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Barbara D. Livingston: “Humans have a spiritual connection to horses!”

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The life seen through the lens of iconic photographer Barbara Livingston is one of majestic, graceful, dreamlike four-legged-beasts who race, glide and shine. Horses have come to life on her film since she was a ten-year-old girl on the track. Little did she know this moment would set her feet upon such an amazing career path.

“I had a 126 Instamatic camera, and my parents took me to the Saratoga Race Course often. When someone handed me my camera, I shot some photos! It was probably during the morning workouts. I actually still have the negatives,” she smiled. “It was basically a way to record horses. It just so happened that a gentleman at our church had polo ponies. As young girls, we loved horses and he let us have carte blanche with his horses, so by age ten, every day after school, we just galloped around bareback on his polo ponies and played with them. I was pretty fortunate.”

As luck would have it, she was born into this arena of horses in 1961 at Bellevue Hospital, Schenectady. Her father was a well-known General Electric scientist and her mother a nursing instructor; neither had a particular interest in horses. Yet Barbara’s parents took her to the Saratoga track as far back as she can remember. She graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School and then, in 1984, from Syracuse University with a BA in experimental photography.  

Seeking the Story
She now specializes in equine photography and is the chief photographer for the Daily Racing Form, or DRF. This online newspaper has been trusted by racing elite around the country, and world, since 1894. DRF is the equine community’s source for horse racing news, entries and results, past performances, handicapping and wagering, and provides Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup coverage, breeding news and more. “I’m usually photographing a specific thing and often find stories for Daily Racing Form when I’m out and about. For example, today I went to the racetrack to seek out a horse named Baby Yoda,” she continued. “And I also know the Saratoga Race Course is renovating and adding a particular thing to the racetrack. So, I thought I would photograph the update on that to show people how that’s coming along. In other cases, my editor sends emails or calls and says we need something specific and I seek that out.”

Barbara’s photographs have appeared in Sports Illustrated, GQ, People, ESPN-The Magazine, Readers Digest and on the covers of TV Guide and Vanity Fair. She is the author of seven books and sole photographer for an eighth: Four Seasons of Racing, Old Friends, More Old Friends, Old and New Friends, Standardbred Old Friends (author Ellen Harvey), Barbara Livingston’s Saratoga, Horses in Living Color, and Thoroughbred Mares in America.

Taking A Chance
“I really didn’t ever think of being an author. Generally, I just photograph racehorses for publications. When I worked on BloodHorse Magazine, a top industry magazine focused on thoroughbred racing and breeding, the editor-in-chief at the time, Ray Paulick, asked if I wanted to do a book and, in 1998, they released Four Seasons of Racing,” Barbara smiled. “It’s a photography book featuring horses in the winter, spring, summer, fall and back to winter again, both literally and figuratively. The introduction included a wonderful senior horse named T.V. Commercial, who was 31. His story touched people, and that inspired me to write a series of stories for BloodHorse about older thoroughbreds. They were so well received that I asked if I could do a book on older horses.” She believes the older horses have a great value, whether or not it’s financial in nature. These retired Thoroughbreds should still be loved in their senior years, which the book reflected.

She travels extensively, covering all aspects of horse racing, including the Triple Crown of Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup. She has had the opportunity to photograph famous horses including Secretariat, Barbaro, Rachel Alexandra and American Pharoah, among countless others. She has received the Eclipse award, horse racing’s highest honor, six times. “If I’m a big fish, it’s a small pond, as there aren’t many people who do horse racing photography year-round. I feel very lucky to do what I do! And I also work very hard so it’s a combination of the two. The Eclipse awards are our top award in racing, so it’s exciting. I get a fresh haircut and manicure and wear an evening gown!” she reflected. “This award is given to various participants in the industry, including horses, trainers, jockeys and the media.” It’s a special evening for transformation, since she spends the majority of her time hanging around barns and racetracks in jeans and boots, camera in hand.

