Horses are one of my favorite subjects to photograph!
As an artist & a pro photographer, my joy is to get those shots that tell a story. When I was a PRCA Rodeo photographer, my favorite images were the ‘behind-the-scenes’ shots…. the clowns putting on their make-up, the boots and spurs on the fence, the gear, the lifestyle, etc…
Yesterday, while running errands with my teen-age son Mathew in Kerrville & while driving on Highway 16 towards Fredericksburg, I had this last-minute crazy idea… how about capturing some horse racing photos at the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds?
Anyone can walk in general admission with their camera (cell phone, tablet, etc,) and take photos of the races while in the main general seating area near the finish line….but I wanted something different. I wanted to try to get some behind the scenes shots!
I just happened to have my longer lens on my camera, and some extra cards/batteries with us in the truck, so we decided to at least try and get access to the secured barn area. I knew it was a long shot, but I just had to try. We pulled our truck into the security checkpoint at the barns … talk about last-minute ideas!
Thanks to the generosity of the Officers @ the Gillespie County Fair Association (GCFA), who are running the races along with the Texas Racing Commission & a Security Co, my son Mathew and I got permission, as well as RARE barn-area permits, and we were allowed to go document the ‘behind the scenes’ action!
Oh glory day! What a special treat it is, to be given permission to go where other photographers & the general public arn’t allowed!
Most spectators only see a few minutes of action – the racing horses and jockeys on board, with the flashy bright uniform colors.
But there is so much more to the story than just the finish line!
This beauty had run his race earlier that day, and was resting in the stall. You can see the excitement in his eyes because his ‘buddy’ was just taken out of the stall next to him, to get ready for the next race. Notice that his ears are clipped (shaved inside hairs) and his mane is kept at a short length so it doesn’t whip up and hit the jockey’s face so bad during the running of the race.
What a beautiful animal! Before each race, the horses are taken out of their stalls, walked around, and hosed down with cool water. It’s a very hot day, and its obvious that most of these athletes LOVE the cool water.
He may look angry in this shot because he’s chomping on the chain, but this horse drank and really did enjoy the water. Some paw and try to play with the water stream. Each horse has their own unique personality.
This beautiful grey is watching the action. The horses know its race day, and are excitedly awaiting their turn.
Notice his large nostrils. Horses can’t breathe through their mouth like humans can, so large nostrils are important for good air flow during racing.
Here’s another inquisitive grey. This one has a braid. I had to patiently wait for her to look my way, as she was more interested in looking the other way at some other horses. But I got one quick shot. I also liked the patriotic halter.
A young bay filly gets her turn at a soaking. She stands quietly, enjoying the coolness.
This red sorrell filly also stood quietly as she was cooled down.
Other horse owners & handlers watch and talk. Wonder what they’re saying?
Every horse was washed just before their race call. The horses are used to it, and probably appreciate it in this Texas summer heat.
The owners and/or stable handlers have to camp out at the barns and wait all day in the heat for their race. For them, the waiting game is long, and the barn area is quiet… did I mention it was hot?
The horses get more excited as they are led from the barn area. They know they will be running soon.
This bay is gorgeous! See the red tape just under the knees? The horses’ cannon bone, (the bone between the knee and ankle), ankle, pastern, & hooves all take a pounding when racing hard. Horses must have good strong legs to absorb that kind of impact.
They are walked, in a single line, from the barns to the official ‘check- in’ area. When ready, the race official says it’s time to go, and they are then again walked to the next stop … the high-security jockey and saddle paddock area, which is near the track & grandstands.
Those beautiful eyes!
The jockeys have been weighed in, & weights may have been added to the saddle. The equine athletes are then saddled, and its ‘jockey-up’!
The crowd of onlookers gets louder with excitement at their first glances of the horses being led from the jockey/saddle paddock onto the track with their lead ponies.
These horses were entered into a longer race at the end of the day, so the starting gates were moved to the back of the track, & near the barns. It was nice to be the only photographer around … the crowds are on the opposite side at the finish line.
For many people, horse racing is only about the business of making money. For spectators, it’s about the action and thrills of hearing the pounding hooves at the finish line, along with the hopes of getting lucky and hitting it rich with a good paying ticket.
Horse racing is FUN!
But there is so much more to it than that! The spirit and the beauty in each and every one of these fine equine athletes is worth our attention too! These athletes love to run, and it shows. For them, its more like a game – an exciting adventure – of traveling from track to track.
I like this photo too… I might have to get a wall print made of this one for my home!
I hope everyone had a great time at the races. But I also hope that people appreciate the beauty of the horses, their hard work, and how important they have been, and continue to be, for mankind.
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