Being Harveywetdog: Reflecting on Inspiration and Creativity

Our friend, David Robinson, sat down and wrote about his background as an equestrian videographer and where his journey has taken him through the years. It’s a great look into the behind-the-scenes of some of our favorite compilation videos. Many thanks to David for his services! Be sure to check out his YouTube channel here.

There is an old adage which states that if a deal seems too good to be true then it probably is. And I sense that people feel this when I tell them, “Yes please, I really do want you to use my videos and I’m happy for you to use them free of charge; it really isn’t a problem.”

“What’s the catch?” they think. “What’s this bloke’s angle?”

Of course the answer is quite simple; I want something far more valuable to you than mere money. I want you to commit your time to watching the video, I want endorsement by you sharing the video with your friends and I want the credibility that your endorsement garners.

This simple deal is very much at the heart of what motivates me to continue to be Harveywetdog. It is important that the videos I produce are high quality, that the horses come across as the main characters and that the Harveywetdog brand continues to grow.

What is also important is that this growth is organic; fundamentally that means it has to be achieved by “word of mouth” and however you would define that in these days of social media. It certainly means that I’m not going to pay for views or pay to promote my page.

The Harveywetdog Mission

It’s taken me a few years to define that what started as a hobby, and is now in danger of becoming an obsession, could be summed up by my Harveywetdog Mission statement which is to:

  • Capture and promote the exciting beauty of horses in sport, principally dressage and eventing, by using HD video and stirring music
  • Grow organically and without sensationalism
  • Achieve 1 million YouTube views for the channel

The without sensationalism piece is important as well. Don’t come looking to me for “Horse Fails of 2015” all neatly packaged for you to gasp at.

That doesn’t mean if they happen in front of me I’ll edit them out, they are a feature of the sport after all, but they’ll only appear as a part of the overall event.

Early days

So how did it all start? Well I’ve always been more interested in the moving image, initially cine film, than still photography. This started when I bought my first Super 8 Kodak projector to watch some football films I’d obtained and soon after that I bought my first Kodak cine camera.

My parents bought me a top of the range Canon cine camera for my 21st birthday which served me well for a number of years until I had to accept that video was here to stay and make the inevitable switch to that medium.

With the video cameras I’ve been a solid Sony user all the way through from the early analogue tape devices through to today’s 4K Ultra HD Handycam. I’m of the generation that believe the Sony name stands for high quality and cutting edge technology. I’ve certainly learned it doesn’t necessarily mean cutting edge customer support.

Getting Started with YouTube

My earliest published videos were largely a collection of stills edited into a video with a music track. I started doing this for my own amusement and to mark significant events at work.

For horses it started because I was a bit bored sitting around all day at the Nationals. I then started supplementing the stills with snippets of video and this progressed to recording whole tests which I could then publish.

At first I limited this because the video camera wasn’t recording with sufficient quality but that all changed when I upgraded to the HDR-PJ780VE in 2013 and recorded a number of tests at the Hartpury Festival of Dressage.

The music that accompanies my videos has always been important to me. The channel strap line is where Music Meets Motion. This is at the heart of my creative influences.

I hear a song or piece of music, I think how can I use that, and then the creative processes take over and I will not rest until it is published. This started with “Captain Sunshine” in 2011 and is still going strong with “Happy” and “The Fall” in 2015.

Where Music Meets Motion

At one time I felt every piece of video needed a piece of music. I’m less insistent on that now mainly because with the longer Eventing videos it is difficult to find the length of music track to match it and also because I’ve found my audience do like to hear the commentary and sound from cross country control, the fence judges, radios etc.

That’s not to say I’m not still inspired by music, it is an important source of inspiration to me. I’m always drawn towards the chilling rather than the bouncy exciting stuff, something that can create atmosphere, drama and suspense.

As I said when I published “The Fall” after Aldon International in Autumn 2015, “Slow motion, close up, spraying water, a bit of angst and a lot of beautiful horses and skilful riding are very much the Harveywetdog trademark and I trust this video, which is my celebration of the end of the 2015 eventing season, won’t disappoint.”

Going Eventing

I’ve always been a keen follower of eventing as a sport and thought that riding cross country is what riding a horse was all about. Unfortunately many, many lessons with Nigel Taylor at Somerford Park were not enough to convince my Cleveland Bay Max that it was the sport for him. But it’s the journey that’s important isn’t it? As I’ve got older my recent trips to events have taken on a more social intent or a chance to walk the dog and see some cross country.

Badminton 2013 seems to be the first time I published a video recorded at an event and the four minutes of “Brave”, containing the inspirational shot of Andrew Nicholson and Avebury, have continued to be a firm favourite with channel viewers.

I also recorded at Blenheim and the Festival of Eventing in 2013 and it was at this time I became aware of the Eventing Cinema competition and made two entries towards the end of the year, one based on Hartpury International and one entitled “The Spirit of Eventing”. I didn’t win, but I got the bug!

