Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
August 05
Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.


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JULY 24, 2011 6:35PM

Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages...

Rate: 12 Flag

Tongue horse. 

The Tio Vivo carousel is an iconic feature of Las Fiestas de Taos.


Each July, Las Fiestas de Taos are held in honor of the town’s two patron saints, St. Anne, or Santa Ana, mother of the Virgin Mary, and St. James, or Santiago (Santo Yago) de Compostela. It is a time of tradition, with parades, a royal court, and special Masses at the local church. Vendors crowd Taos Plaza, offering merchandise and carnival food—cotton candy, caramel apples, roasted corn, and turkey legs.

Cool drink? 

Want something cool to drink? 


Tucked away in a corner of the plaza is a Fiesta tradition unto itself: Tio Vivo carousel, which is more than 100 years old. Now owned and operated by the Lions Club, the carousel was made in Mexico and has been a fixture at Taos Fiestas since the late 1940s. There's no cost to ride, but the Lions Club accepts donations, which go toward maintaining and preserving the carousel, as well as toward a scholarship fund.

Tio Vivo Carousel 

Tio Vivo carousel has been a tradition at Taos Fiestas for more than 60 years.  


Early this morning, while the plaza was still almost deserted, I visited Tio Vivo and had an opportunity to photograph the horses and to visit with two members of the Lions Club, who shared some information about this stunning example of 19th century folk art.

Tio Vivo appaloosa

This appaloosa has Tio Vivo painted on either side of its neck. Its mane is carved and painted, and it has a tail of real horsehair, as do many of the carousel's horses. 


The carousel used to be operated by a hand crank, and the horses were once suspended by wooden rods; now, the carousel is motorized, and metal rods are used.

Metal rods 

Two of the more realistically painted horses. Note the metal rods. Also, both of these horses have green reflectors for eyes--a modern innovation that somehow manages not to be jarring, maybe because using available materials is true to folk-art tradition.


The horses are completely hand-carved and hand-painted. In fact, they are covered with layer upon layer of paint. Some have actual horsehair manes and tails, others have manes that are painted and/or carved, and some are adorned with yarn mops. 

 The fringe on the saddle pad is actual fabric fringe that has been painted over.

The blue horse has an exuberant mane and tail made from a dust mop. The fringe on the saddle pad is actual fabric fringe that has been painted over.  



The red and green horse has a mane and tail of rope. Check out the fancy braiding on the tail.  


Some of the horses have been replaced over the years, so you see different types of craftsmanship. Most of the horses have finely detailed faces, but some have broader, blunter features, with less defined nostrils. Each horse is unique, individually hand-carved and hand-painted.

Note the two different styles of carving. 

 The horse on the left is more finely detailed, while the horse on the right has a broader face and body.


As you look at the photos, you can see signs of the original workmanship; marks from the carving are sometimes visible beneath the paint.  You may also notice other details, including the multiple layers of paint and places where the horses have been repaired. 

Metal plate

This horse was repaired at one time with a metal plate; you can see the edges of the plate in the lower right corner.  


Scuffed leg 

 Scuffs, scrapes, and age only add to the carousel's charm. 


Brown & floral 

The metal rods detach from the bars overhead, so every time the carousel is set up, the pairings may be different. "Just depends on which (horses) we unwrap first," said one of the Lions Club members. 


white diamonds

This time, the Tio Vivo horse is paired with a more primitively carved horse painted with diamonds.


Camel horse

Note the camels painted on the saddle pad of the black horse (detail below). They are exotic in an old-time-carnival way.

Closeup of camel saddle pad. 

Closeup of the camel saddle pad. 



The unicorn is a favorite among little girls. 



The fleabit yellow horse has an abundant yarn mane and tail, as well as leather ears. 



Hasta la vista, Tio Vivo. See you next year! 


 Text and images  ©  2011 by Susan Mihalic


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The horse who is sticking his tongue out is my favorite.
mine, too! great photo essay, susan. see how much fun they are? i'm wishing so hard that i make it to NM next year. thanks for even more of a nudge. :)
Candace, we should plan an OS/FB meet-up Southwest style! Thanks for reading and commenting. I love photography, and I really, really love Tio Vivo carousel. It's one of the first things I remember about Taos when I came here nearly 20 years ago on the eve of Fiestas and visited an empty plaza late at night.
Oh! I love horses, I love carousels, and I love folk art. Honestly, I wish I were there right now...
Wonderful photographs, Susan! ~r
Joan, thanks. Tio Vivo combines those three loves for me, too.
I want to get back to New Mexico such a beautiful place. This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I can see the children running choosing there favorite. It is magical!
LL2, I think so, too--magical! The kids aren't the only ones with favorites. My favorite is the horse in the first picture, but I'm also taken with the blue one who has the dust mop mane and tail, the pale blue-gray one paired with the brown one, and the black one with the camels on its saddle pad.
Those are amazing. I hope it doesn't sound creepy when I say I want to ride one. (I'm child-sized if that makes a difference!)
Bellwether, they only have a size restriction, not an age restriction, so I bet you could ride one.
::Bump:: for the morning feed. . . .
I love seeing this on the cover! Bumpity bump!
Whoa--wow! I didn't realize it was on the cover, Joan, until I saw your comment! Thanks. I'm pleased beyond all proportion.
It just goes to show how much fun home crafted horses can be for this ride and others.
Algis, what's also cool is that different people paint the horses from time to time. The Lions Club members I was talking to said they've been talking about soliciting local artists (Taos is an art colony) to paint them the next time around.
Love the horses and their colors!
Christina, I'm sooooo obsessed with this carousel. . . .
Great photos, love the carousel. Reminds me of my childhood.
Viva la Fiesta, Chica! My mother's side of the family hails from that area. The pictures were wonderful.
This just made me OUTRAGEOUSLY happy. Beautiful. Thank you.
Delightful post to read and study. Each horse is unique and beautiful in its design, coloring, choice of main (dustmop:o), saddle, etc. Humans are so creative and it's great to see some of their original creations still functioning, rather than sitting in museums.
Director of Studies, thank you.

Miguela, come visit!

Ann, thank you. I love all your posts. I wish I were as consistent as you are.

Thanks, Lainey!

Fusun, you make a great point. There is a folk art museum in Santa Fe that would undoubtedly love to have this, but you're right--it's wonderful that Tio Vivo is still in use.
What a delightful photo essay! the color, the vibrancy, the spirit is enticing! It boosts my spirits just to look at them. I love the special qualities (gifts?) that folk art brings. You really captured what is unique and special about this carousel.
My mother has always loved traditional carousel horses, but I never really felt much for them. THESE horses, now, wow! I want one!!! I hope one day I'll be able to see this carousel in person. Thanks for sharing these utterly charming images.
Donegal & Alysa, thank you both. Tio Vivo has appealed to generations of children and adults. One of the Lions Club members told me about a woman who said she'd ridden this carousel as a child in 1948, when it was still new to Taos Fiestas.