series, #6, Caballus Publishers Box 132 East Lansing, Michigan 48823, 1972. ISBN: 0-912830-07-7.
THE EQUUS ILLUSTRATED HANDBOOK OF EQUINE ANATOMY: The Musculoskeletal System -- Anatomy of Movement and Locomotion, Ronald J. Riegal, DVM and Susan E. Hakola, BS, RN, CMI, 2006. PRIMEDIA Equine Network/EQUUS magazine, 656 Quince Orchard, Road, #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. To order online, go to: ISBN-13: 978-1-929164-33-2.
THE EQUUS ILLUSTRATED HANDBOOK OF EQUINE ANATOMY: Volumn Two -- Internal Medicine, Systems, Skin & Eye Anatomy, Ronald J. Riegal, DVM and Susan E. Hakola, BS, RN, CMI, 2007. PRIMEDIA Equine Network/EQUUS magazine, 656 Quince Orchard, Road, #600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. To order online, go to: ISBN-978-1-929164-39-4.
HORSEMAN’S VETERINARY ENCLYCLOPEDIA, revised and updated, Will. A Hadden III, DVM, 2005, Equine Research, Inc., The Lyon’s Press, Guilford, Connecticut. ISBN: 1-59228-527-9.
THE HORSE: ITS ACTION AND ANATOMY, Lowes Dalbiac Luard. 1996. J.A. Allen and Co. Ltd, 1 Lower Grosvenor Place, London SW1W 0EL. ISBN: 0-85131-645-X.
CLINICAL ANATOMY & PHYSIOLOGY FOR VETERINARY TECHNICIANS, Thomas Colville and Joanna M. Bassert, 2002, Mosby, Inc., 11830 Westline Industrial Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63146. ISBN: 978-0-323-00819-8 or 0-323-00819-4.
PRINCIPLES OF VETERINARY SCIENCE, Frederick Brown Hadley. 3rd Edition 1946. W.B. Saunders Co., Philadephia.
PRINCIPLES OF CONFORMATION ANALYSIS - VOL. 1 & 3, Deb Bennett. 1992. Fleet Street Publishing Corp., 656 Quince Orchard Rd., Gaithersburg, MD  20878. Available from Equine Studies Institute, PO Box 411, Livingston, CA 95334. For more information:
FUNCTIONAL ANATOMY (Threshold Picture Guide #43), Chris Colles, Bvet Med, PhD, MRCVS, Kenilworth Press Limited, Addintgon, Buckingham MK18 2JR. ISBN: 1-872119-19-0.
UNDERSTANDING THE EQUINE EYE, Michael A. Ball, DVM, 1999, The Blood-Horse, Inc., Box 4038, Lexington, KY  50544-4038. ISBN: 1-58150-032-7.
THE TOPOGRAPHICAL ANATOMY OF THE HEAD AND NECK OF THE HORSE, O. Charnock, Bradley. 1923. The Edinburgh Veterinary Series. W. Green & Son Limited.
ATLAS OF CLINICAL IMAGING AND ANATOMY OF THE EQUINE HEAD, Larry Kimberlin, Alex our Linden, Lynn Ruoff. 2017. LCCN: 2016023788.
ANATOMY OF THE HORSE: An Illustrated Text, Professor Klaus-Dieter Budras, Professor em. W.O. Sack and Sabine Rock, 2001 3rd Edition, Deutsche Bibliothek, Frankfurt, Germany. ISBN: 3877066208.
THE NATURE OF HORSES: EXPLORING EQUINE EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE AND BEHAVIOR, Stephen Budiansky. 1997. The Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY NY 10020. ISBN: 0-684-82768-9.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HORSES: HOW THEY RUN, SEE AND THINK, Stephen Budiansky, 2000. Henry Holt and Company, 115 West 18th Street, NY NY 10011. ISBN: 0-8050-6054-5.
ILLUSTRATED HORSEWATCHING, Desmond Morris, 1997. Knickerbocker Press, 276 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY  10001. ISBN:1-57715-094-5.
A PRACTICAL FIELD GUIDE FOR HORSE BEHAVIOR: THE EQUID ETHOGRAM, Sue McDonnell, Ph.D., 2003, The Blood-Horse, Inc., National Book Network, 4720-A Boston Way, Lanham, MD 20706. ISBN: 1-58150-090-4.
THE BIRDIE BOOK, Deb Bennet, PhD. 2001. Equine Studies Institute, PO Box 411, Livingston, CA 95334. On CD only. For more information:
CONQUERORS: THE ROOTS OF NEW WORLD HORSEMANSHIP, Deb Bennet, Ph.D, 1998. Amigo Publications, Inc., 1510 Dove Meadow Road, Solvang, CA  93463. ISBN: 0-9658533-0-6.
FOSSIL HORSES: SYSTEMATICS, PALEOBIOLOGY AND EVOLUTION OF THE FAMILY EQUIDAE, Bruce J. MacFadden, 1992. Cambridge University Press, 40 West 20th Street, NY NY 10011-4211. ISBN (paperback): 0-521-47708-5.
THE SIZE OF EYES, Christine Barakat, Equus #288.
WHAT KIND OF AN ANIMAL IS A HORSE?, Dr. Deb Bennet, Equus #116.
DRINKERS OF THE WIND, Dr. Deb Bennet, Equus #179.

