Veryl Goodnight
Sculpting the American West
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A week of instruction with internationally recognized horseman Pat Parelli was a highlight of 2002. During this extraordinary week, I was not only inspired to continue my lifelong quest to be a better horsewoman, but I was visually inspired by Pat's relationship with horses.

During the week, I took some digital video of Pat and Casper, the black stallion he loves so much. After returning home and studying the video, I realized that Pat wasn't riding Casper. He was dancing with him! Their harmony was so complete that I could have composed a dozen meaningful sculptures of the two of them.


For the past three years, I have been filming my subjects with a digital video camcorder. Digital film records 25 frames each second. I download the footage onto a computer and study the movement backward and forward. Any frames that are informative can be exported and printed.

I showed Pat and his wife, Linda, several possibilities from these video clips. It was not surprising that their ideas were not typical of western sculpture. At times western art depicts a conflict between man and horse. Pat Parelli represents man's harmonious partnership with horses. Since this relationship is what initially inspired me to sculpt Pat and Casper, I decided to pursue the Parelli's sculptural concept.

The next step was to sculpt a clay study. Small three dimensional studies help a sculptor resolve potential problems in the same way sketches aid a painter. I was also able to show the study to Pat and Linda for their comments. I first sculpt the human figure nude, building the body from measurements to ensure the accuracy, and then add clothing in a later phase.


The contribution I endeavor to bring to equine art is the ability to sculpt an individual horse, rather than a generic or stylized horse. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with other approaches, but my own passion lies in capturing the horse's individuality. I work from life so I always have my subject in front of me.

Pat and Linda maintain an incredible tour schedule, however, I was able to meet up with them in Scottsdale in March. I got close to an hour of additional video to further refine the sculptural concept and I was able to get accurate measurements of both Pat and Casper.



The armature is a wire support system for the clay sculpture. It roughly replicates the skeleton. The pipe enters into the ribcage of the subject, man or horse, and has three wires running through it. One wire supports the torso, head and tail. A second wire supports the torso and right legs or arm. The third wire supports the torso and left legs or arm. The wires are bent where the joints articulate.


The average horse is perfectly square from the ground to the withers and from the point of shoulder to the back of the hip. These two measurements are 2 1/2 times the length of his head.

I have measured dozens of horses over the past thirty years and have only found a few that exactly duplicate these generalities. If you study Casper's measurements, you will see that he is somewhat taller than he is long and that his head is shorter. If Casper fit into the generic category of 2 1/2 heads tall, he would be 57 1/2" (14.2 hands) at the withers rather than 62" (15.2 hands). No amount of detail could ever make the sculpture look like Casper if I followed the generic approach.

Now, with complete measurements to work from and a good grasp on the design, I have begun the sculpture, which will be done in 1/5 life size. The sculpture will be unveiled during Pat's Savvy Conference this September, so I have a tight time line. In the next article, I will have the clay sculpture completed and will explain the foundry processes that will transform my sculpture from clay to bronze.

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