First, this is a first! Having my fine art photography recognized in this way is such an honour. The subject matter, the skilled empathic people (in this case women) who work quietly in the background of the horse industry to keep the engine humming, is one near and dear to my heart. Partially because I’ve been there.
When I was interning for my national coaching certification at a hunter/jumper show barn/riding school years ago it was a hard slog, long hours and exhausting on every level. I was in my mid-thirties trying to figure out the next phase of my life, struggling with personal battles in the pursuit of a dream that was barely formulated. Good people with a passion for horses and working behind the scenes in various aspects of the equine industry have inspiring stories, too, and I want to tell them.
Second, how cool is it that Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry (see menu for YouTube link) has now been selected as a finalist for an EQUUS Film Festival WINNIE Award? I’m beyond speechless to have my work acknowledged in this way. We;ll find out Sunday evening if we’re bringing a little something special home.
Third, this is my first trip to New York City. Being a country girl now the thought of spending time in a large city for any length of time is a bit intimidating. I love the wide open spaces and the tranquility of rural life. Cities tend to overwhelm me. But I’m going to have fun and make the most of it. It’s my birthday weekend, too. I’ll be fine.
A year ago I submitted six photos for a Toronto exhibit and now they, and several more, are being acknowledged in a film festival in New York City. We never know where life is going to take us as long as we’re willing to dream.
In November 2017, I answered a call for submissions from the Urban Gallery in Toronto to participate in their “Women at Work” show lined up for the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival the following May. Since I live on a horse farm and women work tirelessly in the barn I felt it would be perfect to pay tribute by shadowing them for a day to see what moments stirred my creative spirit. My thanks to Eira Engzell, a manager and trainer at Santerre Show Stables, and Courtney Dunkeld, her able right hand at the time, for giving me permission to do so.
The truth is my photography is more intuitive than technical so I’m never quite sure what will happen. Light and shadow and colour dazzle me and it’s really about capturing their impact in a moment; the dramatic contrast created in a delicious melange of three tasty ingredients. I don’t process much, only enough to draw out what drew me in. I was pleased to see that some fine images emerged, so took a chance and submitted them to the gallery just before the deadline. As fate would have it Calvin Holbrook, Gallery Manager, and his partner Allen Shugar, the Curator, loved what they saw and told me immediately that my work was in. It was my first such exhibit and I was so excited.
That weekend (November 18 & 19) brought a lot of soul searching as I processed this wonderful news. Shakespeare (Bear), my heart horse for almost 12 years, and I spent some quality time as per my equine experiential learning training. I needed his gentle spirit to help ground and guide me. In that session his distinct message to me was, “Let go, and let be.” It didn’t register right away what it meant, but I felt it was about releasing old patterns of self-denial and embracing this new truth of acknowledgement and celebration in my life. After all, what was there not to be happy about? Bear had brought so much wisdom before and this was another one of those nuggets I could add to my treasure chest that would help move my life forward.
Two days later, and after four hours of agonizing torsion colic, my heart horse was gone. Words cannot adequately describe the devastation I felt, and yet his admonition to “Let go, and let be” seemed to take on a whole new meaning and even offer some comfort. It became my new mantra. Bless his big heart, Bear had imparted this wisdom and prepared me for his imminent departure all in five little words.
For a while it was difficult to accept Bear’s sudden death and enjoy my small creative victory, and yet somehow I knew that he had opened a way. I vowed to honour his memory by embracing this new chapter in my life and keeping vibrant everything he had been, and was, to me.
Of course, the show in May was an exciting step forward in my creative journey. To see six of my images gracing the walls of the intimate gallery in downtown Toronto, along with the photographs of three other distinguished artists, was a thrill to say the least. I received wonderful, supportive feedback and felt entirely good about the experience. When the show was over I brought all of the images home and set them up in my studio so they could continue to inspire me. That’s right, none of them sold, however it didn’t seem to matter. Somehow I knew it was important for the exhibit to remain intact for another time.
The show must go on …
Riding the wave of grief for some weeks, I began to prepare my exhibit for the show. I called it Barn Mavens. One of the images I selected (above) is the last ever taken of Bear, just four days before he died. He looked right at me and snorted as I captured the moment. He made me laugh. Oh, how he loved to ham for the camera. A warm, enduring memory.
In June I caught wind of the EQUUS Film Festival coming to the Hills of Headwaters, where I live, and through an acquaintance who had organized the event was connected to the founder of the festival, Lisa Diersen. I threw caution to the wind. Was there some way my images might find a platform through the festival? I knew nothing about anything. Putting my creative works out beyond blogs and websites was a new experience, but what the heck, my beautiful images are of no value to anyone hidden deep in my computer archive.