Magazines and Newsletters
THE INNER HORSEMAN, Equine Studies Institute


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Heads Above The Rest!; Exploring The Science and Art Of The Equine Head for Sculpting: Part 19


Hi there! Here we are again in this 20–part series exploring the equine head from anatomical, evolutionary, and artistic perspectives. We’ve covered a slew of ideas so far and have come full circle to biological matters, curious things to ponder about this magnificent animal. For instance, it may seem like overkill to have considered the equine head in such detail, but we should come to understand that every tiny feature is there in a specific configuration for a biological reason. Nothing is superfluous about the equine head, nothing is specious—everything is there for a critical purpose. So let’s wrap up this examination with some additional ideas to ponder…


Equidæ enjoyed a long run and developed into a diverse and numerous genus, a real stand–out in the grand scheme of evolution. Few families are as lushly populated as this one! Equidæ also enjoyed a relative goodly degree of plasticity and experimentation with diversity. For example, what were once considered different prehistoric species may actually have been natural variation within a single species much like how a Clydesdale and Arabian are both Equus caballus. That said, the modern horse has relatively little plasticity insofar as strong alterations to phenotype such as that of the dog since his structure is so specialized by his evolutionary biology. Indeed, there’s relatively little fudge–factor in his blueprint in order for him to remain viable. What's more, people like to use the horse for sport or recreation, and they're expensive to keep further dampening the profound extremes we see in the dog such as with the bulldog or pug. For example, the Miniature Horse is still built closer to a typical horse than a pomeranian is to a wolf.

Even so, no lineage is invincible when it comes to extinction. The fossil record tells the tale: Originally the Perissodactyla were the most plentiful and diverse hooved animals on the planet, filling a multitude of niches and exploding into a dizzying array of forms. Then the evolution of Artiodactyla boomed to replace the Perissodactyla as the dominant hooved animal. Even today the Artiodactyla are more plentiful than the Perissodactyla, with most wild equids rare today or facing extinction such as many asses, hemonids, many zebras, and the Takh. Ultimately, it’s believed that climate change, and perhaps also disease and human predation, drove Equidæ to extinction in North America, and nearly so in Eurasia. Today, only sixteen (or seventeen if we count the Takh as a separate species) of Perissodactyla exist: Equidæ (seven living species, all of which are believed to have diverged from a common ancestor about 4-5 million years ago), Rhinocerotidæ, (five living species), and Tapiridæ (four living species). Now compare that to the estimated 172 existing species of Artiodactyls! 

