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!
I think this was the third storm of the week. Maybe the fourth, if you count the two hours of sunshine this afternoon as a break between storms. We in southern California have been delightfully drenched this week, and there is, thankfully, finally, snow on the mountain tops. The sky has been incredible, dramatic, fanciful…. so here are my favorite two photos from this afternoon.
If it’s spring, that means there are baby horses!
This is Dancer, a Lusitano colt, at Donna Richardson’s Fox Run Farm, who was the most independent three-week-old foal I’ve ever photographed. Most foals that age try not to stray far from Mom’s protective Sphere of Influence. Not so Dancer! While Uma grazed, he was busy exploring every corner of his paddock, finding all sorts of interesting things to play with: a strip of bark, the water trough, his halter, a puddle…. He spent our photo session alternately ripping around at full speed and sproinging into the air. I can’t wait to see how he matures!
In between my large commissioned paintings, and my large still life paintings, and my myriad small paintings done plein air, (and in between photo sessions, horse show photos, and photo processing!) I’ve been working on a series of smaller paintings. These are between 11″x 14″ and 18″x 18″, and they’re just the right size for those intimate spots where you can get up close and personal with the painting.* I’ve got a couple this size in my kitchen, my bathrooms, the hallway…. One of the joys of being an artist is that you never run out of things to hang on the walls! I ran out of walls a long time ago, however, so I have a continuously rotating collection.
This one is called “Hijinx” and I’m sure you can imagine why! We’ve all been that person (far, far to the left, beyond the left side of this painting) trudging after that fast-receding lunge line, but I couldn’t resist painting this gleeful, naughty horse!
*and this one is available at a small gem of a price too: $525.00
My painting “Golden Field: Galway Downs” is featured on the November 21-28 double issue of the Chronicle of the Horse.
Cross country courses in southern California are different than the ones on the East Coast: having been raised on photographing Radnor and Essex, Fair Hill and Groton House events, the first time I set foot on the course at Galway I had a moment of culture shock: instead of rolling green pastures, the galloping was on carefully aerated dirt tracks through tawny California wild grasses.
I’d been hiking around the Galway Downs cross country course all that day with both cameras and painting gear, setting up the easel in different places to sketch the mountain backgrounds, open foregrounds and tall trees. I’ve done a number of paintings from this day’s reference material, including “Top Of The World” and “Mirror“. “Golden Field” was from my last location sketch of the day, as the shadows were starting to slant and the light was turning amber.
Here are two new paintings: both are of stunningly beautiful Arabians, both paintings are 24″x24″, and both are all about all that fabulous flying hair catching the early morning light.
The week before Thanksgiving was the annual gathering of our casual affiliation of equine photographers, the Vision 18 Collective. A total of 10 members descended upon (or ascended to, depending on where you were arriving from) Casa Miller-Steiner. Just like any good slumber party, there were people sleeping everywhere: on whatever beds we had, on couches, Aero Beds, the floor…. I don’t have sisters, but this was a great sort of sisterhood: we have shared interests but not so much shared baggage.
So before our gathering, I asked the group if anyone had any special food or drink requests. Now, here at the Casa, one can always count on their being plenty of wine, vodka, Sapphire martinis, fruit, veggies and various organic goodies. The group sounded generally pleased with this fare, but the things that they wanted to be sure were on hand? Diet Coke and Pop Tarts. And a whole lot of gourmet chocolate magically showed up in my kitchen, too. Which I said I would share, but somehow I never got around to it.
Okay, to be fair, the Pop Tarts request came from just one member, Kim, otherwise known as The Mascot. I thought it would be a giggle to have them around, and because they were on sale, Sharon picked up several boxes just for the effect. This was met with glee from Kim, but dontcha know, by the end of the week there weren’t any left…. and I know that Kim didn’t eat them all herself!
The first day, we herded everyone into the Humongo Vehicle (a Ford Expedition, which could transport 7 people in New Millenium comfort) and drove up to Laguna Beach, ostensibly to look at art, but more importantly to have lunch overlooking the ocean at Las Brisas. Bloody Marys were ordered, arranged, photographed, and finally consumed. Need I say more?
