By Jan Westmark
Photographer Shawna Simmons is well-known in the horse world for her black background portraits and beautiful photo shoots. Before she was an equestrian photographer, Shawna spent seven years in New York as an assistant, photo retoucher, stylist, editor and fashion photographer. “My first month there, I photographed 32 runway shows at New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park, so I was thrown into the deep end rather quickly. But I absolutely thrived in the fast-paced and competitive lifestyle.”
After leaving New York City and moving to the D.C. area, Shawna started riding again and shooting black backgrounds at the request of friends. “I thought it would be a good way to pay for my entry fees while I’m at the shows,” she said. “Around the same time, I started shooting for Sidelines, and within six months I had to quit my full-time photography gig at an e-commerce fashion company to take SAS Equine Photography full-time.”
Sidelines is thankful that Shawna is part of our photographer team — and glad she revisited her fashion past and took the fashion photo on our cover this month.
How did your horse career start?
I started riding when I was 7, at Columbia Horse Center in Maryland. We drove by it often, and I begged my parents for lessons until they finally agreed. I’ve been hooked ever since!
Who did you train with and what were some big shows you competed at?
I rode with Laura Pickett and Rolling Acres as a kid. We never had the money to really chase points on the A/AA circuit, but I got to go to Vermont in the summer, which was my favorite.
Tell us about the horses you have now.
Giczelle, aka Gigi, is my heart horse that I bought as a yearling and she just turned 7. I plan to do the Adult Amateur/Amateur Owner Hunters with her eventually, but for now I’m taking it nice and slow with her. My other horse is Winny, who I free lease to a farm for beginner lessons. He’s 25 now and an absolute saint!
Tell us about your dog you rescued from Danny & Ron’s Rescue.
I should say he rescued me. I was walking by the Danny & Ron tent at WEF this March and he practically leaped into my arms! I’m so grateful to have had Rhys during quarantine; he was a lifesaver. His favorite thing to do is pick up huge sticks and carry them home. He’s only 22 pounds, so it’s pretty adorable and my neighbors all laugh when they see him coming down the sidewalk.
When did you first pick up a camera?
I started shooting black-and-white medium-format film in high school at the age of 13. I knew how to develop my own film and prints, and would spend hours in the darkroom.
What do you like best about being an equestrian photographer?
My love of horses, first and foremost. And my connection to each one as well as my connection to each client. I also love being able to tie in my love for styling and fashion on shoots as well.
Is there anyone you dream of shooting (with your camera!)?
Gucci and Ralph Lauren as dream future clients, so I can combine my love of fashion and equestrian.
Tell me about your summer road trip — what did you learn from the experience?
I loved being able to drive through 10 states in two weeks and see parts of the country I never had the opportunity to see. We got to have sunset drinks on the lake in Traverse City, connect with good friends in Chicago, trail ride in the mountains of Montana, boat on a lake in Washington and sip coffee at Pike Place in Seattle. Not to mention jamming out to music in the car along the way!
What are your goals in the horse and photography worlds?
I’d love to show again with Giczelle. And with my photography business, I want to keep building my brand until I become a household name within the equestrian world. I’d love to take on more corporate brands and high-end fashion and tack brands within the equestrian community. I’d also like to hire a videographer and grow my team as my business continues to grow.
Have you had a funny horse moment that still makes you laugh?
At one of my first horse shows as a kid, my pony stopped at the first jump and I fell off by doing a handstand on the box and landing on my feet! I bowed and walked out of the ring!
What’s your favorite thing about being part of the horse world?
I love the sense of community, camaraderie and support I receive in the horse world as both a rider and a business owner.
If you weren’t involved with the horse world, what career do you think you would have picked?
I would do interior design. I love it!
If you had a week off, what would you do?
Definitely travel. I’d love to go to Tokyo next.
Who inspires you?
Other female entrepreneurs who are killin’ it
What talents do you feel you have?
Horse wrangling, art direction, fashion styling and being able to jump off an airplane and go right to work
Do you have a personal motto or catch phrase?
When it comes to business ventures and life in general, “Jump and the net will appear.”
What’s your favorite item of clothing to wear?
A classic black leather jacket
What three items can usually be found in your refrigerator?
Rosé, Korean eye masks and almond milk for my morning smoothies
What’s your favorite meal?
Surf and turf
What would be the best gift in the world?
Being able to balance my dream career and have a family one day. I hope to have it all!
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Being able to edit all my photos in the blink of an eye
What’s something everyone should try at least once?
Traveling solo. It’s absolutely life-changing! I’ve been to England, Ireland, Scotland and Portugal solo.
How would you like people to remember you?
Someone who is kind and passionate about what I do.