Stop Painting on Horses for Art Therapy

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. Sara Smith says:

    Only in America! What moron thought this was a good idea? I personally don’t give a toss about abused girls finding “peace and healing” if they’re doing it at the expense of some animal! How did people find peace and healing before idiotic ideas like this became commonplace?

  2. Vicky Cole says:

    I truly believe that this enterprise is a noble and compassionate one to help girls who have been traumatized and abused by adults, however I also think that it is not necessary to use horses to paint on, why not feel their gentle spirit in other ways and learn to interact with them as sentient beings? I wish the enterprise well and hope that anyone who hurt these girls will be punished and unable to do so again, the criminals should be harshly treated not the horses

  3. horses are not canvases.

  4. Misty Standerfer says:

    Im Sure they use non toxic paints and The horses get all kinds of attention and goodies. You’re soo worried about them being painted on. Look up Kill pens and auctions. THeres a cause for action. Those horses need help they need someone to speak up for them! These horses that are getting painted on, which probably surmounts to being brushed and groomed, Have a damn good life I also feel they would rather be painted on that ridden any day. SMH.


  6. Had to search it on google. This is so ridiculous.

  7. Why not just make them have fun together? Let the girls take care of them, walk them, make the girls learn that animals are living things – not objects – and they have needs, and you can love them and let them love you.


    Stop & pursue this deformity – instantly!

  9. With all the horse slaughter and animal abuse out there i think this is a little bit much. These horses are probebly taken very good care of. And as long as the are using a non toxic paint and being loved why not. Its no different than all the stuff they use on horses to go in the show rings and parades and stuff

  10. Let them help groom the horses. It’s soothing to both humans and horses. Stop poisoning the horses with paints.

  11. It’s not art therapy unless there is a registered art therapist providing the service. Also, there are paints that are both nontoxic and nourishing to the skin, made specifically for horses. That being said, we don’t have to paint the horses; I agree there are countless other ways to interact and work with metaphor with the horses.
    Source: I am a trained art therapist and member of EAGALA.

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