byTori Repole| Sep 19, 2017
For a person like myself who has always struggled with the idea of committing to a single, career-related interest, photojournalism is a route that gives me the freedom to explore a thousand different worlds, one picture or story at a time. My love for writing and photography has developed substantially in the past several years, and although I have pursuable interests outside of horse and sport, it was while working at a barn that I really discovered a deep passion for the art form.
Growing up, I was definitely not “the crazy horse girl” in class. I was born in Jamaica and I moved to the United States when I was 7 years old. There was a horse in JA that I got to ride once, but outside of watching the Horse Whisperer, reading Heartland, or watching a few Kentucky Derby races, horses weren’t really my thing. That is, until the beginning of my high school career.
I remember the first moment when I felt a genuine sense of pride toward one of my pictures. In December of 2013, I printed out a few photos of the horses at the barn where I was working and gave them to their owners for the holidays. Looking back, the majority weren’t memorable in their outcome or iPhone quality, but one, in particular, stood out. I couldn’t wait to share it with the world, and I hoped that those who saw it would feel exactly as I did when I first took it.
This is when, for me, photography became one of my greatest vessels of communication—a method to be used in translating the raw spirit and emotions of a moment.
“For me, photography became one of my greatest vessels of communication—a method to be used in translating the raw spirit and emotions of a moment.”
While photojournalism might not be your approach to expressing your love for the horse, there are many different ways (course design, grooming, shoeing horses, veterinary medicine, training, riding, etc.) to develop a successful career in the sport. I’ve come up with a few points of advice, based on my own experience, which I hope will inspire all who look to get their foot in the door—in horses and beyond.
If you don’t have experience in your area of interest, volunteering will give you the liberty of self-exploration and the freedom to make mistakes as you go. You’ll get a feel for whether or not a more committed role is something worth pursuing, or if it would be ultimately best for you to channel your energy someplace else.
I didn’t grow up around horses, so when I first started working with them at the beginning of 9th grade, I knew absolutely nothing. For about six years, I volunteered with the Kiwanis Horses for The Handicapped Program, and although that experience didn’t directly lead me to where I am now, it sparked an interest that would carry me to a position that would.
The program wasn’t in session during the summer portion of the year, so I looked elsewhere for opportunities that would give me a more in-depth work experience. My aunt bought me a riding lesson at a dressage barn a couple blocks from where I lived, and at the end of the lesson, my trainer [Michele Herrmann] randomly asked me if I wanted to volunteer. Over the course of two years, I worked my way up from volunteer to barn manager, and it is through that experience that I found my love for photography.
Moral of the story is, you’ll never understand the true value of an experience until it’s over. If you get the chance to volunteer, go for it! It may or may not lead to something substantial, but by the end—in some way, shape, or form—you will have progressed.
2. Take advantage of opportunities.
Aim to put yourself in situations that will allow you to get a taste of the reality you want most. As I said above, you can’t predetermine how a singular experience could influence the course of your life. Looking back on my past few years, there is one pivotal moment that stands out the most; not entirely because of the outcome, but because I don’t believe I would be writing this today if it didn’t happen.
In 2015, the LGCT of Miami Beach premiered about an hour south of where I live. I didn’t go, but I made a note that it would be something worth attending in the future, just for fun. In 2016, I was no longer working at the barn, but my interest in equine photography was developing into something more than just a hobby. I figured that if I went to Miami, I could take decent pictures in the hopes of getting my name out in the industry. It was a nice thought, but on paper, I didn’t have a car, I had a super small lens, and I also had to go to work.
“I figured that if I went to Miami, I could take decent pictures in the hopes of getting my name out in the industry. It was a nice thought, but on paper, I didn’t have a car, I had a super small lens, and I also had to go to work.”
Nevertheless, I realized that if equine photography was something I seriously wanted to do, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. For two days, I called out of work, and in total, took 12 buses to get to and from Miami. It was the best decision I could’ve made, and essentially paved the way for my work-related accomplishments thus far.
If there is something you really want to pursue, wiggle your way out of your comfort zone and jump at opportunities when they present themselves. You never know what might happen.
I would definitely say that it’s essential to ask questions and reach out to those who know more than you do. At one point, I wanted to be a veterinarian, so I sent out an impossible amount of emails in search of advice. Not everyone responded, but several people did, and in exchange for my efforts, I was given valuable feedback.
You never know what someone might have to offer, and I’ve found that people can be really receptive and helpful—even willing to invest in your potential—if you take the first step in sharing your interests and asking for direction. Once people realized that you want to be taken seriously and that you’re willing to make an effort on your end, doors will open up in the most unexpected ways. Make an effort to not let the fear of embarrassment stop you.
4. Remember that everything is a process.
A closed door isn’t necessarily the end of your journey, nor does it mean that it can’t be revisited at a later date. If it’s something that you really want, something that isn’t fleeting or conditional, you’ll find that it comes naturally to you to do everything within your means to make it happen.
I’ve received a lot of “no’s” and denied applications. I was in contact with our Senior Editor here at Noelle Floyd, Erin Gilmore, for close to a year before the opportunity to intern with NF presented itself. The Winter Equestrian Festival is about an hour north of where I live, and to truly capitalize on the internship, I needed to be in Wellington for a few days a week. I still didn’t drive (don’t judge me!) so every Thursday I was up at 5 a.m. to commute to the showgrounds. Gratefully, my mom helped me get in contact with a family [Network! Network!] who live about five minutes away from the grounds, so I was able to live in Wellington for the latter half of the week during the season. The struggle is real, but it’s totally worth it.
Capitalize on the character traits and experiences that make you who you are.
When the time comes and you receive your 1st or 10th “no”, it will still sting. But I hope that you won’t allow it to be the end of your journey. Instead, find other ways to go about securing that “Yes!”.
5. Don’t try to fit in.
Regardless of where you come from, you have a unique perspective that can always be utilized. It is my love for the horses I worked with that often serves as the inspiration behind the moments I aim to capture for other people. Capitalize on the character traits and experiences that make you who you are. You know your strengths and your talents, so use them to your best advantage and make something good out of what you’re given.
-Photo credit: Ashley Neuhof; photos courtesy of Tori Repole.
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