April 9, 2013 at 8:48 AM ET
After earning $300,000 in winnings during his racing heyday, a horse named Metro Meteor has picked up a paintbrush and embarked on a lucrative new career in retirement.
The 9-year-old thoroughbred saw his last finish line in 2009 due to crippling knee injuries, but has turned into an equine Jackson Pollock since he was adopted by Maryland artist Ron Krajewski and his wife, Wendy.
“These horses, when they are done racing, they still have 20 years more of life to go. So think about what you’re doing to the horse and what kind of career he is going to have when he is done with racing,’’ Krajewski told TODAY’s Jill Rappaport.
Ron was searching for something for Metro to do in retirement and noticed how the horse would often bob his head in his stall at their farm in Rocky Ridge, Md. That sparked the idea of teaching the horse to hold a paintbrush in his mouth and touch it to a canvas.
Ron selects the colors, puts the brush in the horse's mouth, and lets Metro take the reins, so to speak. “As you can see, he’s always moving around,’’ Ron said. “He would sit and his head would be up bobbing up and down all the time, and I was like, 'If we can teach him to hold a paintbrush, maybe we can do something.' I never thought he would have picked up painting.”
The horse’s paintings have become a sensation, with a waiting list of fans willing to pony up as much as $500 for a Metro original. Selling for up to $500, the paintings have brought in $20,000 in the four months since Metro started producing them.
“He’s our most popular artist,” gallery owner Peggy Rock told Rappaport. “I just shipped one of the smaller paintings to Japan. We probably shipped to at least 20 or 30 different states. There is a real contemporary flair to them.’’
“I wish I had his career,’’ Ron joked.
Half of the proceeds from the paintings go toward Metro’s medical bills, and the other 50 percent go to New Vocations, a racehorse adoption program.
“Metro Meteor has done more for retired racehorses than any ambassador,’’ Ron said. “He is spreading the message that you just don't discard them when their racing careers are over. They can all do something.”
As a 2-year-old, Metro won races at notable tracks like Saratoga and Belmont. But his regimen is much less rigorous now. Ron only lets Metro paint up to an hour per day, and the horse does not paint every day. Like any artist, the horse has days filled with inspiration and others where he is not as into it.
“There are days when I come out, and he just has a totally different brushstroke sometimes,’’ Ron said. “He’s feeling violent, (and) sometimes he’s feeling whimsical, making little circles.”
Metro is not the first horse to make his mark in the art world. A horse named Cholla from Reno, Nev., had his artwork exhibited in a juried art competition in 2008, where it vied from works from 1,770 human artists from around the world.