Eventing Cinema

I went into 2014 with the full intention of winning the Eventing Cinema competition and set about the task with gusto. The format of the competition changed with monthly heats building up to an overall winner.

I started strongly with Vicki Hancox at Broadway on the Easter weekend. As always with competitions you have to play by the rules and the rule that I found the most difficult to deal with, and creatively stifling, was the one around the rights to the music. But I persevered, I won trips to Badminton, Bramham, Barbury and Burghley and won the overall title with my video from Gatcombe and a piece of Royalty Free Music by Capo Productions.

I recorded 35 different cross country courses at a variety of venues in 2014 and this together with excellent views for my videos of Badminton, Burghley and Carl Hester at Hartpury gave the Channel 240k views in the year a feat which it is going to be difficult to repeat.

Accreditation 2015

Having won in 2014, I knew it would be bad form to take part in Eventing Cinema 2015 so I wasn’t particularly worried when British Eventing decided not to run the competition at all.

I suppose I imagined I’d continue in 2015 where I’d left off in 2014, explore and record a number of different courses, make a few special videos and generally keep the channel moving.

The first indication I had that things were different was when I received a tweet from Gatcombe saying that we needed to talk urgently — you just know that it isn’t going to be good news, which became clear in a later phone call when I was told that I should have asked for permission before videoing there.

British Eventing explained that the rule was really intended to prevent commercial exploitation by professionals but to be on the safe side as an amateur I should ask permission from organisers “as a courtesy.”

This has been my modus operandi ever since and has served me particularly well when travelling long distances to record at the larger events where seeking permission generally involves seeking accreditation. I can’t begin to say how grateful I am to the Media Officers and Directors at a wide range of British Dressage and British Eventing venues up and down the country for giving me permission to work at your events — you know who you are.

Even more of a wakeup call for me was the day I got an e-mail from Hugh Thomas at Badminton specifically telling me I was not allowed to broadcast video of the International Course. I saw that as recognition of a sort and had had such a miserable day in the wind and rain at Badminton in 2014 that I was prepared to oblige! However Hugh and his Media Director Julian Seaman did agree to me videoing at the Grassroots which was good because it enabled me to feature Fern Wrighton but bad because we had the high winds and torrential rain on that day instead!

Cotswold RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association)

Another aspect of the Harveywetdog year is providing the music for the Cotswold RDA musical ride each spring and then videoing their entry for the RDA National Competition. Having won the competition three years in a row it has become increasingly challenging to come up with new ideas and new musical themes.

This year the helpers set the “Flying” theme but various things conspired to mean we weren’t at our best on the day of recording yet still managed a creditable second place nationally. (Me forgetting my monopod didn’t help!)

However the Group were given the chance to reprise the ride in front of the Princess Royal when she visited the Centre in July and I’ve got to say it was a super emotional performance; the team absolutely nailed it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

4K Ultra HD; looking forward and looking back

2015 has seen me invest in a new 4K camera. The difference won’t be immediately obvious on YouTube but it does help when I come to take stills off the videos. Fortunately my local Broadband exchange has been upgraded and while upload speed remains pitifully slow it is now practicable to upload a 4K dressage test in a reasonable time. I plan to spend the winter getting used to the camera and learning how to better edit the output it produces. This will probably require some new software and a new PC.

What has been nice this year has been the increasing number of people around the events that I know, can shake hands with and ask how they’re getting on. This includes fellow videographers, photographers, fence judges, organisers and competitors. It has also been great to catch up with Vicki Hancox and her team again and to see Fern Wrighton qualify for the Mitsubishi Cup in 2016.

For 2016, I intend to expand my horizons further and look for some new events to visit as well as returning to the local events who have looked after me in the past and have established themselves as my favourites. Hartpury obviously but Calmsden has also impressed me and seems to have room for expansion; will we see an International Competition there one day?

Of course as one star rises (no pun intended) another wanes; the one thing that has struck me in the little time that I’ve been managing the channel is how quickly things change. So I’m ultra-proud of the record I’m creating for posterity.

This is not just in terms of the equine stars that we have lost, but also in terms of great venues, almost institutions, that are gone as well. Salperton, Somerley and Weston Park International are names of great events that I’m now helping to live on in our memories.

Being Harveywetdog

As I said at the beginning I’m more than happy for any organisation, owner, rider or event to use my material using the links from YouTube. Where possible, I’ll make clips available for use on your own social media; you only have to ask but it does help if you ask before the event rather than after it.

I hope that’s given you an insight into the Harveywetdog Project and what it takes to be Harveywetdog. It all comes down to patience, long hours on the motorway, a bit of nerve, the eye for a good angle through a combination and being brave enough to fill the view finder with horse while thinking, “I can make something with this.”

Footnote

Silly but true: Harvey was the name of our German Wire Haired Pointer; I created the name Harveywetdog in frustration one evening when I needed a user name for something and Harvey Robinson had already been taken.

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