How poignant that of the multitudes of animals thought to be descended from Hyracotherium, so few have survived to the present day that Perissodactyla is considered to have one of the highest extinction rates among mammals. Truly, to think we almost lost the horse completely is a sobering reminder. In fact, the species was in such peril that, quite possibly, he might very well have gone extinct if not for domestication. Yet even in this respect, Equidæ is unique among domestic animals, not only having a long continuous evolutionary history before domestication, but also because Equus caballus was essentially pre–formed before domestication unlike most other domestic animals which became shaped by later breeding criteria. Not the horse, though—he came “as is” for the most part. Even today, he’s still very much basically the same as when he was first domesticated, relatively speaking. That’s to say, there’s a huge change between a wolf and a chihuahua, but not so much between modern Equus and those who were first domesticated. Indeed, the species can turn feral very quickly and successfully, still being so close to the wild. Yet the animal also has an unprecedented degree of genetic diversity for a domestic animal, something quite unusual, suggesting that domestication took place over a long time deriving from many herds over wide regional areas. This also suggests that the genus as a whole was relatively tameable and trainable, hallmarks of the species even today.

We also should remember that the equine is utterly unique in the animal kingdom. This is a large herbivore with a big sloshing gut who can run at high speed for long distances with uncommon agility and nimbleness. He's also intelligent, expressive, brave, friendly, and trainable, and is capable of trust and willingness. No other in the entire animal kingdom can come anywhere close to those combined traits and abilities. He's also very old! When we look at a horse, we're looking at a 55 million year old creature. And to think how this animal is so taken for granted in everyday life! There's so much to appreciate about this animal, so much to celebrate.

What Does It All Mean?

So what’s the point of all this for gosh sakes? Why discuss the head in such depth? Is all this backstory really that important for us to know? How is knowing any of this useful for actually sculpting a head? Is it really that relevant to art? 


His biological history gifts us with perspective, and perspective is the foundation of an informed creative philosophy. So the question really is—why would we need such perspective?

For many reasons, actually. For starters, this animal is deeply entrenched in domestication’s framework, bringing with it all the problematic ideas that come with it. As artists working within realism then, the influences of domestication are never far from our decisions. They’ll impact the saleability of our work, our reputations, and how well our work is regarded in direct, powerful ways. So if we’re unable to objectively weigh those influences, not only do we risk validating visuals that may run counter to our convictions, but we lose control of how we want to frame our work, of our Voice. Indeed, to accept arbitrary ideals of perfection is a risky proposition at best, especially when we don’t understand their biological context. Yet we have a unique opportunity—we can circumvent these distractions to portray our subject in deeper ways that celebrate his evolutionary past and “biologic.” Truly, only when we gain perspective do we become empowered, allowing us to defend our work from a biological basis. And, ultimately, being informed lets us delve deeper into our own artistic motivations, giving us introspective moments that renew our commitment to this noble creature. It becomes rewarding, too, to design our sculpted heads in ways that are confident and factually–based since we know we’re doing right by this animal, and that adds a deeper dimension to our creative experience. Speaking of which, only recently has science started unlocking objective, empirical data regarding this animal. As such, it’s alarming just how much conventional notions were alarmingly wrong, calling into question many of the ideals from years past to present day. Unless we have perspective then, we’re simply going to parrot these outmoded ideas and compromise the credibility of our work. 

The story of his head also reveals that the horse is far more than our own capricious whims, especially when it comes our art. As such, regarding his cranial blueprint as engineered by nature as nonnegotiable parameters is a smart tactic. The thing is, our notions about a head’s beauty may not actually synch with biological limitations and, therefore, don’t promote his well–being. Only being grounded in cranial biology teases out what’s harmful because without an evolutionary perspective, it’s alarmingly easy to be seduced by rhetoric which is pervasive and pressuring, especially when it comes to art. Ultimately then, perspective gives us the ability to finally accept that equine head structure isn’t a matter of our taste, but one first of function.

