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The Project | Claire O'Hara Photography

I am currently in search of funding to help me complete this photographic book; below I have tried to describe my vision, my motivations and inspirations. 


Equestrian Festivals and Traditions

This book provides a unique insight into the enduring personal and cultural connection we have with horses; preserved and celebrated through festivals, fairs and traditions worldwide – a photographic celebration of the powerful bond that encapsulates our deep dependence and love for horses. I aim to show a balanced and insightful perspective that will inform, educate and inspire.  This will be the first time that so many unique and unusual events will be collected together in one book.

The enduring relationship between human and horse dates back over 6000 years. Horses were instrumental in the rapid expansion of human civilisation, initially providing sustenance, then contributing significantly to the development of agriculture, trade, transportation, war, sport and more recently therapy. Horses are used for many kinds of physical and physiological therapies, including PTSD, ADHD, depression, and anxiety; having the ability to mirror our emotions and can help individuals understand their own emotions without fear of being judged. Patients with physical conditions can gain confidence, improved motor skills, muscle tone and balance from riding as well as a sense of freedom and companionship.

I have chosen to focus on lesser-known events that pay tribute to either historical events, religious beliefs or local traditions, and explore how various cultures celebrate this unique relationship.

Many of these traditions and celebrations have been lost over time, as younger family members migrate to larger towns and cities for job opportunities and a more modern lifestyle. Rural poverty and the industrial revolution are not the only reasons for the loss of these cultural traditions. Rapa Das Bestas for example, takes place in rural Spain and faces constant conflict with farmers and local developers who believe wild horses should no longer roam free, and have been known to slaughter these magnificent animals on sight. Animal rights activists also protest against the event believing it to be cruel. Initially, I also felt that this event appeared barbaric, so I listened to the locals, tried to understand their lives and now have a deeper understanding of their powerful and enduring relationship with horses. I learnt about the struggles over land and grazing rights, I learnt about the population slump among the ponies, I learnt about the animal husbandry that happens all year round. I also learnt about the importance of not taming the animals, as this would leave them more vulnerable to poachers. These ponies need to be as wild as possible. The proceeds of the event are used to pay for vaccinations, wormers, microchips, yearly animal husbandry and vets fees. Through my images I try to tell the bigger picture, the whole story.

This photojournalism project began by examining my own deep infatuation of horses when I was very young. My family was far from wealthy, my mother wanted myself and my sister to have horses so we were often bought the cheapest (and most spirited) ponies that no one else wanted, from the local dealer. This gave me a tenacity and resilience, which proved invaluable when I started my first job at the age of just 16, at a yard for show jumpers and racehorses. We would break in the young horses straight off the field as 2-yr olds before they went to Newmarket, and those that didn’t make the grade would either be sold or re-schooled as show jumpers. I then moved overseas and my eyes were opened to all kinds of training, a lot of which I did not like to see. On returning to the UK I found a way to afford to ride and compete for myself and also became a mother and wife. This is when I picked up my camera and began to attempt to capture the unique relationships people have with their horses.

In January 2016 I began to research equestrian traditions, and was immediately drawn towards the Rapa Das Bestas, deep in the heart of Galicia in south-west Spain. In this hilly, rugged landscape the small village of Sabucedo hosts an annual event in which wild ponies are rounded up to be wormed, micro chipped, health checked and mane-trimmed in a tradition that dates back over 500 years. This became the first of a series of events I felt compelled to photograph. Just over a year later I travelled to the rocky, mountainous remote village of San Bartholome de Piniares in Northern Spain, to a little known event known as Las Luminarias, where horses are ridden unscathed and unharmed through fire. This incredible spectacle illustrates the bravery of this particular breed of horse, as well as the bond of trust between horse and rider. The Spanish horse breeds (Lipizzaner’s, Lusitano’s and Andalucían’s) are known for being intelligent and noble. Grateful for my early equine experience, I gained the trust of local people and benefited from experiences that would be closed to others.

In one village, I had been invited to watch a rider work his horse, as I watched the rider he explained to me that this horse was the most challenging that he owned, he then nodded and grinned while gesturing that if I would like to ride this horse I could take my chances. To his astonishment, I accepted his offer and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know a very special horse. This soon drew a small crowd and word got round the village that I was no tourist or photographic trophy hunter, but had experience and knowledge that was respected, and from that moment on I was invited into many homes and stables to share stories and enjoy their much-loved “Lemonade”; red wine mixed with carbonated water.

Other equine events and celebrations include Pasola War Festival in Indonesia, the Abrivado Festival in France, World Nomad Games in Kyrgystan, the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria, Nagaur festival in Johdpur and the Festival of Tradition in Argentina, to name just a few. I plan to visit and photograph all of these events.

The travel and development costs associated with a project such as this have so far been self-funded, but I’m seeking funding in order to enable me to complete this project as this will be a photographic book unlike any other; an archive of stunning photography of interest to equestrians, historians, cultural geographers, adventure travellers, and anyone who understands and values the need to celebrate the deep bond between human and horse, manifested in the imagery produced.

“Look back at our struggle for freedom,
Trace our present day’s strength to its source;
and you’ll find that man’s pathway to glory
is strewn with the bones of the horse.”
– Author Unknown