Camelot Auction: Eight Months Later
An incredible thing is happening in New Jersey- a giant network of horse people is pooling resources and finding homes for hundreds of horses. This network has gotten the word out across the country, and has even crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Every Wednesday night, Camelot Auction runs its sale in Cranbury, NJ. Riding horses, livestock, and tack are all sold throughout the evening. The horses who are unsold and without a reserve price run the risk of being sold to the feedlot and being shipped to slaughter. In an effort to find homes for these horses, a network of equine rescue groups have created a system of cataloging, photographing, and disseminating information about these horses. The information is shared via Facebook, message boards, blogs, and word of mouth. Helping Hearts Equine Rescue began the organized effort in November 2009, but has been working with the auction to pull horses in need long before then.
The success of the Camelot network has a lot to do with how the auction is run. The proprietors are very professional and helpful. Unlike most other auctions, they are willing to work with equine rescue groups. Many of the horses sold at the auction are riding horses, either for show or pleasure, and the folks at Camelot take good care of their stock while they are on their property. The excitement is on Wednesday nights, and the horses are grateful to rest on Thursdays. Some have traveled many miles across many states and through several auction rings before they get here. They get some good sleep, and they groom one another.
The pens are clean and bedded with shavings, with ample room to walk around and lie down. Horses have access to hay and water at all times. All horses are sheltered from the heat and cold, and more importantly, the ventilation is excellent. In the summer, fans cool the horses. If a horse cannot be with other horses for health or behavioral reasons, the horse is stalled. Medical care is administered to horses who are ill.
In January 2010, I began my work photographing horses at Camelot Auction. In February, I shared my initial experiences and observations (click here to read). As an independent volunteer, I go to Camelot every Thursday and photograph all horses who were unsold on auction night. I edit the photos and post them online in order for the horses to be networked until the Saturday afternoon deadline. Since November 2009, not a single horse in this networking effort has shipped to slaughter from Camelot.
I’ve photographed many hundreds of horses; by my rough estimate, roughly 15% are Quarter Horses, 10% are Paints (or stock-horse-type Pintos) 7% are Thoroughbreds, and well over 30% are of unknown heritage. I’ve laid eyes on a few exotic breeds, over a dozen warmbloods, and many mules. I’ve seen miniature horses and 18-hand drafts; weanlings to horses pushing 30; colors from the pearliest cremello to the deepest ebony black; registered horses with a show record to unhandled youngsters.
As an equine photographer, my Camelot work puts me through my paces. Breaking horsey photo rules is necessary due to the environment. I shoot with a 17-55mm lens and a flash, instead of my trusty 70-200mm and natural light. The exposure changes with every single shot. My ISO is cranked quite high. I don’t use the same angles that I do for my usual farm calls, since I only post two photos of each horse: a body photo and a headshot. These horses are not being held- they are loose. My images are honest- if a horse has a crooked leg, there is nobody standing him just-so to make it disappear into the photo. My lifetime of riding and working with horses comes into play as well; I am always mindful of my safety and the safety of the horses. The proprietors look out for me and tell me when I need to take extra care around an especially skittish horse.
The stories of the horses in the auction could fill a book, from a filly being born to the blue-blooded horses who have been returned to their grateful breeders to the high drama among the rescue groups. These horses have gotten some media coverage and I’ve traveled across the state to visit them after they have arrived at their new homes. There are still many unanswered questions about homeless horses, slaughter, euthanasia, ethics of rescue groups, shady Craigslist dealers, and equine overpopulation. It is helpful to consider all of these issues, and it is even more helpful to set a foot in the direction of change.
My work at Camelot has influenced my work as a professional photographer. The equine photography industry is comprised of many followers and just a few leaders. The dedication, energy, and heart that it takes to make this Camelot network thrive is fueled by innovative and caring individuals. If you are interested in making a difference, my challenge to you is to blaze your own path, share your unique and creative vision, and use your talents to help other horses in need.