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Sassy, sculpture by Ellen Woodbury


My little mare, Kentucky, is now about 32 years old, and continues to inspire my stone sculpture (“Pretty-Girl“, “Moon Horse” ). “Sassy” is another aspect of her kaleidoscopic personality. Horses are as varied and complex as people, and Kentucky is exceptionally so—smart, generous, enthusiastic, opinionated, grateful, eager to please, and boundlessly determined.  She saved herself twice from the LA slaughter yards, a huge accomplishment for a little horse.


I love horses and I love to improvise on the design elements of the horse. It is a sort of competition with myself to create rhythms among the forms that entice and trap the viewer’s eye and keep it moving in loops and figure eights.

Each time I sculpt a stylized horse ups the ante for me. Can I create another interesting design and keep it fresh? The risk lies in repeating myself; the fun lies in successfully avoiding that. It is a game, a conversation, a journey with an unknown destination.

Carving with Light, Shadow, and Sparkle

Carving Sivec (sa-VETCH) marble is sculpting with light and shadow. There are no visual distractions with pure white stone. Curves bend light in a soft gradation from very light to very dark. Edges change light abruptly—one face is light and drops immediately to shadow with the crisp change in angle. It is great fun to compose forms using these two simple ideas.

I finish Sivec to only 120-grit with sand paper. The touch is as smooth as glass, achieved with precise filing and dry sanding with 80-grit sand paper. I wet sand with 120-grit using lots of water and the crystals in the stone burst to life in a dance of light, shadow, and sparkle! It is almost like magic to see the sparkle leap from the stone.

The Stone

Sivec Marble comes from a quarry in Macedonia, just north of Greece, which has been in operation for thousands of years. This is the stone with which the ancient Greeks built their civilization.

When I cut into Sivec it smells like the seashore—reminiscent of the gazillions of seashells from which it was formed. This is profound to me. My experience carving Sivec echoes the experiences of thousands of sculptors over thousands of years cutting into a sparkling stone formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Not unlike standing under a Redwood, or witnessing the totality of a solar eclipse.

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  1. Hello Ellen,

    “Sassy” IS BEAUTIFUL, but I am also very curious about Kentucky. I am amazed that a horse can live to age 32 and still be working (that is I am sure due to your care and love) and wonder how she ‘saved herself’ from an L.A. slaughterhouse, not once, but twice. There is certainly a film in this. Thank you again and best wishes for the sculpture show this weekend!

    • Hi Nancy! Kentucky is now a little, old, arthritic mare. She was retired when she was 13 due to arthritis in her hocks and has lived on a ranch in Oregon where she has pasture friends and great care, and no responsibilities. In her prime she had the nicknames Pretty-girl and Energizer Bunny, and lived up to those names. She was bought off a meat truck into a riding school at LA Equestrian Center when she was 5 or 6 years old. She had impressed my trainer with her talents as a cross-country event horse when my trainer rode her to evaluate whether she was a good candidate for the riding school. She was bought into the riding school even though she had a bowed tendon, which is a career-ending injury for an event horse and probably what put her on the meat truck in the first place. But, she was so talented and enthusiastic that my trainer could not resist her. That was save #1. We rode her for a couple of years in the riding school. Then my trainer and our group separated from LA Equestrian Center and formed our own stable. Kentucky stayed at LAEC in the riding school there. A year or so later, my trainer received notice from the riding school that Kentucky was to go back on the meat truck and finish her journey to the LA slaughter yards. My trainer scraped the money together to save her, and she came to ride with us in our new stable. That is save #2. Then my trainer could no longer afford to keep her, so I bought her. I rode her for 4 more years and had the best time with her, and she gave me the best education in riding.

      Now, the reason I insist that she saved herself is because I believe, and there have been studies done on this, that herd animals (horses) have telepathic skills. Do not be tempted to disbelieve this because the studies are very convincing, and horses are very convincing in their behaviors. Horses are hyper aware of their situations and communicate rapidly with each other and in ways that humans are not necessarily in tune with. Kentucky knew she was going to the slaughter yards and she knew she needed to reach out to some human to help her. She reached out to my trainer (maybe telepathically at first, who can be sure?) but befriended my trainer, sensing a sympathetic being.

      I was looking to buy a horse when my trainer needed to sell Kentucky. I hadn’t even considered buying her. I thought we were not that compatible and I was not deserving of her talent. I was looking at other horses to buy. Then completely out-of-the-blue the thought occurred to me that I should buy Kentucky and that was that. This sounds weird, but it was as if I had no choice in the matter.

      Kentucky has always had a love of life. She is smart and tenacious, a seasoned diplomat when it comes to managing other horses (she was alpha mare for years in her retirement pasture) a survivor. I always find this inspiring, and this is why I revisit our relationship and the way she lives her life through my sculptural expressions.