Friday, July 2, 2010

Equine Photography

I found something very exciting on the internet yesterday. I won't build up the suspense anymore. It's called Equine Photographers Network (.org) and it's fantastic! In fact, I feel so inspired by this discovery I've decided to blog about it and how it's motivating me.

I think it's safe to tell you "Epona" is not my real name. That would be awesome, but simply not so in this situation. I shouldn't need to explain my anonymity but I'll just say it's mostly for work purposes. And I really don't need some people knowing everything about me. That being said, there are certain nuggets of truth I can divulge from time to time.

I've mentioned my profession (vaguely) in previous posts. It's not exactly what I'd like to be doing, but it's a living and allows me to keep an eye out for any photographic opportunities. At heart I'm a photographer...a photographer sitting on a horse.

I've thought long and hard about the things that bring me the most joy in my life: horses, animals, art, personal expression, photography, my husband (sometimes ;) ) independence. But making money so I can live within slight comfort has been a bit of a priority since I left home at 18 years of age. I immediately began plotting out routes to success that would leave me with piles of money under my feet so I could live the "good life" but each of these plans fizzled out as I realized I didn't have the patience to be unhappy for the length of time it would take to be "rolling in it" as they say.

Even still, I have a good job that's relatively in my realm of where I'd like to see myself in 10 years, but there's still a strong divide in that and my animal pseudo-lunacy. How can I make the loves of my life converge into one cohesive, lucrative, existence?

I toyed with the idea of going back to school and get my MA in photography (haven't ruled that out yet) and thought maybe going to a strictly horse training school would be the right thing for me. It never dawned on me that I could combine these two passions into a possible (might I even say probable?) career. Long Island has more horses per square mile that just about anywhere else in the country, so finding subjects would never be an issue. I'm in NYC, the photo-hub of the world. It's all there. Why didn't I see it before?

Perhaps I did...I just never recognized it as a valid possibility--until now.

Ok, not just this instant. I have touched on the thought a few times in the past year, but it wasn't something I took too seriously. Horses are tough subjects and you really have to have a unique eye in order to stand out. So many photographers are all doing the same thing. There are a few, however, who really take equine photography to the next level.

Tim Flach is one example. If I could be any kind of photographer, I would be like him. He has an unfailing talent of capturing the wild soul of his subjects. He's made a career of shooting animals and wildlife, but his book Equus is dedicated to the horse and all its majesty. I have never seen more beautiful photos of horses in my life. I've never said the words "I want to be just like him when I grow up!" with more heart-felt ernest than now.

I've shown my photography to a couple photographers, coworkers and friends and they all say the same thing--that I should really pursue the equine photography. I guess it just really comes through how much I love it.

So for now, I'm taking pictures here and there as I see the opportunity, but I am looking at graduate schools around the country (especially in horse-concentrated areas). I'd like to give this a go. Can't hurt to try, right?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The sport of Polo has never really struck me as something I would one day take a liking to, but Sunday certainly proved me wrong.

Let me start out by saying the past two weeks have been excruciating on every level (except riding, but that's another post all together) and I am definitely spearheading into this week with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. That being said, it isn't hard to imagine my state of mind Friday was little more than completely annihilated. It was definitely an opportunity for my husband, the lovely man that he is (sometimes), to score some major points in the event of actually raising my spirits. Really, it was either: make an attempt at making the irritable wife happy or suffer through what could be a very painful weekend. Lucky for him he saw an article about a polo match on Governors Island scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The fact that Nacho Figueras and Prince Harry were playing against each other had no affect on my decision to go whatsoever, I can assure you.

The weekend was really action-packed but that polo game was something else. Tom and I had never been to Governors Island and had no idea what a treat we were in for. We took a free ferry from Brooklyn to the island, which only took a little over 10 minutes, and found ourselves on a little wonderland of sorts. It reminds me a little of the place they filmed "Somewhere In Time". There was green grass (!) cut through by meandering paths leading to unknown places. We walked through the pier and chose a path we hoped would lead us to the polo match but we became distracted from finding our destination due to the unusual wonders around us.

We were told to either go to the right or up a hill so we chose the hill. We passed a bike rental stand and several icecream despensing machines before we found ourselves in a very large field facing a giant fort with a mote! We walked through without a sound, entranced by the strangeness of it all, to the field on the other side, hoping to see polo ponies warming up before the match.

We didn't see any ponies, or the aristocrats who were allegedly paying more than $500 a ticket to schmooze with the prince himself, but we did see some very interesting horticultural oddities. I assume these structures were made for visiting children, but they were so interesting I couldn't help but wish I was a kid again so I could play with them. There were tunnels with plants growing upside-down, benches and beds covered entirely of sod, strange little planters at the child-point-of-view level and very intricately designed structural puzzles. It was like I was transported back in time to a little world I had made up in my head as a little girl. I finally found it. It was really inspirational.

We walked through with a greater sense of haste as the gates to the public had been open for over an hour already and we were beginning to worry we wouldn't find a good seat to watch the match. With Prince Harry and Nacho playing, we had no idea what the crowds would be like, so we arrived 3 hours early. I'll touch on that later. So, we walked through the field and entered another kid's area, but this time there were actually kids playing and running around. We found a park official and asked him to point us in the direction of the game and he allowed us to hop in his little golf cart and dropped us off near the gates. He was so nice. I got the impression through him that the island puts out some kind of strange smell or atmosphere that makes everyone on it genuinely happy. That's a rare gift in NYC, in my opinion, and it was most welcome in my heart.

Walking through the gates to the polo grounds was pretty cool. There were no horses in sight, but the tents, champagne, elaborate hats and well-to-do's were certainly enough eye candy to keep me interested for a little while. Thomas and I found a spot on the boarder lines at the west goal to set up our blanket and really get a great view of the coming action. It wasn't until we actually sat down that we realized we had committed a grave farce. We didn't bring an umbrella.

It was not raining, but if the sun could be considered rain, then it was a monsoon. It was probably around 95 degrees without a could in sight. Thankfully, I had packed 50 spf sunblock and was applying it almost every 15 minutes. I could feel any area of my skin burning if I hadn't covered it generously enough with the lotion. Let's just say I have a very painful line of sunburn along my scalp.

While we waited for the match to begin, Tom suggested I take out an ad on Craigslist for a "horse friend" (translated from husband speak to mean, "Make some friends in the city who actually like going to things like this so I don't have to.") I made some smart comment back insinuating that maybe the horsey "friend" I make could be his replacement and he quickly returned to reading a newspaper from 4 days ago. 

I pulled out my pony club manual to advanced horsemanship and a girl on the blanket next to us asked if I am a rider. We quickly became fast friends, much to Tom's surprise. We both work in Manhattan and by the end of the day we decided we were going to find a polo training camp and go together. Her name is Sue (not really, but for the purposes of the blog it is :) )

After two agonizing hours baking in the sun the match finally started. Nacho and Harry took the field and I had a tiny little fantasy that the match was more like a flight between two gladiators. Both teams, Black Rock and Blackwatch looked so regal on those beautiful polo ponies. I can only imagine how much each horse is worth, but I'm sure they aren't in my price range.

It took me a few minutes to adjust to what was happening in front of me. It was a lot of running back an forth, clustering horses, balls and sticks flying through the air with such purpose. The match was only 4 7-minute Chukkas, so it was short, but extremely intense. They had to change horses after each chukka as the heat was really taking a toll on them.

If you've read anything about the match online, you'll see the most written about event of the day was how Prince Harry fell off his horse. I think he did this quite gracefully. I didn't see it entirely, as it happened at the other end of the field, but I thought it was nice how humble he was about the whole thing. The announcer made some light humor of it by saying, "and Prince Harry has just made a flying dismount, but looks like he's alright!" and Harry smiled and started right away. He was all smiles for the rest of the match. At one point, a man in our section of the crowd shouted to him saying he was robbed of a shot or something or other and Harry actually turned around, smiled and thanked him! Let me tell you. That is one beautiful smile, ladies.

We couldn't have asked for a better match. By the end of the final chukka, the teams were tied with 5 points each. They had a 3 minute overtime and Nacho's team was able to make a last second goal to win it. Nacho then made a victory lap around the field and held out his hand for the fans to congratulate him. It was a great example of how to be a good sport, which I feel some of the more privileged (rich) athletes forget sometimes.

After a 2 hour wait in line for the ferry, an hour on the train in brooklyn and and very cold shower, I was hitting up my computer for more info on our local polo teams in Long Island. I hope to see at least one more match before the season is over and, who knows, maybe I'll get to see Nacho play again. He really was a sight :) It's kind of cool that the first match I've ever attended was a match between two really great world-recognized polo players (celebrity status aside).

Now, Eclipse and I need to get to training camp so maybe one day we can play with them too! (or against them!)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Heels and Hooves

Today was one of those rare days that I really put on the I’m-a-big-girl-and-I-can-wear-heels-and-a-dress work. I even put on makeup this morning. I felt fancy. This really is a struggle for me most mornings when I really only wake up about 20 minutes before I must be out the door to get to work on time. I would be so much happier to wear my worn-in jeans, tee-shirt and chuck taylors for the rest of my days. Ok. I like skirts too...with the chucks of course.

I realized, however, on my walk to work this morning why exactly I do avoid wearing heels like the plague. I was feeling hot to trot and full of that professional Manhattan woman mojo until I remembered (or was reminded, rather) that I have grace of a baby giraffe. Mind you, I’m wearing 4 inch heals which is no where near the height maintained by some of my office counterparts, but for me, I might as well be walking on stilts--stilts with balloons underneath.

Here’s a clearer picture. There is no doorway I’ve passed through that hasn’t had its integrity checked by my shoulder or knee. That being said, these instances usually occur in sneakers. Now. Imagine this scenario with unnatural height under my heels, ultimately compromising my already shaky foundation of balance. Knowing that my feminine grace is something tragic I made sure to hold the hand rails down to and up from the subway. I carefully watched where I was going so I would not stumble on an uneven crack in the pavement and I carried my head high like a woman with a purpose--that is, until I reached the corner of Broadway and 54th street and my ankle buckled under me. 
I did the not-quite-a-swan-dive-recovery and was able to walk away without too many questioning glances and strode into work with my eyes lowered a tad. No one saw. I'm still in the green! I can do this! 
The day progressed with little else to report aside from the disbelieving double-glances from the more fashion-inclined of my coworkers. I think they were all waiting to hear me trip over my own feet and single-handedly destroy the office in my crashing wake but I defied them! I can't blame their skepticism. I can't hardly walk straight in sneakers let along high-healed platform pumps. I think I may have made them proud (until I return to work tomorrow in faded blue jeans and black chucks).
Unfortunately, I got a little head-strong with my new-found confidence and wiped-out on my way to my favorite lunch spot. It is embarrassing to think about it, but I was able to save myself on a lamp post before my knees hit the ground. One poor gentleman took pity on me and asked if I was alright and if I needed help. I thanked him and strode away thinking of Eclipse as I wondered how on Earth women can force such torture on their bodies to feel attractive. if anything, high heals certainly have the opposite effect for me. They make me seem more gangly and less womanly than I was already and certainly less confident.
I thought of Eclipse because, for most of the time I've had him until recently, I was convinced (by many people who seem to have an authority on these types of issues) that he had a club foot. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it refers to the development of a horse's foot (or feet) and the angle of the coffin bone and joint in respect to the hoof wall, making the hoof grow in manner that makes performance difficult in the future in some cases. It basically looks like the horse's foot has too much height in the heel. This can cause lameness but in most mild cases it will typically just cause the horse to trip every now and then.
Then it dawned on me. I wear heals that my body was NOT designed to wear and I trip. Eclipse has a higher heal on his front left hoof than his body was designed to grow and he too trips. (of course he's just got the one, making him walk like I would if I were only wearing one shoe, but you get the point of the comparison) Our bodies are meant to flow and move in a certain way, you fashion designers, so stop making us think we need to wear these damn pedi-death-traps to be attractive and let us be beautiful in the ways we were naturally meant to be beautiful for.
Me being me, I wasn't fully convinced Eclipse's foot was a true club foot by the photos I had seen and the cases I had studied. I had worked with a farrier for a number of months, with only a trim every 8-9 weeks or so and after his foot seemed to be getting worse I came across this blog by Christina at Barefoot Hoof Care. I was intrigued by her posts and decided to ask her about Eclipse's issue. Luckily for us, she has clients in our area and came out for a consultation. She was able to affirm my suspicions that the foot in question was not a club foot at all and completely reversible with proper trimming techniques! 
In only three trims, she took my poor off-balance, tripping Arabian and returned him to a completely balanced, non tripping Arabian! His first trim was so rewarding in fact, that as she was taking of the first of the bars on his soles he immediately began licking and yawning in relief. She definitely made a believer out of me.
Since that first trim he's been so incredibly happy to move around! His "clubby" foot is almost completely at the angle it should be and I couldn't be happier my boy is feeling good enough to rip and roar around the arena at a full gallop completely confident he's not going to trip and fall to his knees. It's a very liberating feeling. 
I took a page from his book and tossed my heals back in the far regions of my shoe pile. 
Good riddance to bad balance!

Friday, May 21, 2010


Everyone should have goals. Whether the goal reaches long into the future or just sending a letter at the end of the week, I think it’s good to have something to work for.

I have more goals than I can count. In fact, many times, I set so many goals for myself I forget them. Tom and I decided a few days ago that we were going to put our dusty dry-erase board to good use for once. We are setting a list of things to accomplish in the next year and I’ve been thinking hard about it. You better believe writing at least three posts a week is on that list as well. I write every day but my posts end up staying in “draft” format. I finish them, but sometimes the post isn’t right for the day or how I’m feeling at the time.

I spoke with my mother-in-law about goals a few months ago. We both have a hard time getting in motion with our riding plans. We both get caught up in just trying to make things work and forget to enjoy ourselves. I still want to plan a horse camping trip with her within the next year...but life just gets in the way and before I know it 6 months have gone by and we are even farther away from accomplishing that little dream for ourselves.

So, this is to get my butt in gear. I’m going to outline some things right now that I want to accomplish with Eclipse and my other talents.

In the next year I will:
 - Develop a better relationship with my horse and be able to confidently ride without fear I’m doing something wrong
 - Take Eclipse to at least ONE show – no matter what the discipline
 - Get my camera back!
 - Get at least ONE paid photo gig in the city or Long Island
 - Load Eclipse in a trailer without having to call my trainer to do it for me
 - Go on at least ONE trail ride AWAY from the barn
 - prepare for an endurance ride in 2011 (I’m SERIOUS about this one!!!)

There’s a lot more...especially pertaining to my dog and home life and relationship with Tom, but I’ll spare you those. These goals are really the first step into getting to a larger goal I have for the future in respect to what it is...but if you don’t lay the foundation, where do you start?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


This is a little unlike me, but I’m working on some other posts that are going to take more time to write and I really want to focus on them before just throwing them up here because it’s been two days since I’ve posted. Therefore, I want to open up this post to a discussion.


My horse spooks. He’s not an all-out spook-and-bolt type, but he is way too cautious of things going outside the arena when we’re having a lesson. Heaven forbid we’re in a show and he bends his entire body away from the rail because some little kid blew a bubble at him or something. Really...his level of distraction has become something of an annoyance. Whenever he shows signs of shying from something (be it a sound, smell or a mean-looking stump on the ground) I kindly guide him back to the area, breathe deeply, talk to him, rub his withers, etc. But the 19th time he does it going past the same spot I start to get a little annoyed. We’re not going to have an hour to make sure a scary post isn’t so scary when we’re doing a dressage test or, heaven forbid, a jumping course.

Do any of you have this problem? If so, what did you do? What do you do? Is this just something that’s never going to go away? I want to compete in endurance races eventually with him, but if he never gets over this, how can I trust he won’t kill me out there in new terrain? There have to be other spooky Arabs doing endurance. Do I just have the crazy one?

Thoughts? Anyone?

**I just realized my father told me a story once about my mother. He said she had an Arabian named Spook. I just always thought she named him that because he was grey and looked like a ghost. lol That''ll teach me to assume. That connection is just too perfect.** 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Out Smarted by An Arab

So a few weeks ago I posted about how great the ground work training was going with Eclipse. Today that all officially ended. He's got my number and he's not really impressed anymore. I'm kinda stuck with my hands in the air. What now?

It started a few days ago when Eclipse stopped meeting me at the gate when I came to the barn. I thought it was odd, but I waited and eventually he came over. Forget it, it's not happened in a week now and I'm starting to wonder what I've done wrong. I haven't changed anything in a negative way. I haven't been doing the same thing over and over...I really just don't know what happened.

Today I tried free-lunging him in his paddock to see if he would eventually come in to me, but nope, didn't happen. In fact, he gave me even more attitude than normal and really came close to running me over a few times. He's really glued to the other horses over the fence and definitely goes to them to rescue him. I eventually let him rest and he took a step and put the halter on him.

We worked to the left and right at a walk and a trot. He yielded his hindquarters and when I asked him to go back to the right he refused. And not just refused, he fought. He pulled and reared and reared and pulled. I had no idea what was going on. I asked him to come in and he resisted, but eventually came have way in, then I asked again and he refused again. I eventually walked him around by hand and reassured him the best I could. I asked him to walk left and he went, but when I asked for the right again he refused.

I asked him to zig zag and same thing each time...not to the right. I played friendly games with him and the stick to let him know the stick was not threatening him. I never even touch him with the stick, but none of it made a difference. I ended up just walking him around the arena a few times by hand and releasing him back to the paddock.

A few girls were at the barn at this point, and of course everyone has their way of doing things. I don't mind advice, but when it's unclear whether the person is offering advice or criticism that's when I start to bristle a little bit. I know the person meant well, but it didn't come across very well. I'm using the methods my trainer gave's not supposed to serve the same purpose as lunging and I'm sure you think I look like I have no idea what I'm doing, but really I do have an idea and it was working just fine.

I'm just frustrated. I rode him for an hour and a half and he seemed a little more relaxed than usual. He's still not bending or giving to the bit when we increase the pace to a trot. He cuts in his circles still. My trainer and I have been working on this for some time, and nothing seems to work. I open the reins and he collapses his shoulder and cuts in, I then lift the rein to pick him up and he cuts the circle again. He softens in a small, tight circle, but opening it up is sloppy and stiff. I flex and bend and stretch him at a halt and a walk, but at the trot he's stiff as a board--even in two-point. He does loosen up at the canter, but he's so fast and out-of-control--it's like he's over bending.

I guess I'm looking for some advice, but I just have to be more patient. I don't want to lose my spirits, but I just don't know what he wants. Sometimes I think he enjoys being with me, but right now I feel like he's being a spoiled 10-year-old kid throwing a temper tantrum so he can get dessert for dinner instead of his vegetables.

I'm not looking forward to that reality either in the future, but maybe he's preparing me for that.

Alright. Tomorrow's another day. We'll get there.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gathering Rain

I had a flashback to high school today on my walk home form the subway station. It started with the soft spring rain and flooded in like the warm breeze.

I'm probably not shocking anyone here when I say I had a hard time growing up--mostly all of us have. I was an only child being raised by my father and grandfather. My mom died when I was only a baby and my father had a hard time being ok after that, and so have I. My grandfather was amazing. He gave up so much so I could try to have a normal life. He really did.

I was told once that acceptance equals control and I'm working on that. Acceptance sounds like such an easy concept but it's really one of those beautiful boxes with a special key that no one makes anymore. It looks so nice on the outside and you're certain it's just as lovely on the inside but you get so frustrated trying to open it at eventual you give up. I keep returning to it and try again, but that patience issue always gets me. Still working at it.

Back to story time. I was, like so many little girls, a tad horse-obsessed. I was saving up all my nickles and dimes to OWN my own horse. Until I had enough money, I came up with an imaginary horse. Her name was Desert and she was my best friend. Every night I hosted plays for my grandfather while my dad was cooking dinner. I would, without fail, ride in on Desert and perform a drama for him the likes of which have never been seen! He always laughed, smiled and applauded appropriately.

I decided one day that Desert needed a friend. His name was Dessert and they soon had a foal named Hot Chocolate. I thought I was pretty clever. I would ride one of my "horses" into the living room from the kitchen each night and first make my grandfather guess which one it was and promptly correct him when he got it wrong. "Poppy! Can't you see? Desert doesn't look anything like Hot Chocolate! Hot Chocolate is a Appaloosa with a spotted blanket, not a Paint!" I think Dessert was his favorite. He always loved Paints (we argued about the difference between a Paint and Pinto almost daily. I love it).

These theatrics lasted through my freshman year of high school until he was diagnosed with cancer and soon thereafter passed away. He was a man of few words, but he always supported my love of horses and my creativity. I remember one summer he scraped some money together (from where, I'll never know) and sent me to an all-girls' horse camp in the mountains for two weeks. It was amazing and everything I needed. It funny how most people never get you what you really want, but he always knew.

When he died I shut down a little. My father had pulled me from riding lessons at this point and I really had no where to go with the feelings I had inside. I remember the one thing, however, that really made me feel good was the rain. I would walk outside, whether it was pouring or just sprinkling, and just let it take me over. My father thought I was crazy, but he didn't understand my love of horses either. It was always, "Your mother broke every bone in her body riding horses! Is that what you want?" Never, "Your mother loved horses just like you." I bet she loved the rain, too.

I remember I had a Collective Soul album, self titled, that I listened to over and over again. I loved Collective Soul period, but there was this one song...and it's lyrics are probably tattooed under my skin somewhere. The chorus is as follows:

She gathers rain
to rinse away all her guilt and pain
she gathers rain
to wash and cleanse and make her whole again

When I first heard it I think I cried. I couldn't believe someone could write something so uniquely fitted for what I was feeling. I secretly hoped it was written for me. It was about change and overcoming hardships and, honestly, what all songs are about...getting over some life-altering challenge. But I took that song so seriously. I thought of it whenever I was sad--just like the horses, just like the rain, just like the smile on Poppy's face when I announced my dinner theatre each night.

I don't walk out into the rain anymore, but I still love it. It annoys me when I can't ride Eclipse because of it, but I can't ever say I hate it. I needed the rain tonight to remind me of how important it was to me for a few years back there in that house, with my father and my changes. Now, riding in the rain is  pretty fantastic...but not tonight. Today, rain, I'm going to let you have the night. Enjoy it.