Sometimes my Canon camera takes me to places I would never go otherwise. Back in June 2011 my then colleague and boss Delphine proposed that she would take me to a horse jumping competition. I am not a big fan of being around horses. Don’t get me wrong, I love horses but from a safe distance of few yards (sad reminder of childhood asthma) so I don’t sneeze, choke and look like a fountain at the same time. Delphine told me that another colleague of mine – Amelie – would be taking part and a photographer was needed. So, although camera – lens doesn’t protect you from possible allergy attack I have decided to go and shoot anyway.
I counted for few hours on the ground at maximum, but I have spent the whole day at the race-track, not only taking photos but also setting up the obstacles and generally helping around.
Horse races are extremely popular in Malta. During the season (from April to October) at least a dozen different, internationally recognized competitions take place: single races, cart races, jumping etc, etc. Malta has a modern race track located in Marsa and every Sunday many locals and tourists alike storm the premises to enjoy the games.
Delphine and Amelie train under a local instructor Lucy, and go to the Darmanin Stables on a daily basis. Feeding, cleaning and taking care of the horse are as important as riding and making sure that your horse is in a good condition. I know it is stating the obvious as you need to care for any pet you have but believe me it is not easy to overcome a pet that weights around 600 kg. It’s not a sofa cat and you have to travel a distance to the stables too! That day I have seen both Amelie and Delphine working in the stables around the horses and it is heavy manual work. Cleaning the horse alone lasts for an hour, not to mentioning feeding or cleaning the cabin. As I have not been accustomed to working in the stables on this part of the day I was delegated to petting the stable cats and making sure they weren’t kicked or stamped by the horses.
But back to the competition. As soon as we arrived on the race track, we have been assigned to setting up the obstacles. Each of us (and the group of like 20 people were involved) was carrying huge wooden blocks and barriers from a hangar and we were putting them together. Every angle, every inch, every degree counts. The obstacles have to be perfectly positioned to assure the safety for horses and riders and to meet strict regulations of the competition. It was like playing with oversized Lego and I loved this to pieces.
Once the course was set, riders began to change into traditional jockey attires and warmed up on a small side plaza where each of them could perform few jumps and rounds before their ride.
Riders has their own age category (younger competitors do not jump through all the obstacles, the barriers are lowered) and they can only compete against their own peers. After each category obstacles have to be raised or rearranged. Each rider can make two mistakes during the jumps (or fall from the horse), if your horse will refuse to perform a jump twice, you are disqualified.
I have seen a very young rider fall from her horse during her time and she quickly climbed back and resumed the course with a determination. She didn’t complain once even if the fall looked pretty scary.
Amelie also had a tough run, as her horse refused to jump twice and she had to be disqualified. She was very disappointed but vowed to comeback and train harder. You really have to admire the spirit of the riders; they simply refuse to accept defeat.
I had troubles on my own. Dust, fast running horses, blinding sun, not a good lense…I ran like a headless chicken from one side of the track to the other trying not to get to close as the shutter clicks actually scare horses…The photos that illustrate this entry are not that clear due to the dust from the racetrack and the distance I had to maintain but I believe they are decent for the first time. I’m actually extremely happy with them. It was an amazing experience even if I had three minor attacks and after the whole day I have slept for 15 hours straight.
Once the racing season starts for good I may show up again. But this time I’m gonna wear a dust -mask. I don’t care if I will be looking like a mad scientist. Taking good photos requires sacrifices 😉
Hope you enjoyed this entry. I am working on many others because believe me or not I have been shooting in some really incredible conditions. Fire training in full protective gear? You bet, but I will tell you this tale next time around.