It was a dislike of her organic chemistry courses in college that prompted Amy Katherine Dragoo to turn in a different direction, and take a chance with the camera, eventually leading her to pursue the type of photography career which only horse-lovers dream of.
The longtime equine photographer states in her website AK Dragoo Photography that her failures in the sciences, but successes in a chance photography class, convinced her early on that she would “never be destined for an office job.”
“I have always thrived on a short deadline,” she states. “Journalism was an obvious choice.”
After 20 years spent in the Pennsylvania newspaper biz, she found herself following her passion to foxhunts and horse shows.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Dragoo talks about her exciting career. (There’s a video at the end of this that shows just how “exciting” an everyday horse show can get. No one was injured).
Q: Amy, tell me about your background as a mainstream newspaper photographer, and how that morphed into working in the equine world?
I do have a minor in journalism, and I have written a little for Practical Horseman, but I am primarily a photographer. I worked in newspapers for nearly 20 years, working first for a group of weeklies in Delaware County, Pa., and then a daily in Chester County Pa. called the Daily Local News.
Now, I operate my own stock image service for editorial and commercial clients in addition to taking assignments for clients.
Q: What was your best story about horses, and why?
Best story, hmm.
I have learned something from everything I have shot. Whether it’s a piece of practical knowledge or a photographic tidbit, every situation has the potential to be a learning experience.
But one of my favorites is a shoot with [George Morris], which was basically chasing him around a schooling ring in Wellington trying to guess where he was going next, trying to hear what he was talking about as he schooled a horse he had never ridden.
What was scheduled to be at most a two-part article became a nine-installment series. The word from the editor was he was so impressed by all the photos that he wanted to do a book.
I have other stories, also involving George Morris. (And I don’t know why all of these stories involve George.) First, I did the video production for Practical Horseman from the Horsemastership Clinic in Wellington (the outtakes are awesome…).
George is very demanding, but what many people don’t know is he is VERY funny. His humor is quite dry and spot on. I have him on tape explaining that a distance to a fence is either right or wrong, “It’s like being a little bit pregnant.”
In that same clinic, he got on one of the participant’s horses, who had been ignoring the aides, and just not getting any better.
George got on, and that 45 minutes turned out to be one of the most beautiful training demonstrations I have ever seen!
It was very subtle and quite, as he asked for a response until he got what he was seeking. After, the animal was a totally different horse for the rest of the week. And the best part of the story, I forgot to hit record on the video camera!
In the third Morris story, I believe it was the Smarty Jones Belmont which was also the last day of the Devon Horse Show. I ended up watching the race in the bar under the grandstand sitting between George and journalist Nancy Jaffer.
The gates opened and both George and Nancy grabbed my hands and held them throughout the nail-biter of a race. The randomness of that crazy moment has stuck with me.
Q: How has equine journalism changed over the years, in terms of coverage and content, and what do you think is the next big thing in horse news?
Equine journalism is no different than real world journalism.
Digital images, social media, video, bloggers, 24-hour news cycle, etc.— they all apply to both worlds.
The horse world is so diverse that what is big to one discipline is not even a blip on the screens of others.
It always gives me a chuckle to see the worlds cross paths. I shoot more eventing, even though I grew up in the hunter/jumper world.
I hadn’t been at Harrisburg 10 minutes this year when I looked on the other side of the in-gate to see Captain Mark Phillips (no surprise, he is dating SJ Lauren Hough), and I thought, “I’ve gone to a horse show and the first person I see is an eventer.”
Q: What is your background with horses and with OTTBs?
I learned to ride with active Pony Club family, though never was in Pony Club.
My most formative years as a junior were spent with school ponies and showing in some of the local circuits around Washington, D.C.
My trainer had done the circuit as a junior and was a judge. It was a wonderful combination of making due with what you had, and proper turnout.
We braided for all shows, we rode in our coats even if jackets were excused, and if your pony needed a Pelham you rode with both reins, and knew how to put on the curb chain and lip strap.
Our horses came from the Thurmont auction and green ponies from Rolling Acres. I began volunteering for CANTER after shooting a story on it soon after Allie Conrad started it in West Virginia.
I helped list horses at Penn National for a number of years before gas prices went up and the number of hours in my days went down.
I still find myself trolling the OTTB sites, and while I have a barn with empty stalls waiting for me to fill, I just don’t have the time to commit to having a horse of my own.