I really enjoy creating horse sculptures. Unlike many of my subjects, I can touch and feel their bodies which helps to work out their anatomy. Most sculptors that study animals will be familiar with Stubb’s wonderful equine anatomy illustrations. He drew them from life in his barn, where he dissected horse carcasses to examine the anatomy in minute detail. His book The Anatomy of the Horse should be on every animal sculptor’s shelf.
Man’s partnership with the horse is as old as time. We have always depicted it in our art. Horses feature in the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens and the relief of the Apadana at Persepolis. Many of the treasures and antiquities in the British Museum and the Louvre also show this relationship. The image of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria astride his horse is a familiar one. His story is the subject of a major exhibition currently on at the British Museum. I wanted to reflect the ancient significance of the horse in our history and civilisation when I made Primitive Horse Head 2017.
There is a wide variety of equine breeds, each with unique traits and best suited to different uses. When I was researching my Goodman’s Fields Horses I was very interested to look at the history of breeds. It was important to the concept that I chose six horses that would have been in a livery stable in London.
I chose an Andalusian, a proud and defiant war horse, the epitome of strength. I wanted an Arab stallion with its distinctive concave profile, and a European warmblood mare. The Irish Cob was a general workhorse so it seemed a logical choice. I also wanted to sculpt Thoroughbred and a Shire-cross. I sculpted all the breeds after a great deal of research and observation, visiting various locations and stables to find the right model with the look I wanted to achieve. During visits for observation, I took hundreds of photos and videos, watched them out on the gallops and in the exercise yard. The horses I studied provided inspiration for my sculptures, but the Goodmans Fields Horses are not actual portraits. They are my impressions of horses in motion, inspired by the fantastic examples of breeds that I met.
For example, a horse called Commando was one of my models. He served in the Blues and Royals regiment of the Household Cavalry and took part in both the Golden and Diamond Jubilee parades as well as the Royal Wedding in 2011. He was used as the model for War Horse and retired to The Horse Trust in 2012. I used him as inspiration for my Goodman’s Mare!
When I am sculpting, I nearly always attach a narrative to the piece I am working on. For the Goodmans Fields Horses, I envisioned a stable door left open and the horses escape to run free. At the same time, I kept seeing in my head the image of a single horse’s head. I wanted to capture that essence of strength and power and equine dignity. Horse Head is the result and I hope I’ve captured the animal’s spirit.
The story behind Horse Loose Hunter is self-evident. I have depicted the horse saddled up but without his rider, jumping with his forelegs tucked up as if over a high fence. An image we have all seen many times!
My Shire Horse was inspired by seeing the heavy horse pull the dray from Hook Norton Breweries along the road past my studio to a pub in a nearby village. Once the backbone of Britain, I wanted to celebrate the fact that people are still using shire horses in the traditional way here in Oxfordshire. They are such strong, powerful animals, and what better way to have your beer delivered!
I was commissioned to create a Household Cavalry Charger bearing the Queen’s Standard. It was a special piece to mark the presentation of new colours on Horse Guards Parade. Researching it was a great experience. It is not often you get the chance to photograph a Cavalry Charger in full charge directly at you!
I also enjoyed researching my Polo Pony. Watching the horses in action during polo matches was quite something. They are so agile and quick, able to turn in such a tight circle and utterly fearless in the melee. They have to be in peak physical condition to perform at full-tilt for the duration of a chukka.
One of my favourite experiences working with horses was in Colorado when I was younger. I helped to herd 400 Hereford cattle up to the summer meadows, on horseback. It was just like being a cowboy and gave me the chance to study the Western quarter horse. The cowboy muster reminded me of the work of Frederic Remington.
Receiving the Marsh award for Excellence in Public Monuments and Fountains in 2016 was overwhelming. Since then, my Andalusian Stallion has toured stately homes and prominent locations across the country. He has been on display at Chatsworth House, Blenheim Palace, the Mall, the National Trust Gardens at Stowe and Royal Ascot. Horses are a subject I will return to again and again. I will always want to celebrate man’s relationship with this intelligent loyal animal in my art.