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Hercules with a paint brush in his mouth.

Hercules with his art teacher, Mary Simons of ReRun, Inc. In the past, Simons has helped Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide and Smarty Jones create "Moneighs."

Hercules: University artist and blood donor

A Belgian gelding helps with fundraising for the U's new Equine Center

By Pauline Oo

August 21, 2007; updated August 24, 2007

Like his namesake, the mythical Greek hero Hercules, the University of Minnesota's big, blond Belgian gelding embodies great strength and great courage. Last year alone, he saved six fellow horses from death. Hercules is the resident blood donor at U's Large Animal Hospital on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. And if that weren't enough, this Hercules also paints.

Last fall Hercules began his painting career by dipping his hooves in non-toxic paint and then stepping on paper. His caretakers dubbed his creations "Maneighs" and they've been a hit with College of Veterinary Medicine donors to support the U's new Louise and Doug Leatherdale Equine Center.

Yesterday, the eight-year-old Hercules created "Moneighs," using a technique developed by Mary Simons of ReRun, Inc., a racehorse adoption agency in Kentucky. Simons, whose students have included Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide and Smarty Jones, was on hand to teach him. Using a paint brush in his mouth--or his muzzle smeared with pigment--he created several colorful pieces that will be auctioned off at the grand opening of the Equine Center at 2 p.m. Monday, October 15.

Each Moneigh will be framed and include Hercules' hoof print and a strand of hair. The Equine Center needs to raise $2 million more to reach its fundraising goal of $7.3 million. Bids on previous Moneigh paintings by other horses, which have benefited ReRun, Inc., have been as high as $6,000.

Located on the northeast corner of the St. Paul campus, the Equine Center "will dramatically change the way we'll be able to care for horses in the state of Minnesota," says Stephanie Valberg, center director. Minnesota, home to nearly 500 state and local horse clubs, has the 10th largest horse population in the United States.

Hercules posing with a Moneigh
Hercules with Stephanie Valberg, director of the U's new equine center.
Photo by Pauline Oo

The $14 million, 50,000-square-foot center will have all manner of special facilities to cover every aspect of equine health--they include a high-speed treadmill and an underwater treadmill for exercise and rehabilitation; custom-designed reproductive evaluation areas; and an indoor arena in which owners can ride their horses, allowing vets to observe all four natural gaits--walk, trot, canter, and gallop--and spot any signs of lameness.

So, what does Hercules think of the expanded facilities?

If only he could talk.

Word on the street: Hercules and his girlfriend, Bella, an Appaloosa, are each getting a stall in the new Equine Center. And Hercules will continue to do his considerable part in surgeries involving blood transfusions--he has a universal donor blood type (horses have seven major blood groups and more than 200,000 different blood types). Each year the College of Veterinary Medicine treats about 3,000 horses and because of his large size, vets can tap as much as eight liters of blood from Hercules at one time.

To view or buy a Maneigh (available with a suggested donation of $50 or more to the Equine Center), visit the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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