Updated: Jul 4
Flutterby gazes at his own Soul Essence portrait by Kim McElroy
Read “Living Art” Part 1 here
I have discovered over the years that horses respond to photographs, and not only do they focus their attention on pictures, but they respond even more to art, especially their own portrait. This is one of the most profound ways I began to realize sentience in horses.
Once when I was talking with an animal communicator by phone, she was interpreting a communication from my mare Meadow. The communicator suggested I show a photograph to my horse of another horse we were discussing. I held the photo in front of Meadow and she put her nose on it. She didn’t look at it as much as touch it with her nose. The communicator told me “she is sensing the vibration of it, rather than seeing it with her eyes”. It was truly remarkable. From then on whenever I am able I show images to my horses, and I suggest to my portrait clients that whenever possible they do the same.
“Gateway to Heaven” Four Miniature Horse brothers by Kim McElroy
I shared this with my client Dottie who had commissioned me to paint her four miniature horses. The four brothers looked so much alike that I had a hard time telling them apart until I saw them run at liberty. Then their personalities really emerged. The portrait was called “Gateway to Heaven”. Dottie had a full size laminated poster of the portrait made to hang in her barn, and on a whim one day, she followed my suggestion to show the portrait to her horses. She had a regimented grooming routine where she let each horse out of their stall, groomed him, and then let him go out of the barn at liberty into the paddock. Each horse, in his turn, would walk past the portrait, stop, and touch his nose to his own image in the portrait! It was uncanny. I wish I’d been there!
“Avenger” by Kim McElroy
One of the earliest portraits I created was in 1988 of a beautiful Arabian stallion named Avenger. That was just he beginning of a long history we would share. His portrait became one of the most famous of my career, and years later led to him being rescued by his human soulmate, Carol Joy.
Avenger and his daughter Breezy
The last time I was able to visit Avenger in 2011 he was failing in health, and I felt somehow when I saw him that it would be our last meeting on this earth. I had the impulse to show him the picture of his portrait that I had created 20 years before. All I had of his portrait that was easy to access was his painting on the cover of my self-published book “From Heart to Art”. Carol had a copy and she brought it out to the paddock. When I showed it to Avenger, he focused on the image with great interest, repeatedly looking at it with intensity beyond mere curiosity. His daughter Breezy looked over his shoulder at it intently, and nudged him trying to get a closer look. His owner Carol was equally amazed that he was so focused on the painting. The moment was powerful and poignant as I recalled our complex connections.
Avenger looks at his portrait
Avenger, Kim, and his owner Carol Joy
Months later, after Avenger had passed, Carol was speaking with an animal communicator and she recalled the moment when we shared Avenger’s portrait with him. She asked his spirit through the communicator, what he had been thinking when he saw his portrait. The communication he shared was “I was wondering why there were two of me.” This was one of the most profound comments I have ever had about my art! For the horse himself, to say that my painting was HIM!
Read more about Avenger's story and how my art saved his life here
The fact that horses have these responses leads to many fascinating questions. Perception of this kind is a form of self awareness. Scientists often categorize this form of intelligence as evident in monkeys and apes who recognize their own reflection. But perhaps responding to a photograph or a painting conveys an even deeper form of awareness. It imparts that the horse is aware there is another being existing somewhere else that this paper format has captured and is conveying.
Often, people in Native cultures will assert that they don’t want their photographs taken because it would take a part of their soul. Perhaps just like the way in which ancient peoples can hear voices in Nature, perhaps animals can sense the presence in an image.
Read “Living Art” part 3 here