Perspective also deepens our appreciation for this amazing animal by illustrating just how unlikely is the horse. This implausible and archaic animal is a living relic from the ancient past, representing a direct line 55 million years old. Even more, he’s just one surviving remnant of Perissodactyla and the last living genus of a previously enormous and diverse lineage now gone. And this long journey could have ended quite differently—we have Equus today thanks purely to chance! He’s a living time capsule, a priceless treasure from the past, and we only have temporary guardianship of this animal far older and more complete than us.

That in mind, we also shouldn’t forget that evolution is an on–going process. Equus hopefully has countless millennia ahead of him, bringing into question many modern standards that appear to ignore biological reality, placing this precious Perissodactyla lineage in a precarious position. It’s exactly here where the greatest caveats lurk for artists since the equine head is too often targeted for “improvement” based on aesthetics or fashion. Yet the equine head is something produced by millions of years of environmental pressures, honed to a pinnacle of mechanical efficiency—and long before our mercurial notions of beauty came to be. So stepping back to view it from an evolutionary standpoint lets us see the entirely of his biological history in all its complex glory. Undeniably, the horse’s head is an ancient, unique prize from prehistory, singular in all the animal kingdom. Splendidly perfected by nature, it’s the epitome of biological grace and economy. It’s beautiful exactly the way it was produced by evolution—why mess with perfection? Our question then becomes whether or not we should advocate for his biologic or instead for prevailing fads? 

In turn, we should recognize that many breeds have a great deal of pressure to conform to an ideal of head type. Yet these ideals are often distorted by the typical human sentiment of “more is better,” of exaggeration as improvement, and only in art do these trends become unnaturally amplified. Sometimes, too, head type is influenced by off–type fashion such as Arabian–like heads on Quarter Horses or Iberians, or Saddlebred–like heads on Morgans. What do we want to validate in our work? That’s an important issue to ponder because it compels us to keep learning, questioning, and reevaluating. In fact, sculpting accurate, accountable heads encourages us to remain continual learners, to keep forging ahead with our proactive education, and that benefits the rest of our efforts in untold, unpredictable ways. When we grasp that we’re beholden to something bigger when we sculpt our heads, we also gain more humility and receptiveness, and that endows our efforts with more profundity.

Nonetheless, the answers to these issues are up to us. We cannot deny that if we weight biological function over aesthetics, or promote foundation archetypes we may be going against the grain, and that impacts how our work is received. Are we willing to accept that? Yet it can also be said we can be advocates for our subject, promoting those features that lend themselves to his wellbeing and functional authenticity of breed type. And in order to defend our work, biological and historical context gives us a rock to stand on, a means to more objectively justify our creative choices. This lends more authority to our work, and who can argue with that? As “keepers of the grail,” we can champion this animal against the continual onslaught of misinformation and mercurial fads, some of which are spurious and deleterious. We can speak for something that cannot defend itself, and speak in a language that’s clear and immune to that which is fickle, impulsive, or wayward. So what do we want to say with our work? It’s a question worth considering.

Conclusion To Part 19

Extinction is a part of life, integral to the system of natural experimentation and pruning of the great tree of life. And lucky for us, this genus has survived eons of circumstantial culling to become the exquisite example of bioengineering he is today. How fortunate we are to be able to celebrate this ancient creature!

Our work has several layers of meaning to us, and as we work we may perhaps discover more. And shouldn’t biological understanding be one of them? When we grasp the full importance of his biological history we can truly shape our clay in ways that pay homage to this wondrous creature, realistically and responsibly. More still, we gain insights to create with more technical accuracy, improving the realism of our work. Truly, knowing the whys of his structure means we’re even more motivated to get things right, and that spurs progress. Absolutely, part of being a good equine artist means being both good researchers and good learners, and part of that entails the whys of his anatomy. We can take nothing for granted. So until next time…come up to speed with his evolution for a deeper understanding of his course today!

“You evolve not by seeking to go elsewhere but by paying attention to, and embracing, what’s in front of you.” 
~ Anonymous

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