The next day, we commandeered Donna Richardson’s and Steve Border’s Fox Run Farm. Donna generously let us have the run of the place, turned out the beautiful Lusitano stallion Postulano for some liberty shots, and helped us turn her barn aisle into a photo studio. Marie Cobb had shipped her set of lights out for us to experient with, so we tinkered with different lighting effects on the various horses, including Steve and his big horse Exuprey, who had just returned from winning the Working Hunter Championship at the National Horse Show. Then Donna played dress up, climbed aboard Postulano and piaffed in front of our lights and backdrops. Thank you, Donna, for sharing your barn, horses and your sense of adventure with us!
Our next adventure took us out to the Imperial Sand Dunes, in the desert to the east of San Diego. If you’ve ever driven Interstate 8 from San Diego to Arizona, this is the area of endless sand which draws tens of thousand of dune buggy enthusiasts. We were meeting friends who brought the ultimate dune buggies: their Arabian endurance horses. As we waited for our last members, Lynne, Cristy and Amy, to arrive at our shoot location, helping our “models” get dressed in Native Costume, the Park Rangers drove up, wanting to know if we had permits. Now, it’s their park and it’s their job to know what’s going on, but none of us knew anything about permits because Lynne was the one who had set the whole thing up … and she wasn’t there yet. So we all passed the buck, chatted with them and asked them as many questions about “sandrails” (as the dune buggies are called) as they asked about horses and photography. I wondered if they were just curious about the novelty of two horses going out on the dunes, and 10 women with cameras following them. It was quite a sight! I did see one of the rangers surreptitiously pull out his point-and-shoot to take a beauty shot of one of the horses. I asked him if he’d like to pose, but he demurred.
You just don’t realize how difficult the fine sand is to walk in until you drape 20 pounds of cameras on your shoulders and strike off across the dunes. Believe me, it looks a lot easier in the movies! My hat is off to our riders and their horses: we were having a hard enough time just walking, and they cantered across the ridges and saddles several times.
The sandrail drivers were just as curious as the rangers had been, and were courteous enough to give the horses wide berth on the dunes we were shooting on. Once we were done with the horses, they showed off for us, running along the dune ridges right in front of the sunset.
Our last day together, we descended on the San Diego Zoo. We split into groups and vanished into the wilderness. We’d been planning to leave before rush hour, but that idea vanished in the course of various cell phone calls and text messages as we spied tiger cubs, hippos, and meerkats, and obsessed on photographing flamingos. We finally posed for a last group photo, which we dedicated to our friend and missing member Susan Sexton, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Phoenix. Get well soon, Susan!
Back Row: Me, Mary Cornelius, Mary Cobb, Karin Naimark, Kim Vickrey, Darlene Wohlart
Front Row: Cristy Cumberworth, Lynne Glazer, Amy Cody
We had our last dinner together at the fabulous Peohe’s on Coronado. When Axel and I lived on Coronado, Peohe’s was one of our favorite restaurants, and it’s only gotten better. We enjoyed great food, great service, and the incomparable view of the San Diego skyline. A great end to a fun week!
Oh, and here’s a gallery of photos from the week!
I’ve had a whole raft of horse show mini-posters over the years, little things that I run off on the color copier at Kinkos that I can staple them to the bulletin boards at horse shows. Some have been literally works of art, a favorite photo or painting emblazoned with a directive: Sign Up for Photos. Because they’re small, usually 8.5×11, I know that if I can see them from across the ring I’ve chosen the right image.
When I first started using a computer in my business (yes, there really WAS photography before computers!) The only graphics I had available were simple little bits of clip art, designed for simplicity and teensy file size. The first computer sign I made used two cartoon eyes and at the top, the phrase, “Ever Had the Feeling You Were Being Watched?” Below the eyes was my logo. I had the brilliant idea of putting these on the inside of the doors to the porta-potties at the Radnor Three Day Event. That day, 20 years ago, after I installed the first sign, someone stepped in to use the facilities and I heard a whoop of laughter as she came face to face with the eyes, so I knew I was on to something. I used that concept until technology evolved and I was able to create more sophisticated signage.
After years of using images that I though were the most powerful, elegant, sublime, etc, I decided to revisit my “Watched” sign, but using a real photo this time:
Here’s the cool thing about this photo: I did NO RETOUCHING on it! This is what I – and perhaps Sandrina – saw, the moment after Jan Ebeling dismounted after his ride. She turned to look at him, and for an instant he was reflected in the orb of her eye. Here’s a detail:
There’s no compositing, no superimposing one image on another. The moment was just a gift from above.
