Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024

Behind The Photo: The Best Way To Spread Christmas Cheer Is Jumping High With Trees In The Rear

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I didn’t want a lot for Christmas, but then Andrew Ryback Photography posted a photo of Crossover 4 ridden by Chloe Reid in the $150,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI3* at the World Equestrian Center—Ocala (Florida). And, whelp, now I’m singing an off-key Mariah Carey with the rest of equestrian social media going, “All I want for Christmas is youUuUuUu.”

To describe the composition of the viral photo, it’s as if a show jumper, after a glass or two of eggnog, typed into AI: “Christmas photo of a horse, but a competition photo—and I want the horse jumping higher than earthly possible. Just make it bigger than belief.”

But this very real—and not AI-generated or Photoshopped—photo almost didn’t happen. When Ryback and his team of photographers walked the course on Dec. 9, that angle on that jump wasn’t initially on their wish list.

“Every big event that we shoot, as a team I take everybody out there, and we walk the course and pick out our shots,” said Ryback. “I assign certain fences to people.

Megan Mullan captured Chloe Reid’s Crossover 4’s extravagant jump at the perfect moment to create a Christmas-card worthy image during the World Equestrian Center’s $150,000 Lugano Diamonds Grand Prix CSI3* in Ocala, Florida. Megan Mullan for Andrew Ryback Photography Photo

“I always look for opportunities for shots that the exhibitors are going to like, because my job obviously is to make them happy and hopefully give them a memory that they can take home with them,” he added. “And so I’m always looking. Originally when we walked the course, and we picked out the shots that we were going to cover, that shot wasn’t there.”

But as the national anthem played, Ryback looked up, and the holiday framing hit him. He ushered over photographer Megan Mullan.

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“So, we’re standing there at the tractor gate, and I’m looking at the fence; it’s like it hit me,” Ryback said. “I’m like, ‘Duh. The Christmas trees are right there. Why are we not shooting this?’ ‘Megan,’ I said, ‘All right, so here’s what you’re going to do, change of plans, this is your shot right here. You are going to stand right here, and you’re going to hopefully get the riders’ head right behind the main Christmas tree because I think that is going to be the shot right there.’ And she nailed it. I was so proud of her.”

The freakish jumping ability of the 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Cascadello—Chakira, Chacco-Blue) made the composition that much more spectacular. And like the rest of the equestrian world, Reid knows all too well that feeling of, “I’ve got to have him.”

She took over the ride from her boyfriend Rene Dittmer when the gelding was 6.

“I would flat him at home when Rene wasn’t there and then quickly decided that I liked this one and decided to take over,” Reid said. “I’ve done everything with him since he was a baby. So, I feel like any course we see or any jump, we’ve already tackled it together, and we know how to handle it.

“I think the good ones always have a little bit of a quirky, funny attitude,” she added. “When anyone’s sitting on him, he’s kind of scared of life. We call him the ‘Chicken Horse’ because he is terrified of everything. But luckily the jump is the easiest part of his day. Even going in the ring, he’s totally convinced this is not a good idea—‘I need a buddy to lead me in the ring.’ But once you get going, he’s right on the job.”

The mixture of quirk and scope leads Crossover to often add several feet to his flight. Regardless of the size of the fence, he makes his own calculations.

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“I kind of know when it’s coming, and I know which jumps he’s going to be impressed by,” said Reid. “And he jumps all of them super high, so it’s pretty consistent. He is super comfortable through the air, so it doesn’t typically unseat me. But kind of a stride before, I can tell. I can feel he’s peeking at it, and I’m like, ‘OK, hold on. Here it comes.’

“You would think when I come and do an easy week at 1.30 meters, like ‘Oh, it’s just 1.30 meters; I can relax,’ ” she added. “It’s like, ‘No, no, I need to be on my game. He’s still jumping 1.60 meters, and the jump’s tiny.’ ”

His lofty jump already landed Crossover on Ryback’s featured “Horse Show Photo of the Day” earlier in the same week. Ryback rarely showcases repeat subjects for his estimated 15-year tradition, but he made an exception for this photo. It was obvious to him while going through his “POTD” folder, comprised first of his photographers’ daily marked favorites and then of his office staff’s picks, that Crossover and Reid would take the spotlight again.

“The whole team has pride in getting their photos showcased as the Photo of the Day,” Ryback said. “They kind of have a little mini competition between themselves, but they really love it. They’re very supportive of each other. And to see them really taking pride in the work that we all are able to accomplish, it’s really exciting.”

“There are times where there are things that we want to share and showcase, like lately it’s been the Christmas decorations, whether it’s the horses and the exhibitors or the facility with decorations and stuff like that,” he added. “There are times when it’s cut and dry: This is it. Look through the list, and you’re like, ‘I can’t pick anything else; this is it.’ I know I posted Chloe Wednesday for Photo of the Day because Crossover jumps like a freak. But when I saw him jump that jump—because I was on the other side of ring—it was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s it; I know it’s going to be amazing.’ ”

Reid and Crossover ended up third in the class, and she joked that her 2 second deficit probably was due to airtime. When Ryback posted the photo of the pair on social media Dec. 9, thousands of people shared it, with more than 20,000 liking it across platforms.

“There was no doubt in my mind that that was the Photo of the Day,” Ryback said. “It was amazing. We shot two angles with that fence, but with the Christmas trees right behind her and so perfectly centered. People will say it’s Photoshop, but it is certainly not.”

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