Glitterballs, Mules and Arena Blindness

//Glitterballs, Mules and Arena Blindness

How humour, random acts and chocolate gets me through extended periods of shooting…

Last week I headed up to Warwickshire from Somerset for the first part of the SEIB Trailblazer Championships at the NAEC Stoneleigh Park.  I was working with the Hoof Prints Photos team as they covered the Dressage and Showing part of these unaffiliated championships run by the Show Direct team.  Events of this nature are always hard work on the photography team.  Early starts, late finishes and a whole lot of classes with horse and rider combinations to remain fully attentive to.

When fellow photographer and digital retouching expert Shane (who runs Image Envy) and I arrived we realised we were sited in an impressively sized sales marquee, one soon filled with a very large number of viewing stations, monster printers and all the packaging you could ever consider.  I reckon Frances & Graham had raided Staples on the way down.

They normally just raid Cadburys for us needy sugar craving gannets…

I’ve got NO CLUE how the next thing happened really, which part of my brain was functioning or why I even thought it, but looking up to the roof I couldn’t help but notice a perfect spot for a glitter ball to hang.  Don’t all white marquee’s have a glitter ball?  Certainly most of the ones I’ve ever been in do, although they generally have a sparkly floor and bouquets everywhere too when I think about it. Anyway I mentioned it out loud (I REALLY have to stop doing that), most laughed at me (standard) and then Frances mentioned ‘she happened to have one’.

The next day – the glitter ball arrived.

There’s clearly no need for a glitter ball at the top of a massive marquee that’s playing host to the rider photography, but I’m telling you now, stuff like this makes simple folk smile and get through their day easier for some reason.

As does the chocolate.

I was part of the 3 person Dressage team for the 3 days covering all 6 arenas.  So, as is normal for this kind of event, we each had 2 arenas to cover. As a freelancer, generally covering dressage would give you defined start and finish times, plus breaks for the judges.  However when you are covering two separate arenas it’s very rare that both arena’s are on breaks at the same time, it’s just one of those things!  Having found the most ideal spot to shoot 2 arenas on (which isn’t always easy based on physically where they both are and, of course, light).  The next task is to learn the tests as quickly as you can as they unfold before your eyes.  Oh and, they’ll be two different tests, of that you can be sure!!  As the day progresses and classes end, a new test arrives too and there’s always that split second as the horse and rider do something you weren’t expecting….!

What comes next is usually 8-9 hours of having eyes in the back of your head as you swing the monopod from arena to arena hoping to catch the best movements from each rider, without overdoing the swapping and forgetting who you are shooting and then logging their data incorrectly, only for the poor guys in the sales team to wonder what on earth you’ve hastily written.


Then there’s the arena blindness.  I don’t mean optically something goes wrong with my eyesight.  For the first 2 days I basically covered the same two arenas.  I knew them well, I knew the light sweet spots I knew the places for the lovely extra ‘arty’ shots I was throwing in alongside the more standard ones we all run with and I knew just how far it was to the bin or to the loo (always too far away….).  By the close of day 2 I knew them well, we were old friends, but I felt like we were on the verge of a break up.  I was ready for a change, I was going arena blind and needed waking up!

… and then a Mule appeared.

Now we are all guilty of calling our own Neddy’s names at times, so I didn’t really pay that much attention when I first heard someone behind me in the crowd talking about a mule.  I was concentrating on my other arena.  Then I swung round to Arena 2 and boom, there it was!  A very real, very jolly, very non-stubborn Mule who proceeded to to the sweetest Intro test for his young rider.

Well I never!

Day 3 dawned and it was the birthday of fellow team mate Shane (who had kindly put me up in her house for the 3 days) and we arrived on site to discover her working station covered in birthday banners, sparklers fit for a cake, a massive cake and a fair few bottles of sparkly stuff and orange juice.

Naturally our day started off with a very civilised glass of bucks fizz.

Be rude not too, even at 0745…

With the arena blindness issue I got the chance to switch that day, so I did!  Famous last words as I ended up with the 2 arenas that were heavily backlit for the first couple of hours (the sun decided to make an appearance) and therefore make the white boards scarily bright, the beige sand became pretty orange and any grass in shot was luminous…


However, British weather resumed and by mid morning I had a full set of waterproofs on as the showers appeared.  Thankfully the threatened storm didn’t actually reach us which was a totally blessing for the 3 of us perched around the 6 arenas and the rest of the day passed without trouble.

Over the 3 days I witnessed some really happy riders, some very well ridden tests and plenty of ponies, big and small, I wish I had a field to put in.   The team all did a good job of raising each other up at the end of the day when energy levels were low.  Keeping each other laughing, and inadvertently the customers too, our impressions of the Haribo adults were well received.  If you can’t banter in this game then you’ll soon fall off the wagon.  Customers waited patiently for beautifully crafted and frankly enormous montages to be designed and printed.

Seriously if you’ve not smiled when you see how a rider reacts to being presented with a framed 30″ x 20″ montage of their 3 days, then you need to get out of this game… 😉

Grateful thanks to Hoof Prints for their continued support and outlook on life, to Shane for the provision of a bed, the food and the parrot alarm calls and to the rest of the team for the endless ‘humour’.


Have a fabulous week!

Rachel x








By |2017-10-06T09:34:18+00:00August 2nd, 2017|Categories: Let's Talk Photography|Tags: , , , |