Tried Something New – Reined Cow Horse Competition (Part 1)

Cow Horses For A Cure

Saturday of Labor Day Weekend I tried a different venue for taking photos.  I had been informed by another photographer about a local competition of horses and riders.  “Rodeo” popped up in my mind – something I had wanted to try shooting someday.  Since the spectators could enter free, it was close to home and I had a three day weekend do attack my “honey do list”, I figured I could spare a couple of hours.

It was held at Whitneys Wild Oak Ranch in Exeter.  Actually just a little north of Hwy 198 and Hwy 65.  Very impressive horse ranch.  Beautiful long entry drive lined with Raywood Ash trees.

Whitney Wild Oak Ranch

Entrance to Whitney Wild Oak Ranch – Love the tree lined drive

First step of my education – this is not a rodeo.  I spent an hour shooting before I had the courage to ask someone what the heck I was watching/shooting. This is a Reined (Working) Cow Horse competition with specific skills related to herding cattle.  Quite fascinating.  Click on the underlined text above to let Wikipedia explain it so I don’t waste your and my time duplicating it in the blog.

Warm Up

Rider in the warm up arena before competition

Second step of my education – this is not as easy as it seems to get good, compelling photos.  It had a lot of challenges.  I’ll save those topics for Part 2 of the blog.

I enjoyed the morning watching (and of course shooting).  One of the advantages of being a photographer is it makes you more observant.  Here I am in a new experience with total strangers taking photos of them.

Confusion reins at first.  Where is the arena?  Where are the crowds (no crowds, mostly competitors and their families). Where can I walk without trespassing, getting it the way or getting stomped on by a horse.  Is photography allowed?  Am I treading on some professional photographer’s turf? (Answer – yes – kind of.  Met “Big Daddy” photography).   Is flash allowed? (yes – fuller answer in Part 2).

Do riders mind? (seems most don’t – some offered genuine smiles to this stranger taking their photo).  Quite a few talked with me.

Smile Before Competition

A smile just before entering the arena to compete.

At first I assumed the competitors were all working cowboys/ranch hands but clearly not.  Probably 50-50 split male and female competitors (no I did not count – just my impression).  Did I just step in something saying that?  Let me be clear – every competitor looks fully capable of riding the range and herding the cattle with the skills they showed.  Some just don’t have enough callouses on their hands for me to think it is a full time daily job.  Never-the-less, their skills are top notch.   I’ll bet I’m still not off the hook with that.


A stunning team

I usually focus my photography on people and their relationships (why I love shooting weddings).  And of course, I was shooting people on their horses today and a lot of candids too.  This lead to an interesting learning experience.  One particularly good looking female rider (there were many by the way) saw me taking her photo and shouted “Not of me – take the horse!”  I started pondering that and came to realize that this passion of the riders is all about the horses and their love for them.  I may have made a big mistake mostly focusing on the riders and not more on their horses.  In looking at Big Daddy’s website, I think he confirmed it as he is asking his buyers whether he should start organizing the galleries by the horse’s name instead of rider’s name.  I’d be curious of the answer.

This is a society of horse lovers and it showed in their care of the animals.  If you look at the photos closely, notice the padding around the horses legs.  Reminds me of kids in youth soccer and their shin guards.  These are well trained horses and they look pampered too.  There were some gorgeous, muscled beasts with shiny coats (which sometimes reflected sunlight too well – ie blown highlights).


Warming up – making tight turns – notice leg protections

Although this is a competition, it seems most everyone knows each other and are friends.  It is also family time – riding together.  In one case a mother (I assume) was training her daughter how to control the horse with reins and knee pressure.  No fear in her little eyes.

Training the next generation of rider

Chocolate Milk Rider

Hmmm – which do you like better – riding or the chocolate milk?

I only took photos from 8 AM to 10:30 AM Saturday. If you were riding then, there might be photos of you to look at.  Full gallery of these images can be seen at

To the riders and their families – thank you for sharing a day of your life with this photographer.  Hope you enjoy the images.

About Ron Ludekens

God created a marvelous world full of wonderful sights and people. He is the Creator and it is His Palette of beauty that Ron Ludekens tries to capture as photographic images. Images of nature or images of people and their lives - both reflect the handiwork of the Creator. Ron is a photographer living in Visalia, California - part of the great Central Valley. He is immediately surrounded by agriculture and all the hard working people that feed our world. A short distance away are the grand Sierra Nevada mountains, impressive National Parks and, wider still, the vast diversity that California has to offer. Ron is one of the family owners of the L.E. Cooke Co Wholesale Nursery - a leader in the horticulture industry of North America. Even on the job, his camera is always near by. His photos for the nursery trade have been published in print and around the websites of nurseries across America. Ron is also a leader in his church and its missions. Ron's photography has been a resource the church uses in its communications and message. Plus photos of all the fun things we do are shared among members and friends. Ron also loves capturing precious moments in lives of people. Weddings, senior portraits, graduations, family gatherings, maternity and special events. Ron will not shoot more than four weddings a year to provide the attention to detail and followup that is required for such an important milestone event in the lives of the couple. Ron can be reached at 559-732-7165 or cell 559-967-5370.
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