Lisa suggested I put together a video photo journal of my images, an emerging way for photographers to get some traction. I knew nothing (and I mean nothing!) about making video. iMovie existed on my computer, but I’d never brought it to life. Oh dear, what was I to do? Again, I threw caution to the wind and gave it a go. I had lots of images beyond the original six to play with. I consulted a friend who had some experience making video, and while I cursed and struggled I grew modestly in film making enlightenment and produced my first short, short video, complete with a soundtrack through www.bensound.com. When I was more or less happy with it, I re-named the project Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry to be more inclusive and, after spending hours figuring out how to upload it to YouTube, sent it on to Lisa. Her response was highly encouraging, and she suggested I submit it to the EQUUS Film Festival.
What? Really? After picking my jaw up off the floor, I threw caution to the wind again and got myself signed up on FilmFreeway, the online portal to film festivals everywhere. I made my submission to the category “Equestrian Photo Journal ~ English”; paid my fee and forgot all about it until I received word in October that Unsung Heroines of the Horse Industry had been officially selected for EQUUS Film Festival 2018 in New York City.
And so, here we are. What happens next, I don’t know, but I’ll continue to throw caution out the door and live the moment as fully as I can. If there’s one thing Bear taught me it’s to be in the now. Let go of what no longer serves and let be that which comes in its place. There is a lesson to be learned in each experience; there’s a silver lining to every cloud. I never thought that part of mine would be seeing my fine art photography on a silver screen.
It’s been almost a year since Bear’s sudden departure. Memories are flooding back, but they don’t make me sad anymore. They make me wistful, and grateful. He was the horse that healed my heart and now I can only think of him with the joy that was our life for all those amazing years.
As the cycle of the first year comes to a close, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite images of him in the next few posts. I’ve also put together a Celebration of Life video that will be uploaded to YouTube soon and tagged to this blog. It’s all part of the closure.
Connected through heart and spirit, Bear’s last message to me was to “Let go and let be.” Two days later he was gone and 50 weeks on I am finally preparing to release his ashes and fully pour my heart into life again.
He will be forever in my heart; the heart he healed with his deep wisdom and his own incredibly loving heart.
Attentive ears. Relaxed and swishy tail. Soft eye.
Sophi was in her element at the dressage clinic with Diane Creech on Saturday. Nancy, my coach, did an amazing job riding her and I could not have been happier for my girl.
Diane called her a “super mare” many times, and said that we’re really only tapping into 40 per cent of Sophi’s potential. So, I guess that means there’s lots of room for her to grow into fourth level/Prix St. George dressage, and as long as she stays healthy, enjoys the work and has fun, the sky’s the limit.
We will invite Sophi to take the next step and see how far she wants to go.
Sophia is stepping up to fourth level dressage movements and will dance with my coach, Nancy Smart, at the Diane Creech clinic today. Diane is a Pan Am Games silver medalist and the trainer who started my beautiful Shakespeare many, many moons ago.
Looking forward to seeing her again and watching my sweet Sophia practice her dance steps.
When I was younger and bolder I used to enjoy the thrill of jumping a simple course of fences with a trusted, and trusting, equine partner.
It’s been about 15 years since a freak accident put an end to this pastime. Frankly, I don’t even care to work over ground poles anymore. Having said that, I can still remember and appreciate the precision, timing, coordination, balance, athleticism, and sheer joy of soaring over a jump. It is a unique and amazing feeling, indeed, to sit astride a horse who loves their work.
Horses, like people, are individuals with different characters, talents and enthusiasms. A skilled trainer can identify what makes a particular horse tick and create a training program that allows it to blossom in a discipline for which they demonstrate a clear talent and enjoyment. Training a horse to race when they clearly have no aptitude for it is like pressing a child to run a marathon when they’d rather throw javelin. They simply will not thrive in, or enjoy, the experience. So, like the attentive parent who thoughtfully nurtures a child’s obvious interest in, for instance, horses, a good trainer will notice when a horse demonstrates an obvious talent and enthusiasm for jumping or running and guide their development accordingly, being careful not to overwhelm mind, body and spirit in the process.
I once worked with a well-regarded trainer who, when asked a general question about horse training, always answered, “It depends on the horse.” What works for one horse, will not necessarily work for another. It depends on their history, temperament, talent. The ability to be sensitive to the needs of each individual horse is the mark of a good trainer. One-size-fits-all has no place in the training of horses.
My three-year journey with Sophi in the discipline of dressage has been slow. At the beginning we worked with a trainer who appeared to show no interest in moving us beyond first level, even though Sophi’s previous experience and training had been more advanced. Did this coach demonstrate a lack of belief in my ability to ride my dressage horse at a higher level? Yes. So, I let this coach go and enlisted another who came highly recommended and brought new eyes and understanding to our training. She immediately saw Sophi’s talent and acknowledged that with some polishing I had the skills to ride more advanced tests. Within six months Sophi and I were showing second level. This year we’ve nailed our third level movements and now we’re adding in more complex fourth level “tricks” that Sophi not only loves to do, but already does reasonably well. This is an exciting time for both us, and I’m so looking forward to watching her (and I) soar under the watchful eye of our amazing trainer.
We all need a chance to blossom and soar. Surrounding ourselves with appropriate, supportive people and being in an environment where we are encouraged to thrive and grow will give us, and our horses, the best chance to do this.