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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    I have worked with these gentle, intelligent sentient beings for many years. To suggest that they are not capable of loving us humans enough to allow us to touch them in a loving manner is not within the scope of my experience. Horses have the ability to be marvelous therapy conduits. My second horse showed an amazing ability to sympathize with me while I was on crutches after a serious auto accident as a teenager. He was so gentle with me and helped me so much.Hearing him whinny and watching him run to me as I called his name was better than all the medicine in the world….. Many of my horses showed similiar empathy……. There are also instances of miniature ponies being trained as guides for the blind……. If the medium used is non-toxic, and the horse is willing to give / accept love, there is little reason to forbid that loving touch.

    • First of all, the horses deserve to be, and should be, respected as a living, feeling being and not be treated as an inanimate object!
      Secondly, I don’t think giving a person (that may have been treated as an “object” themselves and have severe emotional trauma) that it is acceptable to treat a living being that way is a good idea.
      They would benefit far more by developing a mutual, trusting relationship with the horses than “using” them as a canvas.

  2. Linda Barnett says:

    It is truly great that girls and women benefit from art therapy at The Ranch of Opportunity, but I do not accept the fact that horses are used as canvases. Whilst I consider that art therapy is beneficial to many, it is not for horses to be used in this way. Yes, animals are quite therapeutic but they are not objects.

    • Kae Blecha, OTR says:

      Agree with your thoughtful comment. This is a bit of an invasion of the horse’s personal space, and it may be sending a confusing message to a young girl who has been sexually abused.

  3. Gamin Davis says:

    A better way to combine the horses and art therapy is to let the horses serve as models while the girls draw or paint *portraits* of them, not on the horses themselves. Afterwards, they could have a period of interaction with the horse, petting, maybe helping to feed and give it water. Paint contains chemicals that are toxic and harmful to animals’ skin, not to mention the fact that covering it with paint makes it impossible for the skin to “breathe”. Anybody who wants to “paint on a horse” should get a horse *statue* or figurine and let the girls go to town on *that*. (A local business has a life-size horse statue outside that they regularly paint, changing the design for each season.) THOSE would be examples of the proper way to combine the two types of therapy.

  4. Malcolm Booth says:

    A horse is not a canvas. Let the girls spend time with horses, help care for them, groom them and muck out the paddocks. Just being in their presence will be therapeutic and the horses get to be horses.

  5. Took a moment to look into this to know more, what I seen is simple . . . The horses were not exactly painted like carnival face paint, just written all over like crappy graffiti tagging, that is not art . . . so signed . . . Maybe they should just paint pictures of horses instead?

  6. Don’t you have paper to paint on?

  7. Michelle b says:

    They use Non toxic paint. Find something else to fight for….

  8. Maria Mahyorova says:


  9. Rosslyn Osborne says:

    From what I saw and read, only one horse was shown to have his mane striped with pink, blue and yellow, and some dots and a few squiggles on his body.
    No mention of this being done daily though?

    There was much about all the other beautiful creativity in all spectrum’s of art, in all mediums (paper & canvas) to cooking, cake decorating, many other animals there as well?
    I don’t think I’ll sign as yet, as there just doesn’t seem to be any abuse to the horses. Respect was loving shown to each of the horses on a daily basis.

  10. Lisa Zarafonetis Lisa Zarafonetis says:

    Signed & Shared❗️😠

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