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Horse Photography in Madison, Wisconsin : Emily and Versace

Emily and her horse, Versace, ride Jumpers in south central Wisconsin. Emily is a graduate student at UW Madison who, between riding, working, and studying, also gives attention to retraining and rehoming any eligible equines that cross her path, affording them a better life and brighter future.

Tell me all about your horse: what breed, age, training level, how long have you two been together?

My current partner is a 9 year old international sport horse (ISR branded) mare named Versace but I just call her V. I got her as a late 5 year old with 9 months under saddle. My trainer actually chose her for me- he bred her and knew I was looking for a horse again after losing my gelding in a freak accident 6 months prior. In the 4 years we’ve been working together she’s come so far and so have I. She’s my first mare, my first “hot” horse, and hands down one of the most athletic horses I’ve ever met. She’s helped me become a stronger rider but also more calculating and careful. The degree to which she and I are in tune with each other (now) absolutely amazes me. We ended last summer competing at small local style shows at a meter and when she was in Florida for WEF 2021 (on lease) I went down and showed her in some smaller classes. WEF was her first real show and she was “game on” when she went in the ring. Absolutely tried her heart out every round. Every time.

Tell me about your philosophy in working with horses, ie, why are you an equestrian? What do you love about it, what do you hate about it, what's your "why"?

Simply put my overall philosophy is “a horse is your other half". And that means they should never do anything for you out of fear—always out of respect. With that in mind, never goad your partner into a fight in order to correct and “teach” them”

I’m an equestrian because horses have been my only steady place in life. With them I’m happy and don’t have to fight my depression and my anxiety. With the horses I feel I can say “I can do this” when in the rest of my life my brain shouts at me that I cannot do anything. When my physical health and or my depression have been at all time lows, the horses gave me a reason to fight and continue on. They truly saved my life. They gave me a home, a purpose, and an inner peace no human ever could. They understand us more than we will ever understand ourselves.

What are your equestrian goals?

Short term I plan to compete at HITS Chicago this coming August and continue with taking consistent lessons (going to my trainer every week or every other week). Long term I would love to be able to get the money together to go to Florida with V and my own trainer for WEF 2023. Unfortunately as a graduate student , even with multiple jobs, affording a lot of competition and / or travel isn’t possible. So if finances get in the way and I stay home this winter, I am happy to continue training and working as if I were working toward a larger circuit like WEF. At the end of the day, while competing is fun, the goal is always to improve my horsemanship and build the horses’ confidence & skill sets.

How do you further the equestrian community?

While I spend much of my time talking about my goals for V and how much she means to me, the horses mean a lot more to me than just my happiness and goals. For the last few years I’ve been teaching an autistic adult student and watching her grow through the horses - both in her riding and in her personal + emotional skills. Additionally, I have introduced a number of adult amateurs to horses and the joys they bring. I love taking beginners from nothing to something and watching them develop connections with their horses. The horses I teach off of are mostly horses on our farm that have absentee owners. With owners permission I take them on , for free, to give them a job as well as kind, patient training that provides them with the skills to eventually be re-homed to new owners.

Watching some of these horses go from shaking at the sight of a saddle , bolting when mounted, or trying to throw any rider to being horses I trust my autistic student to ride is the most rewarding thing. To date I have re-homed 3 senior horses (2 from our farm), one middle aged mare, re-trained a gelding with major fear issues, worked to rebuild trust and strength in a new boarder’s horse who was bought at auction, skinny as heck, and terrified of people (also gave us a surprise baby this past spring. She was 3, the poor thing), and taken a pony who used to buck anyone who rode her to being safe for students. Currently, the older horses I was working with have all moved on to new homes or been moved to other barns by their owners. Now, I am using my spare time to work with last year’s surprise baby and help him develop the confidence and ground work skills that will set him up for success throughout his life.

I do it for the horses who deserve a skill set and sense of purpose, a chance at a good forever home, and to watch them blossom under a kind hand. I do it to watch my students grow, smile, and enjoy the bond with a horse. The horses saved me; the least I can do for them (and my students) is try to give them the sense of purpose and confidence they’ve given me.

Do you have any questions for me? (Jess) What is your philosophy behind your photography and why equestrian photography? (Emily asking)

I've been involved in photography in some form for the last ten years or so, working with weddings, families and seniors. And after swooning over one-too many Pinterest posts of exquisite equine art (a la black background), I thought it was a little silly of me to have had two of my passions, horses and photography, disconnected. Other than taking some pretty pictures of my own horse on the regular, I had never truly considered equine photography as a business. But when I really sit down and look at my own pictures, and wish someone had been at the show to catch that great jump, or if I could just get ONE beautiful picture of both me AND my horse that wasn't a grainy iPhone shot...I realized that a lot of equestrians probably feel this way. Being an equestrian is a lifestyle, and it's more than skin deep. That's why I think documenting it is worthwhile and soul-touching. I also am old enough now where I appreciate the few actual physical pictures I have floating around from my very first horse and me. The idea of having prints or albums has grown on me considerably as I've gotten a little tired of the digital age. Give me something to hold in my hands or hang on my wall, not lose on my hard drive.

Every time I get the "OMG, I'm obsessed!" text from one of my clients, I smile, because I know how much our horses mean to us, and I know that capturing good photos of them is more than just vanity. It's capturing all the struggles and victories leading up to that point. An outsider may not know what that picture represents, but it awakens an entire life and world inside our minds when we, the equestrians, view it. So it's really quite a pleasure for me to bring two of my passions together, and I always feel so blessed to be able to provide other equestrians those cherished images of their horse, too.

Looking for timeless photos of you and your equine best friend? Find out more here.


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