I grew up in the gentle Sussex light. In a village at the foot of the South Downs approximately 8 miles from the city of Brighton. A colony of artists and craftspersons which is still is today. They too were drawn by the light, the play of shadows on the Downs, the quality of the air around us. And it is here as a child, that I discovered the inspiration that would shape me as both a photographer and a horse woman.
I was your typical horse crazy young girl. My parents could afford the occasional riding lesson, but a horse of my own was out of the question. So, I became that annoying kid who turns up at people’s yards offering to muck out in return for rides. Up until this point my experience with horses only extended as far as riding school ponies, the odd hunter and the mixture of horses and ponies I occasionally helped care for. Usually mixed breeds, natives and pony club types.
As far as my 10 year old self was concerned, aside from occasional visits to Hickstead, this was the sum total of the horse world. Yes of course, there were the horses I saw in the westerns I was already addicted to. But the western riding scene had not yet taken hold. That anything else existed or that I would have access to it – impossoble to imagine.
That is until riding out of a dream on a midsummer’s twilight along the village lanes, came inspiration in the form of the Gonzaez-Byass family from Jerez. On their matched grey Andalusian horses. All in traditional Spanish tack and the men and women dressed in Spanish riding clothes. They passed like a procession of royalty. The saddles and bridles adored in silver, the horses’ coats shining, the men so handsome, the women so beautiful and other-worldly. They had to have ridden straight off the pages of a fairy tale.
That such magnificent horses existed, that you could ride dressed like a princess and in tack different to the English style was a moment of revelation for me. From that moment on my younger self vowed this is what she would do. And sadly, from that moment onwards, the kind and ordinary horses I had yearned for were not quite doing it for me.
Precocious me was quick to find out that the family came here with their horses every summer from Spain to their home on Lodge Hill. I would walk up there and spent hours with my nose pressed against the fence gazing at the horses in their stables. When one of the grooms finally took pity on me and invited me in, to actually touch the shining horses - I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
In a way, I had. They became the light of a muse sent from above. The horses, the family themselves., the elegant Spanish style. We moved away from the village two years later. The family no longer rode past me on a summer’s evening, but continued to ride through my imagination as I graduated high school, went to art school and then on into a creative career. But these memories translated into recreating their spirit of timesless elegance via art direction and imagery. And a desire to make other riders look and feel as elegant as the Gonzalez Byass women in the saddle, led me to design a range of riding skirts and Concours costumes. And on into the horses I photographed. And dreamed of owning.
Years later I contacted the Ditchling Historial Society and was told the family had sold their home. The hills and lanes around the village no longer echoed to the sound of silver spurs on a summer’s night. But I hold the memory of it and try to bring it into my work whenever I can. I could not ride with them as a child. But like to think I ride with them in every frame I take. And every vision I create.