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  • Writer's pictureErica Hills

My first horse show as a professional photographer

Photo: Anna Merritt of Anna Merritt Dressage

I don’t even know where to start with this adventure…

I became obsessed with the new World Equestrian Center in Ocala from the moment I started seeing construction photos. So naturally, my mom (who is a fellow horse girl) and I went to visit the first chance we got and we watched some Western Pleasure. Gotta love all the bling they wear!

Fast forward to now and I’ve been out to Ocala (which is about a 2 hour drive for me) to spend time at WEC as much as possible, sometimes to watch horses show and other times to just grab a sweet treat from my favorite shop, Miss Tilly’s Lollipops.

To know me is to know how much I love all things food. But enough rambling, let’s get on with why you came here; to learn how I became the official photographer for the dressage show at WEC in August 2021.

Photo: Lauren Knopp of Lauren Knopp Dressage

I love my portrait clients, both for studio and natural light because I enjoy spending time with them and getting to know what they love most about each horse. My sessions are relaxed, enjoyable and never rushed.

I’ve always viewed the world of show photography to be the complete opposite of that, so I never thought it would be a good fit for me.

Private show coverage seemed like a viable option, but to be totally transparent, I was scared to pursue this since I’ve seen so much tension between official show photographers and private show photographers. BUT, this particular weekend I had a portrait client who was going to ride Grand Prix that weekend, so I put on my big girl pants and decided to contact the show organizers to see what I had to do to photograph my client. I’m all about doing things fairly and “by the book.”

To my surprise, they didn’t have an official photographer signed for that weekend and offered me the spot.

This is some serious serendipitous stuff y’all! I knew I needed to think about it before screaming out, YES, of course I’ll do it. I spoke with my husband and brainstormed how this would work.

Photo: Jean Thornton of Equivale

While I’m all about going outside of my comfort zone because I believe that’s how we grow, this was REALLY outside of my comfort zone. Like, totally different business model kinda stuff I’d have to figure out in about a week. And this was a small, local schooling show either, we’re talking 4 rings running in 2 different indoor arenas (not to mention I’ve never photographed in an indoor before).

Photo: Amina Bursese of CAE Dressage

And that’s what I did. I packed as much animal print and Celsius as I could, rented gear, upgraded insurance, found an Airbnb (which the first 2 ended up falling through so I was temporarily homeless), hired a second shooter (thanks a MILLION to Lisa Madren), took rider signups and I was off to Ocala!

I also reached out to the legends Susan Stickle and Andrew Ryback who offered me congratulations for the job.

Susan and other show photographer friends offered me so much guidance and no amount of Starbucks gift cards will be able to express my gratitude.

Photo: Stephanie Bennett of Little Star Stables

Ultimately this experience was AMAZING and I want this to be your reminder to GO AFTER anything you want in life: take chances, make mistakes, but whatever you do, JUST KEEP GOING!


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