The stunning Lipizzan! We are celebrating them as our September Breed of the Month on YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose Lipizzans as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the United States Lipizzan Federation is a participating organization.
Here, professional photographer John Borys shares about the magic of these horses, which he captures through his lens at the renowned Tempel Farms.
Story and photos by John Borys
Stepping off the plane, there is a slight chill in the air. I am not in Florida anymore. After picking up my bags, I hop into the car. The driver starts heading out of O’Hare Airport and on to I-94 North. My destination is Tempel Farms, home of the Tempel Lipizzans in Old Mill Creek, IL.
I step out of the car in front of the beautiful guest house and drink in the view. Below, to my east, is the outdoor performance arena, the indoor and stallion stables, and beyond fields and farms. I look to the north and see rolling hills, green grass, and endless blue sky.
Suitcase stowed, I walk outside to the west and gaze towards the setting sun. Mares and foals tear out big chunks of grass then look towards me, bathed in the golden light. If only there were a way for a camera to capture all of this. I try, but the photos just can’t do it justice.
As the Lead Photographer for the Tempel Lipizzans, I am familiar with this view. May at Tempel Farms has always been time for our annual marketing shoot. I have loved this magical place since the first day I set foot here in June of 2013. I used to live a mere 20 minutes away and spent many hours and days here. This is where I first heard the word, “dressage”. This is where I learned how to properly photograph moving horses. Over the ensuing years, I have traveled with them, photographed the clinics they hosted, and was welcomed into the Tempel Farms fold.
I fall asleep curled up in a comfy bed, listening to the sound of crickets chirping…
I rise early, enjoy the breakfast that Tempel was kind enough to provide me, and head down to the barn. There is, of course, a plan for today. Esther Buonanno, the Program Director for the Tempel Lipizzans and the granddaughter of Tempel Smith, has the vision behind that plan. Esther and I have always enjoyed working together to create the images to bring that vision to life. We don’t always get it exactly right, but I like our track record.
Our first stop is West Good Luck, the stables that hold the mares and foals that are the past, present, and future of the Tempel herd. Esther introduces me personally to each mare and foal individually, so that I have a chance to connect with this year’s new arrivals. Their moms come over to look at me suspiciously. In the end, they tolerate my presence. This can be touch and go as that big lens is most likely a foal-eating monster.
We head out to the huge pasture to the east of the stables that is the foals’ playground. The foals are always a wonderful surprise. Will they romp and play? Or will they lay down and take a nap after a large helping of their mother’s milk?
I get tired just watching them run. Esther helps slow down the pace by taking me to the “Round Barn” court yard. I have attended several starts to local fox hunts (the stirrup cup) in this location. As usual the setting is perfect.
Our guests arrive. Mares and foals. They pose like professional models for their portraits.
Stallions are next. Maestoso Batrina is a “good luck” bay in the Tempel herd.
After finishing up at the Round Barn, we head back to the office at Tempel Farms to talk about the afternoon shooting over lunch.
The next item on the list is one of my absolute favorites: Tempel Lipizzans at Liberty. The power and grace they display as they romp around the round pen still leaves me in awe. They circle me at full speed, rushing by as close to me as they dare. Eyes blazing, gaze intent. Gives me goosebumps.
We shoot all the young stallions, some mares, and of course the mature stallions. As the sun moves across the sky, stomachs begin to grumble. We head back to the tack room for pizza. I change batteries and memory cards, and the trainers get into their performance clothes. Working students and employees are busy scrubbing the horses clean. Pizza slices are picked up and vanish as quickly as the person carrying them. Eating and working. It’s a thing.
Next up are the shots Esther has been thinking about for a while. We are both going for something iconic, and her ideas are wonderful. In full Tempel Lipizzan performance dress, the trainers and their stallions head up into the hills past the outdoor performance arena.
I am in awe of the beauty of this place and the horses that live here. But Esther has one more surprise before the sun sets. We head down to the outdoor performance arena, and I hear the words I have waited to hear for nine years (without even knowing I wanted them): “John, set up any shots you want. We will make it happen.” I have been shooting performances and rehearsals in this arena for nine years. But I have never had the chance to set up exactly where I want and then ask the riders and stallions to perform a movement in the direction I want at the angle I want. I have never had the chance to set it up exactly the way I have wanted. I get some good shots. But nothing as impressive as the shots Esther dreams up.
After grabbing some take out, we head up to the guest house to talk about the day. I review the photos I shot late into the night, falling asleep at my laptop. I take one more look around this beautiful place and head up to bed. I am pretty sure I will be dreaming of Lipizzans the rest of the night. Tomorrow will be a brand new day full of Tempel Lipizzans and friends. What more could one ask for?
Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.