In Rookhope I was first aware
Of Self and Not-self, Death and Dread.
There I dropped pebbles, heard
The reservoir of darkness stirred.
W.H. Auden called the Pennines his “Mutterland,” his creative birthplace. The same might be said of Deborah Parkin. My “feelings are just the same [as Auden’s],” she told the Od Review—“coming into contact with the horses there, being out in this landscape.” It may very well be that none are immune to that enchantment, difficult as it is to look at these photographs without feeling the mane of something ancient in the room with us.
Deborah Parkin: Some Equestrian Profiles
Toby was brought to the stables unintentionally 20 years ago—the owner was looking to buy a horse for herself—she fell in love with a beautiful black Fresian but she also saw Toby—a frightened, thin, grey yearling who was physically shaking—so she came back with both of them.
Toby would never be used in the riding school because although a very happy pony, 20 years on he still lives on his nerves.
I hadn’t had much, if any, time with Toby before I went into the field—I approached him cautiously & spent a few hours around him before I started photographing him—at first he was snorting & curious but after a while he relaxed & allowed me to get very close with my little 35mm camera.
Tarby is a Dales pony, a native mountain & moorlands horse from the UK—they are known for their strength, hardiness, stamina, courage & intelligence—which is very important in surviving the harsh winters here on the North Pennines—Tarby possesses these qualities, particularly amongst his herd—although not the leader, he is a horse that is left alone because he stands up for himself—as a youngster it was said that he was quite wild & difficult to break, so he was turned away until he was ready.
As I approached Tarby to photograph him he was lying down—I disturbed him & he got up to come & see me here.
Scout is a beautiful skewbald cob with glass blue eyes—he is an intelligent horse who sums up his rider very quickly, taking full advantage if she shows any weakness—he is an incredibly inquisitive horse—he looks at everything & rarely shows fear—although he is one of the weaker horses amongst his herd.
This is one of the first images that I made of the horses—I went up to their field early in the morning & even though I had been working with them for a year, they were unsure of me as I approached with the camera—most of them came over to me with nostrils flared & eyes wide with the exception of Scout—in fact he came so close to me, with so much curiosity that I found my 35mm lens was struggling to focus on him.
Micky is another mountain/moorland pony, this time from Ireland—he is a Connemara with a beautiful dappled silver coat. Photographing Micky was difficult—not because he was scared or curious or even reactive—quite the contrary—he was oblivious to me being there & just kept his head down grazing.
After an hour or so of hanging around him & getting soaked with the fine rain, I decided to leave—I turned around one last time to see if he had moved & he had—into a graceful pose, as if taking a bow.
I’m pleased that I walked away as most of my images are close-ups & this one gives an idea of his environment—yes, it’s grey & cold but it is so peaceful—it’s just me, the horses & the sound of the lapwings & curlews—it’s hauntingly beautiful!
These ponies are always play-fighting like this—it looks aggressive to the human eye & if one of them was sinking their teeth into us, it would be incredibly painful—but to them it’s quite harmless—this was a day where we had snow—it was a welcome relief for the horses after so much wind & rain—where most of the time they cannot lie down or gallop around or play—where they seek shelter instead of fun!
However, despite the fact that we look at this as playing I still photographed them with a great deal of trepidation—I didn’t want to encroach on their private moment & I didn’t want to get in their way—but I wanted to get as close as possible—I was interested in their expression more than finding an action shot & was very lucky when Murphy glanced in my direction as Truffles struck his neck with his teeth.