I think I’ve spent pieces of many days since trying to find that lighting, that angle again.
Okay, you’ll be able to see this one coming, right?
French horse named Twister wins the Prix St George.
French fan standing near in gate starts to wave the French flag, a la that scene in “Les Miserables”, during victory lap.
French horse, leading victory lap, sees flag and Twister … twists.
We’re done with Week 1 of the Olympic Dressage Selection Trials and Festival of Champions in San Juan Capistrano, CA.
It was hot.
No, I take that back. It was stinking hot.
Now, before you snicker and say, oh you San Diegans are just spoiled by your endless perfect 70-something weather, the thermometer in my car said 98 when we left the grounds at 6:00 pm. My friend Sarah, who photographs and writes for the Chronicle of the Horse, lives in Virginia and is no stranger to heat and humidity, and she was feeling lightheaded at the end of the day. As was I. And so was Axel, having taught a judges’ seminar while sitting in the bleachers in the hot sun all day long. So I can’t imagine what the riders were feeling, putting on black wool coats and riding in this heat.
Most of the horses appeared to not be affected by the heat — we saw several horses turning in tests that were “personal bests”. Others were definitely wilting, as were some of the riders! You can find stories about the competition at The Chronicle, as well as on the two websites that I was photographing for, www.phelpssports.com and www.dressagedirect.com. So here’s the weekend from the photographer’s point of view.
Did I mention that it was hot?
I’m glad I thought to pack a lunch cooler with some ice and water, because I got to the press tent on Saturday morning and there was nothing and no one there. It was the first day of a two-weekend-long show, so I can understand not having everything organized. But it was kind of difficult for those journalists who had just gotten off planes and hadn’t expected to have to go shopping for provisions on the way from the airport. The good news: the food vendor, (aside from having water at $2.50 per pint) was making root beer floats. One of those things that remind me of my childhood and summers on Jones Beach. Fortunately by Sunday morning there was one of those huge insulated cans filled with ice and bottles of water in the press tent — there were moments that I was ready to submerge myself in it!
We share the showgrounds at The Oaks with a big hunter jumper show that is going on at the same time. Parking is a trial. Press and show staff have to park about 1/3 of a mile away from the arena, next to the trailers and down a one-lane dirt road that winds past the manure dumpsters. It’s not really that far, except when toting equipment, but it was great fun walking on that road on Sunday as the vans were trying to pull out. My darling husband (and even though he’s judging on Week 2, he couldn’t park any closer) was chivalrous enough to help me offload my 60 pounds of supplies and equipment right at the entrance and then braved the far parking himself.
There are always vans and trucks going by the arena, and a couple of the Junior and Young Rider horses were startled by truck beds banging and other odd noises coming from just out of sight on the other side of the scrim. Not to mention that just as I’d line up a shot, along would come a big shiny van, right into my background!
The judges’ boxes were beautifully decorated with masses of orange and yellow flowers. With the sun coming from the “A” end of the arena, that should have been a fabulous background. Unfortunately, the “A” end of the arena was off limits to us. The sponsor tent was there, and we were not even allowed within 20 meters of that tent: a perimeter had been set up that could have protected a president…. When I discovered this, Axel called my resulting mood Channeling my Inner New Yorker. (You really don’t want my “INY” to be conjured up: I lived in NY for 35 years before heading to San Diego, and during that time I turned agita into an art form. San Diego, fortunately has nearly cured me, except at times like these when I feel like a female version of the Incredible Hulk.) By the last hour of competition on each day the sun had moved sufficiently for flattering pictures from other locations, but it was 2 long days of struggling with the hard solstice light before that.
The good news: getting home each evening and cracking open a beer has never felt so good. I think angels were singing as I flipped the lids of those Pilsners!
Here are a few favorite photos. Click here to see the whole Highlights Gallery.
Stay tuned this weekend, which brings the Brentina Cup (for young adult riders) the Intermediare Championship and the final Grand Prix and Freestyle for the Olympic Selection Trials. I’ll be again posting images to www.phelpssports.com and www.dressagedirect.com, starting with the jog on Thursday.