It was spring in San Juan Capistrano, and cold, and we had left very early and in the dark to get to the show. When we pulled in to start our day, I saw a half dozen horses and riders in the warm up ring, all breathing steam like dragons as the sun crested the trees. I’d barely put the car in “park” before leaping out, grabbing a camera and dashing to the side of the ring. As Tobi Coate and Zorren transitioned to a walk break, the steam rose up from his body and enveloped them. Thank you, Tobi, for being a great model, and for being in the right place at the right time!
“Finding the Light” photo of Anna Buffini and Wilton II
I am delighted and honored that one of my favorite photos is one of 3 finalists for the Silver Camera, presented every year at CHIO Aachen.
Aachen is probably the biggest, coolest, best-run show on the planet. Between opening day and Sunday, it will run world class dressage, show jumping, combined driving, three day eventing and vaulting … more or less concurrently. Last year it drew over 360,000 spectators.
The Silver Camera is open only to press photographers who have been accredited for international events, so to say there is a bit of competition for this prize is probably the understatement of the year. Tune in after July 20 to find out who won!
In between photographing dressage and painting commissioned portraits, I’ve been working on a series of still life painting of bright, colorful horse show ribbons and shiny horsey things like bits and trophies. These paintings are all larger than life, hyper-realistic tromp l’oeil. This particular one is of lux ribbons won at a National Championship, complete with swanky fringe….. I placed them on polka dotted fabric just for fun! Scroll through the photos to see the intricate details.
Oil on canvas, 30″ x 30″
The buildings of Hof í Vatnsdal are neat and red and white, bright against the rich green fields. These lowlands on the north have long history of settlement and agriculture that traces back to the Vikings, and this has been a working farm since 895 AD. As we walk toward the river, we can feel the springiness of the good ancient ground here. This is a friendly place for horses.
Aline and her daughters appear on the road, each riding one horse and ponying another. They are good riders, and put on a display of their excellent horses’ specialized gaits. Icelandic horses have a walk, trot and canter plus two breed specific gaits, the tölt, which is a four-beat running walk, and the flying pace, for when you really need to cover ground. Once they have done all the figures we ask of them, they announce that they are going to ride through the river. The valley is flat, and the water runs over smooth river rock, but it comes directly from a glacier and it runs swiftly, so it has to be exceedingly cold. But in they go, with huge smiles on both horses and humans, and gallop full tilt through the shoulder deep water. These horses, I muse, are made of stern stuff that our sport horses have forgotten.
As is their dog. He’s a small, nearly white sheep dog, perhaps 20 inches high at the shoulder, and he too leaps into the water to join the party. He meet up with them all on the small island that splits the stream, and then jumps back into the swift moving water, well upstream of us, and we are a bit taken aback as the current rushes him toward, and then past us. But he’s obviously done this many times, his eyes fixed on a particular flat spot on the bank, where he bounds out, shakes himself off, smiles, and continues to follow his horses.
And then the riders dismount and proceed to unbridle one of the stallions that they had been leading, and let him go. They’ve set this shot up for us: they know that he’ll trot through the water and gallop on home, and give us a photographic treat on the way. We are impressed at how calmly he does this.
The next stop is a waterfall, a brook cascading over 40 feet of sheer rock face to a still pool before continuing down a rocky stream bed. Our riders head up the stream, picking their way between boulders, and plunge into the saddle-deep pool without hesitation. Riders are laughing, horses are smiling: they are in their element, doing what they are bred to do.
Off they go, tolting up the 45 degree slope as if it’s a gentle hill, to the top of the falls, where they pose as a group, people, horses and dog, rocks towering above them and shearing off below them, water roaring about them, in the center of their incredible world.
For more photos and to order prints, follow this link.
A mare can stand perfectly still and make you hear the words: Thou shalt not come closer.
It was our last location of the day, and there were several dozen mares in the pasture beside the lake. All the others were grazing and tolerating the buoyant shenanigans of foals. But a solitary mare stood off by herself at the edge of the field. We skirted her, our eyes downcast to avoid being confrontational or threatening. And when we were in a position to see why she stood so, we saw that there was a foal lying in the deep grass at her feet. It was very still, and we wondered if everything was okay with it. We waited, glancing at her sideways. And then slowly, luxuriously, with the naive trust of a foal born in a place with no predators, the baby awakened, lifted its head and stretched, then got to its feet and tottered off on new legs with its now relaxed mother.
We sat on grassy tussocks. We could have stayed there all afternoon, sheer cliffs to our left, snow covered mountains to our right, a fjord stretching off into the distance, mares and foals wandering congenially among us. But then they decided that there was either tastier grass elsewhere, or they’d grown weary of our presence, and they took their long-maned, multicolored selves down the road beyond the knoll at our backs and out of our view.
We were off to see another herd, this time youngsters, equine teenagers, actually, between 2 and 4 years old, barely touched by humans, brash and more outspoken than their elders, curious about us like children. They wanted to inspect our cameras and look in our pockets. Often we had to shoo them away to keep their exuberance and horse-to-horse conversations at an appropriate distance from us and our cameras. The ground here was all tussocks, little hills about 18 inches high, created where the near Arctic weather freezes and thaws the ground, over and over. It was difficult for us to walk on it ourselves, but these horses had been raised on this earth and they bounded from end to end of the field, fleet of foot and with unexpected grace.
We continued north, taking in the vast waterfall of Gullfoss, a massive torrent that could compete with Niagara Falls. We stopped at Thingvellier National Park, which encompasses the great Atlantic rift between North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. We strolled below the sheer stone cliff that has been forced upward a hundred feet, stared into a great dark crack in the earth where the man made path had ruptured and split. Further north, following the road as it tunneled under the Hvalfjörður Fjord – the first actual darkness that we had seen since we’d arrived. Northward, the roads becoming quieter still, and we turned north yet again off the Ring Road, past the town of Blönduós, further north, until all there was were green fields and rocks and the Greenland Sea. Even on this beautiful June day we imagined what the winters would be like on this windswept shore.
We waited for horses. We were assured that they were just over the rise, beyond the empty field. There were flocks of terns, and Eider ducks, and sandpipers, and grebes, amidst the rocks and indigo water.
And then there were horses of many colors. They came over the hill toward us, chestnuts and paints and bays and duns, mostly mares, a few with foals, picking their way over the broken lumpy ground and through streams, pausing before a textured old barn, then pushing past a rocking shoreline. As they circled us, they were in turns illuminated and outlined by the heavenly morning light, filtered through high clouds.