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Photos are great, but horses come first for equine photographer

Barb Young, with camera in hand, gets close to a horse. "Horses are my whole life," she says. "I was on a horse when I was three."

By Bob Silbernagel
Saturday, June 4, 2011

Horse people are an independent lot, folks who like to do things for themselves to ensure they're done right. It's not unusual to find farriers who took up horseshoeing because they were dissatisfied with the way someone else shod their horses. Or a saddle maker who wanted to repair his or her own tack.  Barb Young pictured better photos of her horses.

"I got into photography because I couldn't find anyone who could take good pictures of the horses I had for sale," she said.  It turned out to be a good decision. Earlier this year, one of her photos won best of show in the Equine Ideal: Winter 2011 Photography Contest, sponsored by the Equine Photographer's Network. She also won best professional black-and-white photo in the same contest.  And, on her Facebook page, Young has been posting a new photo a day since the first of the year, a project she and other equine photographers are continuing until Dec. 31. Most, but not all, of the photos are of horses, many of them from her own horse farm northwest of Montrose.

Young sells horse calendars each year. She has attended horse shows and competitive events to take photos of participants and sell photos to those who attend. Her best source of revenue, she said, is developing a portfolio of stock horse photos -- and keeping it updated -- that she can sell to magazines and other commercial entities.  But make no mistake about it -- photography may be her avocation, but horses are, and always have been, Barb Young's passion.

"Horses are my whole life," she said. "I was on a horse when I was three."  That was at her grandparents farm in New York state, where she visited frequently from her home in Connecticut. "I grew up showing ponies and riding hunters," she recalled.  After college, a marriage and divorce, Young and her daughter moved to Denver to be near Young's sister. By the early 1970s, she had migrated to Aspen, where she owned a secretarial telephone answering service and had as one of her clients, a singer named John Denver.

She also acquired a horse, and kept her at Strang Ranch near Carbondale. She began competing in hunter-jumper competitions and joined the Colorado West Hunter/Jumper Association. She also joined the Roaring Fork Hunt fox hunting group, and would remain a member for 30 years, long after she had left the Roaring Fork Valley.

Young moved further west when she realized she could never afford the property she wanted for breeding horses in the Aspen area.  First she moved to the Cedaredge area and then, 20 years ago, to her current farm near the rural community of Menoken. That's about halfway between Montrose and Olathe, and Young's farm is a few miles west of U.S. Highway 50.  She initially tried to raise thoroughbreds there, but found there was little money for a small breeder in that world.

Then, Young said, "I fell in love with two-year-old Oldenburg named Mannhattan." Oldenburgs are a warmblood, a type of large sport horse developed in Europe. She acquired a Dutch warmblood mare named Delilah, and was able to breed her regularly to Manhattan. Three of their seven foals have scored among the top tier of Oldenburg foals in the country, and several are doing well in national dressage competition.

It was while she was raising and selling warmbloods that Young became frustrated with other people's pictures of her horses and took up photography on her own.

In 2002, the Equine Photographers Network started as a Yahoo chat group, she said. "That's where I learned most of my basics. There were some super professionals who were willing to help photographers that were just getting started."  Carien Schippers, an equine photographer from New York, started the Yahoo group that Young joined, and later turned it into an independent organization with a paid membership of nearly 200 photographers, regular online seminars and its own website, also heard of a ranch in Colorado, Sombrero Ranch near Craig, that conducts an annual horse drive with hundreds of horses and clients who pay to participate in the drive. She contacted the ranch, and arranged to have photographers along -- riding in vehicles -- to take photos of the drive. Members of the Equine Photographers Network have been attending the May event for several years. Barb Young's photo that won the top award this winter came from that event.

Back at her farm, Young transitioned from raising warmbloods to ponies, often with warmblood or thoroughbred blood to make great hunter/jumper prospects for young riders. Eventually, she stopped breeding horses. Now she boards some and keeps a few of her own -- some ponies, several rescued mustangs and other aging horses that are living out their years in relative comfort with a woman who truly cares for all of her horses.  "I'm trying to build a business for people who are willing to pay to retire their horses," she said.

The horses come first, but as she goes about her day taking care of her charges, Barb Young's camera is usually close at hand.

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