The sound of thundering hooves, snorts, and manes blowing in the wind. These are the sounds that all horse lovers are familiar with, and where Colorado-based artist Monte Michener draws his inspiration from.
Having grown up in on a farm in rural Minnesota, animals have always been a part of Michener’s life. He began to ride ponies around his family farm when he was five years old.
By the time he was ten, he had graduated to full-sized horses. He credits his father’s love for horses for sparking his own interest in the outdoors.
Like many other equestrians, Michener found a friend and loyal companion in the Thoroughbred. His father would acquire retired racehorses to be trained in their new careers.
Michener would typically train them to be pleasure horses, but stated that he would teach them dressage or to be hunter/jumpers if they showed promise. “Many would get resold,” says Michener. “But I kept a few that I showed for the next few years in our local English riding club.”
“I became one of the top riders in our area,” Michener went on to say. “Showjumping was my passion, I had dreams of riding professionally one day, maybe going to the Olympics.”
However, his time spent riding was quickly replaced by other things when he attended the University of Minnesota at St. Paul. His love of the outdoors prompted him to study forestry there.
Michener’s compassionate nature prompted a change in his field of study, and he transferred to the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis to study Psychology. “I found a lot of purpose in my life at this time, working with people who suffered from mental/emotional conditions,” he said.
He gained valuable experience by working in crisis units and group homes during this time. It was during his time in college that he first saw sculptures of horses made from driftwood.
See other examples of amazing driftwood horse sculptures here on Etsy.
Staying true to his compassionate nature, Michener relocated to Florida to care for his ageing grandparents.
Perhaps moved by viewing the driftwood sculptures of the horses he so loves, he took his first art classes while in Florida. He discovered that he could draw and his dance with art began.
A man of many talents and interests, Michener also took sailing classes while in Florida. This is where he met his future wife-to-be, Ravit. She was a successful massage therapist who ran her own practice in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Mitchener was transformed when he received his first professional massage and decided on yet another career change.
After becoming a licensed massage therapist himself, Michener and Ravit decided to escape the Florida heat.
The couple moved to the mountains of Colorado in 1992. “Immediately we felt a sense of rightness,” he said. “The wildlife, beauty and amazing climate was so inspiring.” They opened a small massage practice and Michener began to invest in real estate remodeling.
This was a very busy time in his life while he tried to balance massage and real estate. “I was massaging by day and remodeling by night/weekends,” he said. “We kept our first home, converted into a rental, and moved into our current home. Over time, Michener shifted his focus from massage to solely real estate remodeling.
Ravit, however, continued to run the massage practice. Michener was able to use is artistic abilities and took joy in the use of texture, lighting, and color in remodeling projects.
In 2006 the couple bought Estes River Retreat to operate as a vacation rental. Ravit was able to expand her practice to include a spa at this location.
When Did Monte Michener Become a Horse Artist?
Finally, in 2011, Michener was able to combine his love for art with his childhood passion for horses.
In college he had seen the work of Deborah Butterfield, who also sculpts equines from natural materials. “Her work was so powerful to me in its simplicity and her ability to capture the essence of the horse with such basic materials.” He explains.
If Michener’s work is above your price bracket, read our guide to best gift ideas for horse lovers.
Michener gathered wood from a nearby lake and set out to create his first sculpture. “When I’m creating, I try not to have an agenda, leaving room for something to happen spontaneously.” Said Michener. “I have a large variety of wood around me as I work.
Once I get a piece up on legs, it often feels like that newborn foal standing for the first time, declaring who they may be in this world. I try to listen to that energy, flowing with it intuitively.”
Since 2011, Michener has expanded from sculpting horses to now include bison and elk. He cleverly captures unique expressions in every sculpture.
He tries not to cut the wood and to let its natural form shape the sculptures. “I just start, with a basic idea and see where it goes,” he said. “I love the space of the unknown, exploring what may or may not happen.”
Now, most of his material is collected during the fall months. Each year the Bureau of Reclamation drains Lake Estes and Michener has permission from the federal government to collect various materials.
Typically he searches for wood that has been smoothed and shaped by the water and leftover firewood.
Michener says that he creates the legs of the sculptures first and then he can get a feel for what the rest of it will look like. He spends extra time using the details of the eyes, nostrils, and ears to perfectly capture the unique expression of the animal. He gives each piece a name at the end of his creative process.
His next adventure will be to create sculptures out of recycled metals. “I’m looking forward to welding together everyday objects, car parts, discarded items and steel construction materials in hopes of continuing my journey as an artist in a new medium.” Says Michener.
Where Can I See Michener’s Work?
You can see his work on display at Estes River Retreat and various Colorado galleries. He has made pieces on commission as well and as a result his work is also displayed in several private homes and ranches.
You can find and purchase some of his creations on his website equuscreations.net. Hope you didn’t spend too much at Christmas!
See other examples of amazing wooden horse sculptures here on Etsy.
Here are some examples of his work: