As I sit in my dorm room in New England, I am supposed to be studying for finals, but my mind keeps wandering back to Kentucky and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championships. As a photography intern for IHSA, I had little sleep, was in constant motion and had little time to concentrate on questions about hotel revenue management or global affairs. You may wonder, would I do it again? In a heartbeat.
Some of my earliest memories involve horses, and I have attended countless shows as a competitor, fan, groom and support team member. Yet nothing compares to the experience I had this past week at nationals. At IHSA, the caliber of horses and riders is inspirational and you can feel the love teammates have for each other and the coaches. I come from an exclusively English background and I had lots of questions about the Western classes and the best way to portray those types of riders. Everyone I approached was more than happy to explain their discipline and passions. It is simply impossible not to learn from simply watching the best compete.
The position of intern is sometimes associated with someone who does minimal or trivial tasks, such as fetching coffee or shuffling papers. That was not the case with this internship. I was on the frontline with daily access to amazing sights and my photographs showed up in many publications. Interacting with so many exceptional, interesting and friendly people was another highlight. An example of a truly memorable day was the time I spent with Bob Cacchione, one of the founders of IHSA.
For a very long but never dull day, I shadowed Bob, trying to keep up with him as he speed walked around the show. On the 50 anniversary of IHSA, you might think he would get complacent or slow down, but his passion has not wavered. His massive organization involves colleges in every region of the United States, and everyone appreciates the gift he has given them. After you spend so many hours trying to keep up with him, you understand why this event is so successful.
During my time with Bob, people constantly came up to us to thank him for his work, talk to him and to take pictures with the man who dreamed up the event when he was just 17. Some of those he spent time with were presidents of different horse show associations, others were leaders in the industry, but many were simply riders grateful to be competing. I doubt he could have known everyone he met, but it seemed as if he did. He most often greeted people by their name and he never ran out of stories or smiles.
Aside from the glamour of the show ring and chats with Bob, many of my favorite memories are from the barns. It amazes me to see powerful, accomplished equine competitors in the ring transform into such fun and goofy creatures when the spotlight was off. The riders loved sharing stories with me as I photographed them grooming the gentle giants. There was also something special about the fact that there was no hired help to do the mundane dirty work, like you see at many big horse shows. The girls showing in the afternoon were the same ones shoveling out stalls in morning. This concept of hard work in the ring and hard work at the barn was exactly what I had grown up with and is one of reasons why I love this sport.
I would be lying if I did not say my heart was heavy. I had imagined my IHSA internship would be exciting and eye opening, but I learned that I had underestimated the experience. Not only did I become a better photographer, but I feel like I grew as a person. I cannot wait to sort through all the photographs and relive the memories of that amazing time. However, for the moment, though I must concentrate on food and beverage management. Wish me luck.