In a flash of inspiration, Ron Krajewski began teaching his champion ex-racehorse Metro Meteor the one thing he knew best: how to paint!
The urge to swap a saddle and bridle for paintbrush and canvas came after Krajewski learned his big bay, who’d amassed $300,000 in winnings as one of the fastest turf sprinters at Belmont and Saratoga, may soon wind up truly crippled from bad knees.
Although when he raced, Metro had received an abundance of care from his owners, including two surgeries to remove bone chips from his knees, all the care in the world couldn’t stop the progression of detrimental bone growth, and other knee afflictions, which threatened his joint mobility.
“His knees looked like he was carrying a couple of beanbags under his skin,” Krajewski says. “He had bone chips, carpitis (inflammation of the knee) and arthritis … and I wanted to do everything I could to give him the best retirement.”
When he and his wife Wendy adopted Metro in 2009, they’d hoped to take him on lazy carefree trail rides. And from time to time, when his knees weren’t acting up, the racing dynamo was able to ease into a nice walk and trot along country trails.
“But, you never knew how he felt until you got on his back, and it was always 50-50 as to whether he could be ridden,” he says. “Then, a couple of months ago, I noticed that when I cleaned Metro’s feet, I couldn’t bend his knee as far or as easily.
Race name: Metro Meteor
Sire: City Zip
Dam: Here Comes Nikki
Foal date: March 13, 2003
Earnings: $299,420“His flexibility had always been poor, but now I couldn’t even bend his knee to a 90 degree angle.”
After x-rays revealed that Metro was growing bone where he shouldn’t, yet surgery was not an option because his knees had already had two previous operations, Krajewski decided to invite the large animal into his own quiet, contemplative artist space.
Although Krajewski had often joked that he should teach Metro to paint. The silly boy bobbed his head so much in his stall, that his owner couldn’t help but imagine him holding a paintbrush.
So, when the veterinarian said that Metro’s trail-riding days were over, Krajewski knew it was now time to teach him to paint!
“Metro holds such a special spot in my heart. I see him as a really great horse who had fallen on some hard times, and I didn’t want to just put him out to pasture,” Krajewski says.
The pet-portrait artist by profession created a studio for Metro in an empty stall, even hanging white drop cloths everywhere. “Horses with paint are pretty messy!” he says.
And, for the past month, Metro and his owner have worked together to create acrylic paintings, which they plan on selling to help pay for the horse’s ongoing veterinary care, and raise proceeds to donate to New Vocations Racehorse Adoption.
Two paintings are already on display at a Gallery 30 in Gettysburg, Pa, and others are being offered for sale online.
Joking that Metro is the “most expensive free horse” there is, Krajewski’s veterinarian is actively exploring new treatments and therapies to address Metro’s knees. And he is currently receiving numerous injections and special dietary supplements as well.
“You name it. We’re doing everything to make him feel just a little bit better.”
And now Metro is soaking up the artists’ life as well!
Krajewski trained Metro to paint with a treat-reward system and a blank canvas.
Starting small, he placed a blank canvas up to Metro’s face. If he put his soft muzzle on it, the horse got a treat.
Then Krajewski taught him to hold the paintbrush in his mouth without dropping it.
And once he seemed reasonably comfortable with that, Krajewski held up the empty canvas in front of the curious and calm animal, while Metro clamped the dry brush in his teeth, and swept it across the surface.
This sweeping action was what convinced Krajewski that his pupil could do something more than splatter the paint!
So, the teacher prepared a canvas by painting it a solid color, and then let the four-legged student take up the reins all on his own.
While no art critic will confuse Metro’s work with that of Picasso, the finished product looks good.
Bold, sweeping colors dominate the canvas in an array of long and short strokes, which seem unified and cohesive.
“I don’t know if he can see what he’s doing, because horses have a blind spot directly in front of them. I think he just goes by feel,” he says.
Metro, who started off as an ornery horse with a tendency to kick when he was on the cross ties, looks for all the world like a contemplative artist as he stands in front of his easel.
“Looking back on the days we went trail riding, I will always remember riding Metro through the woods as some of the best days of my life,” Krajewski says. “And I’m going to do everything I can to give him the best retirement ever.”
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