Horses in the City: The Stellar Steeds of Shawnee, Oklahoma

June 23, 2019

Photo: Visit Shawnee

The painted horses of Shawnee, Oklahoma, dazzle and inspire visitors.  

The best cities have a calling card, and Shawnee is no exception. Visitors can’t miss the painted horse sculptures scattered throughout our town. Featured prominently on our social media, promotional materials and maps, the Painted Horses (also known as Horses in the City) are an important part of Shawnee’s identity. Sponsored by local businesses and organizations, these horses are painted in numerous different colors and styles, portraying both historical and modern aspects of the community.

A painted horse sculpture rears on a grassy bank.

Photo: Visit Shawnee

The idea for the sculptures emerged from the Oklahoma Centennial Celebration Committee, which Mayor Chuck Mills created during his tenure in office in December of 2006. The Celebration of the Horse in the City project was created on September 22, 2007. Mayor Mills took over the project and turned it into a public art initiative to celebrate the local artists and their talent. It also served as an attraction intended to draw visitors to Shawnee. The challenge to the sponsors and artists alike was that the design could incorporate the identity of the sponsor, without acting as a sign or billboard.

So why did they decide on horses? Well, the project drew inspiration from Oklahoma City’s own buffalo project. Horses represent our past and how formational the land run was to the identity of our statehood. Oklahoma is synonymous with the West, and horses were used for transportation and work animals in developing our farms and communities. Also, at the time, Oklahoma was the Quarter Horse capital of the world.

A painted horse greets visitor to Shawnee.

A painted horse greets visitors to Shawnee. Photo: Visit Shawnee

Even today, Shawnee is home to Quarter Horse and Western shows at our venues, especially the Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center. Every summer, the Expo Center becomes the arena for the International Finals Youth Rodeo, where young riders and ropers from all around the world put their skills to the test! So of course, the horse and all the meaning behind it continues to be a powerful symbol to the community of Shawnee. Why else would businesses still be inquiring about sponsorship opportunities for these awesome sculptures?

Say you find yourself visiting Shawnee, and you want to track down all the Painted Horses. Well, you’re in luck. You can find a list of all the horses on our website or come on down to our visitor center at 231 N. Bell Ave for a free visitor map that can point you in the right direction!