The Horse World’s Unsung Heroines



Women in the horse industry work very hard. I know because I’ve done it.

Each day is a grind of activity that wears you out and wears you down. You work in all weathers; under all conditions. For good owners, and bad. With well-mannered horses, and with demons (largely a reflection of their owners either way.) You don’t call in sick, and if you’ve broken something in the line of duty, you work around it.

You muck, you sweep, you clean tack, you feed hay (and grain), you scrub toilets, you pick the s**t out of paddocks, you groom, you ride, you de-cobweb the barn, you dust, you clean the kitchen, you do first aid. In many barns you do your best to manage uncomfortable feelings caused by the disdain of those who look down upon you while you’re doing all you can to ensure their horse(s) are happy and healthy.

You must be vigilant; resilient; detail-oriented; take initiative; be observant; empathetic (difficult for some); patient; skilled at what you do and be quick at it. You get back on the horse if you fall off. The horse always comes first.

The Mane Tamer Marked

“The Mane Tamer” on display at the Urban Gallery, May 2018, for the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival

At the end of the day you leave the barn filthy and saturated in Eau d’Equine. Exhausted and maybe even bruised or broken from an unfortunate altercation with one of your charges for which you are always to blame (always!). You stand in line at the grocery store to buy dinner, somewhat self-conscious of your malodorous presence, yet unable to motivate yourself to care too much because you don’t have the energy to go home and clean up first. Oh, and a social life outside of work? Good luck with that. Almost killed me to sing in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir during concert weeks after a 10-hour day at the barn.

For most who follow this path it is a labour of love. There is no glamour and certainly no big money to be made. The best you can hope for is an environment where you and your work are appreciated; where you can find your niche and from there build your life.

When I was interning at a hunter/jumper show barn in my mid 30s I was at a crossroads in my life, trying to figure out what’s next. And for some that’s exactly what working in a barn constitutes. It’s a weigh station for figuring out the next step. Some choose to pursue the equestrian path; others give thanks the equestrian path led them somewhere else. Those who are fortunate enough to have built successful careers from the ground up in the equestrian world have slogged in barns aplenty. This does not include the (very) few who are born into money and have it all handed to them on a silver platter. Most in the business have done the grunt work, and have a few tales to tell because of it.

To celebrate the unsung heroines of the equestrian world, six equestrian-themed images from my new series Barn Mavens will be on display in May at the Urban Gallery in Toronto. The gallery is one of 200 official venues in Toronto during the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival.

The gallery theme for this exhibit is Women at Work, and in my showcase I’m pleased to feature two of the knowledgeable and hardworking horsewomen of Santerre Show Stables in Mono, Ontario.

The top images are not on show for this exhibit, but will feature in an expanded exhibit sometime in the future, or possibly even a photo book docu-tribute to women who work in the horse industry. In the meantime, it is an honour to have my work featured along with three other talented photographers at the Urban Gallery for this international event.

Nurture what you love …

Horse Mom

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Daily Prompt: Notable

10 thoughts on “The Horse World’s Unsung Heroines

  1. What fantastic photo’s and your description of women who work in the horse world was brilliant. It also rings true for many owners who put in a full day elsewhere and then head to the stables to ensure their equine friends are wanting for nothing.

    I have a brilliant picture of my 26 year old daughter, having a quick pop over the cross country fences at the yard Prince is kept at, wearing her riding hat, riding boots ……. and the dress she wore to the office that day!!! Prince needed to stretch his legs and the course had just reopened after the winter shut down …. enough said.

    She’ll often message me to say she’s on the way back from the yard, on the bus and no-one wants to sit near her because Eau de Prince isn’t that appealing to most people, and that she needs to pop into the supermarket as well because she didn’t get around to doing the shopping over the weekend because Prince needed a bath, the farrier was coming, she had to practice for a show etc etc

    Good luck with your exhibition.

  2. Dear Dorothy,
    I remember your first lessons. I remember you were hooked on horses, barns, mucking out, smelling like a horse, and loving the smell.
    Life’s path has taken you into many hills and valleys, but your passion for the ‘ barn’ life never waivered, even when the possibility of that life was so far over the horizon as to seem impossible.

    Then you made the life changing decision you mentioned and since that day you have, by trial and error, hop skips and jumps and hard work become a remarkable horse woman. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, not only are you a successful horse woman, you are employing your many talents to enhance all that you do. You not only photograph horses, over the years you have done portraits, written poetry, taught, and most of all, loved the world you have developed. I feel my vocabulary too limited to be able to express how proud I am of you, and how pleased I am for you, and that now you begin to receive recognition for the hard work, dedication and love you have devoted to this craft.
    Bless you darling,

    • Thank you, mom. I know you are fully aware of my journey ~ the effort, the toil and the toll, as well as the joy of coming to a place in my life where I can finally “be.” Your love and support along this path, through good times and bad, has meant everything to me. 🙂

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