May 4, 2017—Today was one of the busiest but most fulfilling days for me. The Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association National Championships is an event like no other, and I got to experience it in a unique and magical way as a photography intern.
My day began at 5 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. In the morning, I didn’t know anybody. By nighttime, I could count at least five new friends and had countless new connections. IHSA is truly a big family. Once I stepped into the Kentucky Horse Park, the spirit of the IHSA came to life. The people and the atmosphere reminded me how much I love horse shows.
I took hundreds of pictures and I can admit that the majority involved either tears of joy or enormous grins. There is just something about the power and energy of such a strong group of riders, coaches, teammates, families and fans getting together to celebrate the love for such incredible animals. That’s why, though I am also an IHSA rider, it was easy to spend so much time and energy here even though I was not competing.
If I had to describe the day with a single word, the word would be genuine. The love shown for teammates and pure joy captured on their faces when watching one another accomplish their goals was priceless. After a rider finished their trip, the hug given to their horse was incredibly emotional and honest. These reactions were not prompted by the presence of my camera—most riders could not even see me. It was obvious that they truly respected the animals and had incredible love for the sport.
My day started when I arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park. A lovely group of volunteers greeted me and made me feel welcome. I was informed about the type of photographs IHSA was looking for me to capture, was given the layout of the arena and barn and was told to go out, have fun and capture as many candid moments as possible. As for restrictions, there were almost none.
After those initial meetings, I set out on my own. Wandering around the upper level of the arena, I found myself at the horse draw. Riders were told to choose a duck from an elegantly decorated tub of water. The bottom of their duck would reveal their horse. Shaky hands plunged into the water. Smiles blossomed as horse names were revealed. The day had just begun, and it was off to an incredible start.
Over the next few hours, I traveled back and forth between the arena and the barns. At the latter location, I captured some of the most intimate moments of the day, such as horses and riders relaxing or gearing up for their next activity. Other highlights included coming across horses napping, getting spoiled, taking warm baths or calling to their friends across the aisle. I managed to snap a great picture of a rider and horse lying down together. I wish everyone could experience the atmosphere back at the barns. They could then see the soft smiles and hear the calming voices of the riders and helpers.
Back at the arena it was a different story, I witnessed wide-eyed and spirited horses, with shiny coats, tidy manes and athletic bodies outfitted with some of the nicest tack. Anyone there would instantly understand that these were the best of the best, and that this was not their first time in a high-pressure setting.
When the day finally drew to a close, I realized how special it had been. I thought about the friends I had made, from horse holders to other photography interns. In addition, I met so many incredible riders from all over the country—even some from as far away as Canada. Each shared unique and interesting stories.
As I edited my last photo, I realized how sore my feet were, but that minor inconvenience was nothing because my heart was full. Now, I’m torn between getting the sleep I need and thinking about all that day two will bring.