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Floating Horse Heads

By Cindy Hale

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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Have you noticed? They’re everywhere. At least it seems that way. I’m talking about floating horse heads. I’m all for using the image of a horse as inspiration for art and home décor, but at a certain point things just go too far. While artistic interpretations of the entire horse can be things of beauty, an unattached horse head looks a little bit creepy to me. It’s like the poor creature has been decapitated and now its cranium (complete with eyeballs full of expression) is on display. Even worse is when the head is grimacing with a mouthful of teeth, as if at the last instant the animal was saying, “Hey, wait a second! I just got a bucket full of carrots and… and…”

I first began to flinch at floating horse heads while browsing through ebay. I was hunting for a flower vase and, of course, I decided it might as well have a horsey motif to the design. I stumbled upon hollow porcelain horse heads, each with a large hole between the ears, like post-lobotomy wounds. Since these were described as “vintage” items, I guessed that at some point in the fairly recent past it was considered stylish to have disembodied horse heads on your kitchen table with carnations or roses sprouting from their poll. So now I’m hyper-sensitive to Floating Horse Head Art. But rather than being angrily obsessed with it, I’m more bemused, like I’ve discovered a subculture of wonky equine imagery. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve accumulated in my gallery.

Life with Horses - Floating Horse Heads

This ebay find is a first-class representation of Floating Horse Head Art. At first glance I’m attracted to the watercolor gray coat of the horse and its sweet, calm eyes. But then look at the base of the horse’s neck. It’s ragged and torn, like it was cleaved from the body with a rusty knife. And then it’s mounted on a slab of pine tree bark, complete with a few twigs of greenery. To some people this might be art, but to me it looks like the aftermath of a really bad cross-country riding accident.

Life with Horses - Floating Horse Heads

Another example of Floating Horse Head Art comes from an online catalog. It’s carved from wood and designed to hang from the wall. Unfortunately, it reminds me of those mounted heads that big game hunters display in their parlors. I can just imagine the story that would go with this Floating Horse Head: “Yup, I had just flipped the latch on his corral gate when he came at me, ears pinned flat back, and I said to myself, ‘That’s the last time you come after me, Sucker’.”

Life with Horses - Floating Horse Heads

There is Floating Horse Head Art in my own neighborhood, too. Most often the heads are used outside, perched on posts and gate columns. If they’re stylized and truly decorative, I’m fine. But if they’re too lifelike they resemble that archaic practice from the Dark Ages, where plunderers would stick the heads of their defeated foes on stakes to ward off rivals. This house, for instance, has a total of seven large horse heads ringing their front yard. It looks like a fortress whose army recently pillaged a herd of chestnut horses.

Life with Horses - Floating Horse Heads

This house’s collection of Floating Horse Heads has intrigued me for years. Every time I drive by I wonder if each statue was handpainted in specific colors as an homage to a deceased horse. Or were they just experimenting with bucketfuls of paint? This attempt at folksy Floating Horse Head Art is clever and unique. But if they are, literally, head stones of some sort, they deserve some touch-ups. There are chipped ears, chipped paint and spider webs everywhere. Please, show some respect for your Floating Horse Heads!

Life with Horses - Floating Horse Heads

Just so you don’t think I detest all Floating Horse Heads, here’s a house that seems to have gotten it just right. The overall look is understated and the decapitation-to-fencepost ratio is low. The horse heads are anatomically correct but not life-sized, so there’s no post-mortem connotation. And the painting isn’t garish, it’s almost whimsical. Then again, maybe I find this display acceptable because one of the horses is painted to look a lot like Wally.

See how many Floating Horse Heads are out there? Look around and you’ll see them, too. While you may not be irked by their existence to the extent that I am, at least you’ll be aware of them and have a good laugh.

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Reader Comments

samo    st. jo, MO

6/24/2010 9:41:37 PM

well, i like the idea of a bust, like in the 4th picture. but i definitely would like to see ALL parts of the horse depicted. the hooves for instance, look stellar and ad a lot to the image of the horse. personally, i like the painting of napoleon on his grey stallion- what a stellar image. i also like asian paintings. but i bet it's probably pretty hard to sculpt a horse...

Lorie    New Carlisle, IN

6/24/2010 8:49:14 PM

I never paid attention to floating horse heads before but now that you have brought it up, I'll be looking for them everywhere. Personally I like the full body models of horses the best.

Skylar    Chino Hills, CA

6/24/2010 4:27:02 PM

OMG! Now I have a new phobia to go along with my clown phobia ... floating horse heads!

Gee, thanks a lot for that. Not.

(Although your description of just how the angry horse came to be a FHH cracked me up. :-) )

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