I had a chance to visit Lima’s Hipodromo de Monterrico when I was in Peru early in September for a missions trip with Joni & Friends. I love taking pictures at South American racetracks for so many different reasons — the vibrant colors, the unusual ways of doing things, the variations in barns and climates and training programs.
Maybe things come alive for me more at South American tracks because it’s less big-dollar industry, more a hobby, like our glory days. Stables are small and tight-knit. Horses seem heartier. Methods are old-school.
The riders don’t use saddles except to breeze at most South American ovals. I’d seen this in Panama before so I didn’t find it surprising, but I’m always surprised — no matter what country I visit — that more riders don’t end up on the ground after hurtling around at high speeds with only a bareback pad and their excellent horsemanship to keep them astride.
Rather than take up the time of riders heading back and forth between barns, grooms meet them near the gap. This creates a holding pattern of sorts of riderless horses and their caregivers, pretty much just chilling between sets.
I started taking pictures of grooms and horses in Panama when I first went there in 2011. They play the same waiting game, although the process seems to move a little faster there than in Peru.
I like the way the horses and grooms seem to mirror each other’s attitudes. You rarely see an antsy, keyed up Thoroughbred around this time. They might get on the muscle once the rider is up, but they’re very used to waiting and enjoy watching the morning activities.
The groom and his charge below are two of my favorites from the visit. The wise, weathered, calm — yet alert — appearance is mirrored in both horse and human. In a moment it will be time to train, but for now, they’re just taking in the world at hand.