There’s no more fun horse show to photograph than The Event at Rebecca Farm, with its crayon box palette, omnipresent sun and natural backdrop straight out of a “Greetings from Montana … Wish You Were Here!” postcard. And indeed, we do wish we were there — EN hasn’t missed an edition since 2014, the year we first headed west to see what was up with this field-of-dreams event everybody was gushing about like it was some sort of eventing Disneyland. We returned home with Mickey Mouse ears on, so to speak.
The next best thing to being there in person, however, is watching the event through Shannon Brinkman’s always artful lens. She captures the magic wherever she goes, and there’s always an awful lot of magic circulating in the air during the Event at Rebecca Farm, even during this year’s scaled down edition.
What a strange moment it is that we are living in.
It’s no secret that I’m a big ol’ softie marshmallow for this sport, and no matter if it’s a five-star or the 14-and-under BN division at the AEC, victory gallops always leave me sniffling. In particular, prize-giving ceremonies at Rebecca Farm always give me the feels (Exhibit A: Mr. Medicott’s emotional retirement ceremony). By Sunday it’s like I’ve been on a five-day emotional roller coaster loaded up with hundreds of thrill-seekers from all around the country (possible inspiration for this jump?).
From amateurs to pros to NAYC kids, I always just want to hug everyone who has hauled their horse from God-only-knows-where to Kalispell, Montana, to test their skill, risk their pride, and gamble serious gas money. It’s a long drive to Rebecca Farm and an even longer drive home if things don’t go according to plan.
The furthest I’ve ever driven to an event was 10 hours from Newnan, Georgia to Morven Park, but 25 hours if you count the part where we broke down on I-81 and had to overnight at a farm in Wytheville along the way. Long for me, but par for the course for west coasters. We finally got there, unloaded and walked my Prelim cross country by flashlight. The next morning I promptly fell right off at the first water.
That’s the sport, though. It goes your way or it doesn’t, or you land somewhere in the middle. And then there’s a drive home afterward. No matter the level, eventing requires so much time, commitment and most of all vulnerability — a quality not usually ascribed to eventers, who more often pride themselves on toughness and bravery. But as Brené Brown defined it in her famous TED Talk: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
Due to the pandemic, this year’s Rebecca Farm event was a pared down version of its usual self, with the top division being not NAYC or a four-star but an Advanced horse trials. The division had just 10 entries but a great storyline — mom and daughter, going head to head — and a happy ending, as Tamie Smith and Kaylawna Smith-Cook combined swept the top four placings.
No mother can anticipate the person that their child will grow up to be. I’m a new mom; I can’t keep up with what is making my 15-month-old’s world go around from minute to minute, much less imagine what he’ll be into in five, 10, 20 years from now. For now he loves going to the barn, reaching up to pet velvet muzzles, even riding in tandem with his mom. I don’t know what role horses will play in his life, if any, and I don’t care. My wish for him is that he finds a passion in life, as I have. Something that fuels him. Anything so long as it makes him happy.
Having said that, it’s a special thing when a child’s passion ends up aligning with that of a parent. You can nurture passion in a child, but you can’t force it. You can’t manufacture the look that was on Kaylawna’s face as she stormed around cross country at Rebecca on Saturday, her third crack at the blue numbers. Or that of Taylor McFall, who rode her mom Jen’s five-star horse to 3rd in Prelim. Examples abound in our sport of passion not so much inherited from parent to child, but born again in them new.
Like Roya Brinkman, sometimes photographer assistant to Shannon, whose intuition behind the lens is perhaps inspired by her mom but ultimately wholly her own. At the end of the day decisions about how we frame our lives, what we focus in on and what gets softened in our gaze, are ours alone to make. Of all the millions, billions, of split second freeze-frames in our lives, which do we choose to define ourselves?
The best things in life, I think, are often born of uncertainty, and of vulnerability, and of a certain type of confidence that can only be born from letting go. Follow your path, wherever it leads, and take lots of pictures along the way.
Onward and upward into the great unknown, EN. Go Eventing.