Significant Other Survival Guide – Occupying Yourself at Horseshows

I know this is an equestrian – and periodically canine – focused blog, and we’ll get there eventually, but today we’re going to talk photography, because this is my post and I can talk about what I want to (it’s in my contract as a guest writer that I can talk about anything – I checked!).

I mentioned in my last post that what I chose to do with my time at horse shows has been photography, both because photography is something I enjoy and have fewer opportunities to practice than I’d like, and because it gives me something to occupy my time at the show. As a side effect, I wind up being able to capture memories for everyone I happen to photograph.

As anyone who has ever picked up a DSLR and started to fool around can attest, most of the shots you take aren’t worth showing to anyone, ever. This doesn’t mean that I delete them – I suppose it hints at a hoarding compulsion or the frighteningly low cost of digital storage (or both) that I haven’t deleted any of these poor photos, but such is life. Many of the rest are only useful to that strange subset of the world who call themselves riders, and only then in the few minutes or hours right after their ride when they need to obsess over questions they’ll never know the answer to, given that the only being on earth capable of answering said questions is a hoofed quadruped more concerned with dinner than dressage.

I mean that with the fondest of intentions and as a rider myself, but seriously – do track runners ever want to go back and look at pictures of what happened on step 17 of their 100m dash? I hope not, but riders actually do want to know what happened on that third step of the walk to trot transition halfway through their dressage test, if only to complain that the dressage judge clearly doesn’t like them or work out exactly what it was about the particular shade of yellow in the flower boxes around the arena that set your horse off today (simple explanation: it wasn’t the flowers, your horse just temporarily lost its mind, because … it’s a horse. Your now-quickly developing fear of riding your horse anywhere near a daffodil is only going to create unnecessary complication for you and your horse as you try and navigate the world avoiding daffodils for the rest of your life together).

That said, if you play with your camera long enough, you’ll get some shots worth keeping. Looking back over a year’s worth of pictures I think the overriding theme is that most of the best pictures aren’t of a horse captured at the perfect spot in the canter stride (though I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to time that point in the stride with the camera’s shutter delay) or the hundreds of pictures of horses popping over a Beginner Novice brush jump that both rider, horse, and photographer will quickly forget about. As you’ll see below, most of my favorite shots from this year aren’t actually of horses in the dressage arena, cross country field, or show jumping. While the horses and the competition are the main attractions of the event, they’re often not what’s most interesting (or easiest) to photograph, and many of the shots I like most from this year’s show season don’t even have a horse in them.

I came out of this season with about 7,000 frames from seven different trials/schooling shows, and I think a “gear wishlist” with about $7,000 worth of equipment on it. Well … maybe just $3,500 for a new Nikon D610 and a 28-300mm f2.8 zoom lens, which I believe happens to be the setup of one of the other show dads/photographers that I got to know well this year. When Simon (a fellow JLE parent) talks his wife into letting him upgrade his gear, I’ll be first in line to buy his used equipment. On the topic of show photographers: when I mentioned in my last post that the only thing which *must* happen over the course of a horse show is making sure your horse makes it to a designated location at a predetermined time on each of three days, I was referring to the horse, not the show photographer. In an attempt to cover as many of the barn members’ rides as we possibly could, I think Simon and I spent more time at each show pouring over the next day’s schedule than the riders did to make sure that we could get as much coverage as possible of as many of the barn’s riders as possible, while still making sure Simon could watch his daughter and I could watch Dandy. The logistical gymnastics are not performed by the rider in your life, they are performed by the volunteer team photographers in your life. Truth.

Side note for a rant: my desire for $3,500 worth of photography gear is totally justifiable, if not realistically possible, because at least *my* next $3,500 purchase will be paid off free and clear without any obligation to pay for board, training, saddles, shoes, supplements (the fact that mustangs survive on the open range without the intervention of the SmartPak company is a miracle), event entry fees, embroidered saddle pads, rain sheets, blankets, more blankets(?!), enough salt blocks that you think the horse is going to die of a sodium overdose, and a wardrobe the likes of which would make a Wall Street banker balk at paying for. Lauren’s next OTTB will have … all of that attached. But he’ll be mine too I suppose so I shouldn’t complain too much. </end rant>

So with that, some of the better pictures I’ve managed this year, roughly arranged into some kind of themes.

Insanely talented horses doing insanely talented things, with insane people riding them (God bless you JLE, but it takes a special sort of crazy to jump these things):

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Seeing a horse jump a Novice/Training fence and realize why people think they could some day do what Capato is doing in the pictures above:

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Water jumps:

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Girls and their horses:

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Girls and their dogs:

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Just the dogs (because let’s be honest here … after 72 hours at a horse show, the dog is still happy to be with you even if the girls aren’t!):

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Kindred spirits (other photographers):


Looking up (and playing with post-processing in Lightroom, just because it’s fun):

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Paint ponies:

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And, of course, with apologies for ripping off the shot of what must be everyone who has ever walked past this post at Aspen Farm while holding a camera:


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