One of the best days of my life as an equestrian photographer started with my cat dying. Bill had been a good companion and he passed away at too young of an age. So here I was living in a condominium with a dead cat and nowhere to place his remains. I ran numerous scenarios through my mind and then I got cocky and said to myself, “I'm Mark Calvo, I'm going to call Sharon Oaks Stables and see if I can bring Bill there and give him a proper burial".
I called Danielle and she was nice enough to tell me to bring Bill to the stables. Back in 2008, I had the audacity to call Sharon Oaks and having never photographed a horse show before asked if I could come out the next day and take photos. I didn't even know what equitation was. I had taken plenty of photos of my daughter and other riders at barrel races and had spent countless hours at the barn taking candid shots but up until that day I had not even heard the term “on the rail at a walk.” I was honest with those that I spoke with about my lack of experience and was fortunate to meet people who told me what to look for when a horse was in the ring.
I arrived at the stables and Danielle pointed out the small pet cemetery near the barn. I buried Bill and then went out to walk the property with my camera.
Eventually, I wandered down to the arena where Daina, one of the regulars at Sharon Oaks was riding her horse, Skittles. Being who I am I watched and started to take photos. As I was looking through the view finder at Skittles and Daina going over jumps, I noticed Daina was dropping the reigns while keeping her hands close to Skittles withers. “That's interesting,” I thought. What happened next amazed me. As Skittles went over the jump, Daina put her arms out like the wings of a bird. I kept shooting as she repeated this feat while riding in both directions. The balance she had was incredible. This was one of those moments that added to my respect for equestrian athletes.
As a photographer, one learns that you may have to shoot a few thousand images to get that one special shot. I tell people not to get discouraged if they don't like their photos, but to keep shooting. I have taken a lot of bad photos, but through perseverance I have also taken what I think are some good shots. I had one of those rare moments as I looked at the image of Skittles and Daina in my camera where I knew I had something special.
A few weeks later a friend of mine called and told me about a contest that ESPN The Magazine was having. There were a few categories one of which was called "Next In Your Neighborhood". I entered the photo of Skittles and Daina and never heard anything for some time. I pretty much forgot about the contest until I came home one day to find a package on my doorstep with a camera bag in it. I hadn't ordered any camera equipment and could not figure out why I had this package. I dug into the box and there was a paper that read ESPN Contest. I almost fell over. My photo had won the "Next In Your Neighborhood" category.
The thing I am most proud of about the photo is that an equestrian sport won. In this day and age of soccer moms, little league baseball and pee wee football, it was nice to see equestrian sports at the local level getting some recognition. Yes, I was overjoyed for myself but I was also happy to see the woman and those few young men who get up at 4:00 in the morning so they can go to shows and compete, get some credit for what they do. There are countless hours of hard work on the part of the athletes both human and equine that went into the photo. I really had the easy job in that all I had to do was hit the shutter at the right moment.
I am a rank amateur when it comes to jumping a horse, having gone over nothing higher than a cross rail, yet I can tell you the exhilaration of wingless flight can not be easily described with mere words. I can only imagine how a rider like Daina feels when she stretches out her arms and takes to the air even if it is only for a moment or two.
Photo By Mark Calvo