Every year we look forward to the Draft Horse Classic at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. When the kids were little, we would visit the barns to pat soft horse noses. We marveled at the sheer size of these gentle giants. We wondered how we could possibly ever become official photographers for the performances. Photographing these events are an opportunity to step inside the story. And, when we are invited back year after year, we look for opportunities to document and learn more about all the stories coming together to create the story of the Classic. We've met many of the people that own draft horses. We've seen blue ribbons awarded. We've photographed an arena engagement proposal. And we never lose our sense of wonder as the horses thunder past.
This year, we dashed "backstage" to where the teams wait for their turn outside the arena. They come around from the barns to stand together before their division begins. We stay well out of the way of handlers. While hearing stories of the different teams. One team trained a younger horse beside an older "mentor" horse. The younger horse tossed his head and was obviously antsy while waiting. The older horse was a steady, calm, patient leader letting the younger one lean into him without losing his focus. They said they were training the next generation by partnering mentor horses with young eager partners.
It gave us the quest to look for horse friends. Because they all depend on one another, both for pulling wagons and companionship. Seeing horses being friends together was a fun moment every time.
We also wanted to document how many people come together to help the horses get ready for the shows. From soapy baths to polishing hooves and tack, it takes a team to create the magic. One of our favorite things is showing how you need stepstools just to reach the horses' head. And how people sit on the horses' backs to braid their manes. There's no other way to reach them :)
We also enjoy documenting the entertainment acts during the shows. From the mule races to the California Cowgirls Drill Team, the performers bring more spectacle to an already spectacular evening.
This year had behind-the-scenes support for a ranch that had to withdraw from the Classic in the weeks before the show. They learned that one of the drivers on the team had a diagnosis of cancer. And he needed to get immediate care. Many of the ranches are family operations. Raising these giants is no small task and they pass the appreciation and skills from generation to generation. Everyone missed the ranch that couldn't attend. We showed support with purple ribbons (you'll see many on driver lapels). We send good wishes to the Warings and hope for better news and health in the year ahead.
We realize, many times, that our photography work is both and memory and a promise. It's memories of time past. And promises that your stories will not be forgotten. This inspired us, this year, to pay special attention to drivers and their horses. This made for a lot, a lot of photos. We value being able to contribute to the memories and celebration of everything these horses inspire. From their beauty, strength, and grace to their curiosity, caring, and kindness. They awaken a sense of wonder (I mean, taller than the temporary stalls, really?). They inspire visitors from the very young to the very old.
We're already looking forward to next year's classic: http://nevadacountyfair.com/draft-horse-classic. Enjoy the galleries!