The Thoroughbreds of Gardens by the Bay

December, 2013


Fresh back from the Chelsea Flower Show 2013, I started work on a commission from the prestigious Gardens by the Bay of Singapore of three racing thoroughbreds. 2014 beckoned in the year of the Wooden Horse and Gardens by the Bay CEO, Doctor Tan, wanted 9 horses in the gardens of which 3 were to come from me!

To emphasize the feeling of speed and energy, I wanted to have two of the thoroughbreds with one leg only attached to the ground which required quite a bit of engineering. The weight of each horse is approximately 500kg which is a lot of a weight to place on one leg. Priority is always to make sure that the stability errs on the side of caution however this is at the expense of an overly thick canon (the big bone above the fetlock). A trick that has taken me some years to figure out is to build the sculpture first leaving the supporting leg until last. I start with a 4” diameter solid stainless steel leg and grind it back, periodically testing with a 300kg weigh bouncing on the extreme end of the sculpture, until I feel comfortable that I have taken off all I can without compromising the integrity of the supporting leg.
Note the long legs, I wanted the horses to look juvenile and athletic. These horses were born to run.
Before sending the horses to Singapore, we all went on an outing to the beach where I took a series of photos that have been shared hundreds of thousands of times around the net. Each photo-shoot is a circus – with 1.5 tons of sculptures to lug around small remote villages, manpower is needed and we left the studio at 5:00am with a core of 5 of my workshop assistants with another 20 men hired from the local village. The drive was 3 hours and thankfully upon arrival the weather was amazing. The beach was really remote – on the West coast of Cebu – and was not much to write home about. The reason I chose this beach, however, was due to an estuary that deposited a bank of chalk white limestone along the beach which offered the most incredible stage for the sculptures.
The morning shoot went well and I took the photographer off for a meal in a local town while the staff cooked up fresh fish on the beach. Upon my return we prepared for the “splash” shot which required 8 of us to throw pebbles at the feet of the sculptures to simulate galloping through the surf. At first I was amazed at the lacklustre performance of my assistants – all basketball players during their youth. Stones were hitting the driftwood legs, landing 20 feet away, being thrown seconds after the count. It almost seemed as if they were going out of their way to sabotage the shoot! All became clear when, glancing towards the campsite where the men had prepared their lunch. I spotted the tell-tale signs of several bottles of rum and coke that explained their lack of coordination. It took over an hour to get the shot of the horses running through the surf.
I delivered the sculptures to Gardens by the Bay in December in time for the Chinese New Year. My wife and daughter came with me and we were rewarded with a 2 hour guided tour with Doctor Tan, the ebullient and charismatic CEO of the gardens and his staff where they recounted the incredible history and construction of the Singaporean landmark.

James Doran Webb