By Britney Grover
Photographer Isabel J. Kurek splits her time between the rolling hills and cross-country trails around Annapolis, Maryland, and the spotlights and painted jumps of Wellington, Florida. She grew up riding and spent years showing in the AA hunters, but now prefers cheering others on when it comes to competition — usually from behind the lens of her camera. Isabel is a skilled photographer whose images regularly appear in Sidelines and other media. When she’s not living in Wellington, she enjoys foxhunting and attending horse shows around the country, including the Hampton Classic Horse Show where, a few years ago, she shot the Sidelines cover photo of Harriet de Leyer. Isabel met Harriet during Isabel’s childhood lessons and they became friends — a friendship that continues today. Sidelines is proud to have Isabel as part of the team.
How did your horse career start?
My mother opened up LIFE Magazine and saw the photograph of Harry de Leyer and Snowman with his family, all on horses and ponies. That was the inspiration that motivated her to call Harry and arrange to send me to Hollandia Farm to learn to ride. The farm was in St. James, Long Island, and for my first ride the first day, Harry put me on one of his steady school horses and told me to follow the blue bow on his daughter Harriet’s ponytail. She was on Dutch Erma, her show hunter, schooling for Madison Square Garden. Needless to say, there was a lot of falling off and Harriet wasn’t too happy having to wait for me to climb back on!
Did anyone in your family ride?
My mother was a great rider as a young woman, even did amateur steeplechase racing. She was always much braver than me riding, which she often reminded me! I wasn’t quite sure how that was supposed to motivate me to ride better!!
Do you currently have horses?
At this point, I have two lovely seasoned hunting horses. One I bought sight unseen from Ireland; her name was White Christmas. To prove she was quiet enough for me, the Irish trainer sent videos of the white mare jumping hedges, ditches and coops so high her little ears were all that were showing from the other side. They rode her up on the trailer and out, in traffic alone on a highway, with a young teenager on her. The grey mare was unflappable. But it wasn’t until they took her on the family tennis court and jumped the tennis court net that I wired the money immediately! She came here just as promised: a perfect Christmas present, and I have Sidelines editor Jan Westmark to thank for that lead!
What’s your favorite thing about being a photographer?
Making people happy! I love it when I see someone so happy with an image that I captured that evokes an emotion whenever they see it again. When someone reaches out years later to let me know that they still have a photograph I took of them, that they treasure, that’s the blue ribbon for me now.
Any favorite horse experiences over the years?
Crazy fast foxhunting in Ireland with my friends. Great horses, big jumps and lots of screaming on my part!
Have you had a funny horse moment that still makes you laugh?
I’m not much of a drinker, nor very brave at running blindly through the woods, either hunting or jumping. One cold winter morning hunting in Maryland, someone offered me a stirrup cup of port to help warm me up. Three shots later, off we went, laughing, racing the others as fast as my Thoroughbred would go!
If you had a week off, what would you do?
Ride cross-country in Ireland and England with my hunting-loving friends mounted on the slowest, safest, quietest 18-year-old horse they can find.
Who inspires you?
Two incredibly wonderful and talented photographers, Ashley Neuhof and Nick Woodall. They both have been extremely generous with helping me understand lighting and setting.
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
Do it all now — It’s never too late!
How would you like people to remember you?
When they see a photograph I took of them, and they smile … that says it all to me.