Valentine’s Day at Northwestern Stables

A set of Mt. Airy artists found a not-so-common medium for their Valentines – one that won’t fit in any envelope. Marie Riley, executive director of Chestnut Hill’s Northwestern Stables and an equine therapist, recruited artists, Gina Gruenberg and Iris Wolfson, to help doll up her horse, Siggi, for Valentine’s Day. 

Gruenberg, who has experience painting Henna designs on both horses and people, has experience painting horses, but the project was a first for Wolfson.

“The key to being around a horse is to let them know where you are,” Riley counseled her visitors. “And watch the ears,” noting a horse’s ears are laid back when frustrated.

Riley prepared Siggi for the afternoon’s painting by rolling her winter blanket away and brushing her shiny brown coat all the way to her hooves. Over the course of about an hour, Wolfson and Gruenberg applied swirls of nontoxic Moroccan facepaint to Siggi’s forehead and sides.

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Siggi nosed avidly in the art supplies – and this reporter’s sleeves and notebook – looking for carrots, and received her lunch in a big purple bucket on the barn floor while the artists continued their work. Photographs of their living art project will grace posters for the Fairmount Park Horse Show on May 19th, where, after this wintertime test run, Gruenberg hopes to be on hand to paint other horses.

When Siggi battled a dangerous neurological ailment that atrophied her muscles as a youngster, Riley hired an equine physical therapist as a supplement to the required medication. Siggi made a full recovery from a condition that often kills or permanently disables horses. Riley said the experience is what got her interested in equine bodywork.The former designer who once aspired to vet school, decided to pursue her own certification in equine massage, turning her lifelong love of horses into her career.

Now, she has her own company, 16 Hands Integrated Equine Bodywork and travels all over the country to give workshops on her techniques, which incorporate principles of massage, chiropractics and physical therapy to ease and release equine pain and stress.

Siggi submitted calmly to the decoration while her curious stablemates watched from their stalls. Sparrows twittered among the chilly hay bales, and as a crew of student volunteers from the Crefeld School fed the animals, a chorus of satisfied snorts, crunches and bumping buckets sounded throughout the barn.

With nary a kick, Siggi allowed Wolfson to plait her long, black tail, and Gruenberg brought a handful of flowers to decorate the braid, affectionately stroking her 1,000-pound canvas.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Siggi!”

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