Stop Painting on Horses for Art Therapy

miniature horses

Target: Robin Saldivar, Founder of The Ranch of Opportunity

Goal: Replace “horse painting” with another form of art therapy that doesn’t objectify animals.

There is no denying the therapeutic power of art and animals. Countless people have found comfort, healing, and peace by participating in art therapy, which allows patients to express themselves by using an art medium such as painting, drawing, or sculpting. Animal assisted therapy, or AAT, has also been shown to improve people’s social skills and emotional problems. It seems to make sense, then, to combine art therapy and AAT. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to accomplish this. The Ranch of Opportunity’s choice to allow girls to paint horses is one of the wrong ways.

The Ranch of Opportunity is a place of healing for girls and young women who have been traumatized by sexual violence, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy. Many of these girls face severe emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems because of what they’ve been through. The Ranch’s goal of helping troubled girls is undoubtedly a compassionate and noble one, but that does not justify its horse painting therapy. There is certainly nothing wrong with using painting as a form of therapy, but using an animal as a canvas does not send the right message to patients.

There are many benefits to be reaped from spending time with a gentle, affectionate animal, but many of those benefits are lost when the animal is being treated as an object. The Ranch of Opportunity is a respectable program, but it is time that its director consider a way to utilize art and animal therapy without using animals in this way. Animal therapy should be used in a way that promotes a mutually beneficial relationship between the patient and the animal, rather than focusing solely on the patient’s need for self-expression.

Respectfully ask the Ranch of Opportunity to end its horse painting program and to instead incorporate art therapy and animal-assisted therapy in a way that does not objectify animals.


Dear Ms. Saldivar,

The work that you accomplish at the Ranch of Opportunity is undoubtedly important and selfless. I respect your commitment to helping girls find peace and healing after experiencing traumatic life events. However, I was concerned to hear about your horse painting program. While I understand that the paint used does not pose a threat to the horses’ health, I am afraid that teaching girls to use an animal as a canvas sends the wrong message about how animals should be treated.

Art and animals certainly have powerful healing capabilities. I am not suggesting that the Ranch of Opportunity end the use of these forms of therapy altogether. I only respectfully ask that you consider ending the horse painting program, and replace it with more appropriate forms of these types of therapy. The girls at your facility should have access to the benefits of creating art and spending time with animals without being taught that it’s acceptable to use an animal as an object.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Josie Martin Mendoza

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  1. Renate Ingelsheim says:

    YOU MUST paint on walls or paper !!!!

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