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June 10, 2011

Interviewing Horse People: A Job Worth Having

No matter how many international championships I attend, there's still an 8-year-old girl inside that thinks it's pretty cool to spend time with equestrian superstars like McLain Ward and Sapphire on a regular basis. Photo by Molly Sorge.

I vividly remember going on a trip to watch the Baltimore Jumper Classic (Md.) as a young Pony Clubber. There—I’ve instantly dated myself. The Baltimore Jumper Classic was a prestigious stop on show jumpers’ calendars in the early ‘80s, for our younger readers.

My friends and I rode horses with undistinguished pedigrees in local horse trials and Pony Club rallies. Qualifying for and competing in the national Pony Club rally was the pinnacle of our year; in our minds, it was the Olympics.

We lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, pretty distant from most major shows. We were aware there was a big, bad world of top-level competition out there beyond our horizons. We read our Chronicles religiously every week, after all.

But seeing a black-and-white image on a page is much different than witnessing an actual living and breathing famous rider or horse in action. Those gleaming, glamorous beasts looked like a different species than our scruffy, naughty creatures at home.

So when Katie Monahan (now Prudent) sat down in the row of seats in front of ours, our eyes got pretty wide. We were horse girls, so our reaction was much the same as what a young teenage girl would do these days if some pop star sat down (I hear there’s some kid named Justin something who is doing sort of well? Did I just date myself again?). We giggled, whispered, and eventually marshaled the courage to ask her for her autograph on our programs. She quite happily obliged our request and mercifully ignored our star-struck silliness.

I kept that program for years. If you had told me in those days that I would have Katie Monahan Prudent’s email and cell phone number, and that I would converse with her frequently, I quite honestly would not have known what to say. I probably would have used language that I wasn’t supposed to know at age 12.

I’ve been on the Chronicle’s editorial staff, in one capacity or another, for 13 years now. Some days it’s a job like any other, with stress about deadlines, co-worker politics and frustration when things don’t go right. There are long, hot days in the sun lugging a heavy camera. There are days when the only way to ensure you get the interview you need is to wait outside the porta-pot your target just stepped into. (I won’t ever tell who that was. But I got the bloody interview.)

But then there are the days when I remember just how awesome my job is. Sometimes, it’s when someone tells me, with a look of wonder, that they can't believe I work for the Chronicle and my job is going to horse shows. My ambivalence about it drops instantly. I smile to myself. “Yeah, it is pretty cool,” I admit.

Sometimes, it’s when I have an interview that tugs at my heart, or introduces me to a person who does remarkable things. Sometimes, it’s when I get to witness spectacular horses do amazing things on a regular basis—I’ve gotten to see most of Authentic and Sapphire’s big performances from the very start, and I feel very lucky for that. I once patted Baloubet du Rouet on the nose. And yes, sometimes it’s when I can pick up the phone, call a rider whose autograph I would have coveted 20 years ago, and have a quick chat.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much that star-struck kid most of the time—I just hide it pretty well. I get to watch the nicest horses in the world do their thing. But I come home to my undistinguished, average horse that lives outside and gets huge amounts of enjoyment from seeing just how much mud he can coat himself in.

At the very heart of it, my job is to simply talk to people about their horses. And while it has its challenging moments (see you when you come out of that porta-pot), really, it’s not hard to get people to brag about their horses, is it? So, I’ve got it pretty easy. I just always remember that there’s a kid out there reading the magazine as intently as I did, poring over the pictures with just as much awe and admiration.

Molly Sorge

The Chronicle staff is always having adventures of one sort or another when we're out traveling to bring you horse sport news coverage from around the world. In the Chronicle staff blog, we take the opportunity to share some of the more interesting behind-the-scenes stories of an equestrian journalist on assignment that you won't find in the magazine.