BY SISSY WICKES
Without horse shows and the bustling season, Sissy Wickes joins a group of equestrians in Florida for cycling. Every day, safely six feet apart, they chat about the state of things and dealing with our current times. You can read Day 1 – The Local Trainer, to catch up.
It is especially humid today as we gather in the shade of the parking lot. I am soaked after sprinting two miles to the meet. As the quarantine wears on, my impulse to exercise grows. Yoga and run in the morning, bike and workout in the afternoon. Anxiety calmed by endorphins, a remedy that has worked for me in the past.
I observe the same cast of characters as yesterday and then hear a yell, “Hey, Sis!” I look up to see an athletic figure clad in real biking togs on a real road bike. Sunglasses, clip-on shoes, advertising emblems on a black sleeveless top, proper bike helmet. This ride may have just come up a notch. I greet my photographer friend with a wave, trying to be cool without falling off of my bike. I was successful only to a point as the wheels weave and wobble. She is gracious enough not to laugh. I have my partner for today.
We begin the ride chatting about mutual friends and who is doing what to whom- the usual horse show banter. Gratuitous gossip complete, we fall quiet and enjoy the beautiful Florida afternoon. “So, how are you doing?” I ask. “I mean with the shutdown.”
She recounts a successful Florida season for a new business venture just launched with a co-worker. Two female photographers with years of experience who pooled their money and reputations to form a young company. “WEF was great for us,” she said. “It was hard work and there are just the two of us, but we had a good start to the year. And, then, boom – it was over.”
Horse show photography is not as simple as a shutterbug walking around the show grounds randomly photographing people and horses. It has evolved into a business that involves contracts with horse show management and staking out territory in big venues and multi-week circuits. The old days of buying paper prints from one photographer have passed. Digital photos, individual photoshoots, and intricate, customized albums comprise a modern photographer’s business model. Having put in their time as apprentices and assistants, these two women braved the next step and opened their own business in 2020.
“We had such a great year planned,” my friend said coasting on her bike in front of me as I peddled furiously. “We got the contract at Devon, Lake Placid and…”
“Devon?” I shrieked. A native of the area, Devon is a mecca for me. “You got Devon?”
She laughed, “Well, I had Devon.”
Ugh. We all felt the sinking feeling when the cancellation of the Devon Horse Show was announced. A beacon on the horse show calendar, it is the highlight of the horse show year for many- trainers, riders, owners, and spectators. Of course, we were all disappointed. But, this is different. The trickle-down effect was embodied in the girl peddling next to me.
“So, how long can you last with no work?” I inquire, hoping I knew her well enough to ask.
“If I actually sat down with a paper and pencil to figure it out, probably a few months. But, that is supposing that the summer shows start up and we can pick up some more work.”
We ride in silence for a spell as I consider her words. New company, money spent on the assurance of signed contracts, a career chess move completed and awaiting a countermove. Yet, the opponent is faceless and silent with no previous record and no behavioral predictors.
My wandering thoughts are refocused by her questions about Small Business Association loans, the PPP application, and unemployment claims. Soon, others in the group chime in with their frustration at trying to navigate online forms and the lack of response from any of the relief agencies. Most have attempted to take advantage of the federal economic offerings but none have been successful. For this group, the shutdown occurred in one of the most profitable times of the year. So, we have supplies in the larder and cupboards are relatively full. As the weeks progress and the situation tightens, our community will feel the economic vice of unemployment and a dry income flow.
“Isn’t this beautiful?” she asks as we glide down a road flanked by green grass and palm trees.
“It really is,” I wheezed.
“If we have to be locked down, I’m glad it’s here. At least we get to be outside and do this kind of stuff.”
I pedal on, marveling at the strength and optimism of our community. Ok, these are nine women on bikes, but we are a microcosm of the horse world as a whole. We find respite in banding together for an hour in the sunshine and sharing stories about horses and horse people. Together we are stronger.
As we pull into the parking lot of the Shell station, I look back to say goodbye to the rest of the group. We are all sweating and smiling as people who equate a good day’s work with sweat.
“See you tomorrow,” I call over my shoulder.
“Hey, Sissy,” my friend yells. “Let me know if you want to go for a real road bike ride sometime.”
I turn my head back and gulp. She might beat me, better practice. I pedal into a sprint as my competitive nature surges. We didn’t end up in this business by accident.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist, an autism advocate and Cohost of The Plaidcast. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
Read More from This Author »