Amateur Hour

Five Tips for #HorseShowHusbands

From one non-horse boyfriend turned Horse Show Husband

Collin Pierson (right) with trainer Caitlyn Shiels (left) and wife Michelle Durpetti at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. Photo by Jump Media

I wasn’t always a horse show husband.

Just a few years ago, I was a single guy, working as an editorial and wedding photographer, oblivious to the existence of the alternative universe that is the horse show world.

Then I met my now-wife, Michelle Durpetti.

When we first started dating, Michelle casually mentioned that she would be in Florida for the first three months of the year. I really liked Michelle, and I was highly optimistic that she really liked me as well, so I made a few trips down to Ocala, FL, from our mutual home base in Chicago. She warned me that her life in Ocala was a bit different from her life in the city in Chicago, but I was ready. I’m from Kansas City; I used to spend time out in the country and don’t mind getting dirty.

What I didn’t realize was that she wasn’t just trying to prepare me for time out of the city, she was trying to prepare me to enter a whole other world!

Fast forward from my first foray into horse shows to January of 2018. I’m no longer a non-horse boyfriend, I’m a full-fledged horse show husband.

During my transitional years between the two roles, and in my first few months as a #HorseShowHusband, I’ve picked up five tips that I offer to any other men who find themselves in my position.

1. Plan your horse show appearances around the vacation destination

When Michelle got back from Florida that first year, she went to show in Iowa, and I was busy with work and didn’t initially see the appeal in going to Iowa, so I didn’t attend. Then she went to Kentucky. To me, Lexington, KY, screamed one thing: bourbon! So of course I went to Kentucky!

Since then, I’ve learned one of the amazing things about horse shows: they’re often in great vacation destinations. My advice to you is to plan to attend those horse shows. You can get some fresh air, hang out with some really awesome people, watch some really great competition—and then also go enjoy delicious bourbon right down the road! This summer you can expect to find me with the True North Stables team in Lexington, KY, and at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) in Traverse City, MI. 

Collin Pierson riding at HITS Ocala 2018. Photo by Sheryl Sutherby

2. Find your own horse show interest

I’m a photographer, so for me, it’s only natural to bring a camera with me wherever I go—including to my first horse shows. I thought, “I might as well take a couple of pictures of horses while I’m here.” Since then, “taking a couple pictures of horses” has evolved into Fine Art Horses, a full-blown new business for me!

Fellow show goers suddenly started saying that they liked my photos and that they gave a different kind of spin and take on the traditional horse show photos. Being a photographer but a non-horse person, I tried to take a little bit more of an artistic approach to them, and it’s worked.

I was a photojournalist for a few years, a sports photographer for many years, and then I got into fashion, commercial, and editorial work. Shooting at horse shows has combined all of it! There’s the fast action that you have to be able to capture. There’s the candid photojournalism element since there are a lot of actions and reactions happening, and it is also very much fine art photography, because you can take these beautiful animals and turn them into artwork.

Now I’m not saying horse show husbands should all run out and pick up cameras. But I am encouraging you to find your own horse show interest and way to support your wife. Whether that’s shooting the videos of her rounds, helping with some set-up and tear-down handiwork back at the stabling, or simply providing a bottle of chardonnay for the adult amateurs of the barn—whatever your interests may be, find a way to incorporate them into horse shows!

3. Understand that the horses may live better than you do

If you were to ask me what surprised me most about horse showing, one of the things would have to be just how much goes into horse care. I’ve been lucky to be around people that really pride themselves on horsemanship, which means the horses get top-of-the-line care. I know for a fact Michelle’s horses get more acupuncture, massages, baths, and special treatments than I do. Between their probiotic supplements, customized diets, and deeply bedded stalls, they probably eat and sleep better than I do too. The odds are high that the same is going to be true for you. Don’t take it personally.

4. Consider giving the sport a try yourself

After watching as a spectator for about a year, I finally got on a horse and gave some lessons a try for myself. In January of last year, we set a goal to have me actually get into a show ring by the time the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival rolled around in July. Sure enough, I went into the long-stirrup division, and you’d better believe I held my own in that walk-trot class against those seven-year-old children and their ponies!

Then, this winter at HITS Ocala, Patty Foster at Rolling Acres Farm hooked me up with a horse named On My Honor, owned by Robin Feldman, and I made my jumping debut in the Iron Maiden Equitation.

Collin Pierson with trainer Caitlyn Shiels of True North Stables after competing in the Maiden Equitation division at HITS Ocala. Photo by Sheryl Sutherby

Getting to experience for myself something that my wife has done for so long has given me a greater appreciation for the sport, and I understand more of the psychological and physical aspects of it.

4a. But be warned of what you’ll look like in breeches

While I strongly advise you to give riding a try, I would also warn you that trying on breeches for the first time can sure be one heck of an experience. I’ve found them to be far from flattering. Also: if you’re not in Ocala or Wellington, FL, don’t go out in public in them. I’ll never forget the first time that I was driving to the barn and stopped at Starbucks and suddenly realized that everyone was paying attention to me and what I was wearing. It’s a matter of fact: you look strange.

5. Enjoy it!

At the end of the day, I really love my wife and getting to be a part of something that she loves so much is awesome! I’ve gotten to know some incredible people, see new places (including for the record, Iowa, which I finally went to this year, and it was beautiful!), grow my photography business, spend time with my wife, and even learn to truly love horses!

Next stop Kentucky to join Michelle, Caitlyn Shiels, and the rest of True North Stables!


About the Author

Collin Pierson is an wedding, editorial, and portrait photographer and educator based in Chicago, Illinois. Combining his unique past in photojournalism, sports, and fashion photography, he created a style that is both candid and dramatic. His wife, an amateur equestrian, introduced him to the world of horses, sparking his new-found passion and love for these amazing animals. Learn more at Fine Art Horses.