She’s happy that spectators are allowed to attend races again, although she humorously admits it’s harder for her to park. Spectators make a huge difference, and it was very strange and sad to watch horses running in the stretch, giving everything with no one there to see it and to cheer them on; just as any great athlete, horses need admiration and affirmation, and jockeys and trainers are inspired by the positive energy around them. 

A Heart for Seniors
She has a particular fondness for retired thoroughbreds and has great respect for Our Mims Retirement Haven in Paris, Kentucky, which specializes in restoring health and spirit in mares. The Ladies, as they’re called, are tended to with love, devotion and respect. Once a lady comes to Old Mims, she’s there for life. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance certifies facilities such as Old Mims, Old Friends at Dream Chase in Georgetown, Kentucky, and Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center, New York, and many others, that provide a dignified retirement to thoroughbreds whose racing and breeding careers are over. By promoting these once-celebrated horses through campaigns of education and tourism, the TAA, its sanctuaries and havens raise awareness of the importance of equine aftercare. 

“People take these old horses into their hearts and make sure the horses get good meals, and that their teeth, hooves and other needs, are taken care of, throughout their lives. It’s so heartwarming,” she noted. In 2002, Barbara’s book about senior thoroughbreds, Old Friends, was published. Her dear friend, Tom Hall, a BloodHorse editor and writer, suggested the book title. Michael Blowen, former Boston Globe film critic, founded the farm in 2003 and named it after her book. 

The Upstate Life
Barbara adores her home in New York’s Capital Region, except perhaps in the dead of winter. The active racehorses leave, and friends do as well. “Horse racing is quite a traveling show. Regardless, I love the Capital District,” she affirmed. “I grew up with the type of people that are Upstate, so I love the Upstate mentality. I love the openness, the greenery, the nature, the history, the arts. If you’re a city type, you can hop the train to New York City and be there in a few hours. If you prefer, drive up to a day in the Adirondacks. I’m more of a nature person than a city person, so the Adirondacks are more likely for me. Every time I travel, I love coming home.” 

What advice would she give her younger self? Her response reflected the times. “I might suggest a career in something other than photography. It’s a wonderful feeling to shoot photos, but the paying market has largely dried up in the digital age. Some print publications, including newspapers, have gone out of business or shifted to largely online articles. As such, the opportunities for a professional to be paid for their product has dwindled tremendously. 

“Yet even if I’d known this would happen, I wouldn’t have changed my career choice. I’ve been lucky enough to have 40 years as a professional photographer. Every day, I’m still motivated to get up and get out there and photograph these horses. I’m so passionate about it, and it’s all I ever wanted to do. I really feel I had no choice. I wake up every morning inspired, and not everybody can say that. I’m very lucky.”

And what’s her advice for women desiring to follow their dreams? “There were opportunities I couldn’t get because I was a woman. It doesn’t happen now but, when I was younger, there were farm secretaries who said they would love to hire me but couldn’t because the owner preferred a man. That being said, there were certainly times that being a female helped, as well,” she continued. “I’m a quiet person who wants to let things be, and I don’t know that that’s the best way to succeed. I would tell young women, if you believe in something, be strong about it. Be polite, be professional, and don’t embarrass yourself, but absolutely push for what you believe in. You have to believe in yourself. Photography is like any other job in that, if you know that you have passion and skill, don’t let the lack of instant gratification get in the way of trying.”

A Great Filly
What was the most exciting race she ever photographed? It was in 1974 at Saratoga Race Course. The filly’s name was Ruffian, a beautiful name. Barbara noted she was black, and she was tall. She would dance away from the pony friends who were there to keep her calm. “I was 13 and photographed her with an Instamatic when she won the Spinaway at Saratoga in a new stakes record time by over ten lengths, a runaway. It was so exciting to a young girl! We printed my two best Ruffian photos, had them framed, and I hung them up. Ruffian was a perfect ten-for-ten before she was fatally injured. After she died, I was so grateful to have these photos. Just everything about her was magnificent, even her name,” she reflected. “There was something about having those photos on the wall; Ruffian was still alive for me. Even today, she is alive for me in those pictures. I can still sense her moving and breathing and free.” 

Her longtime boyfriend, Dan Hendricks, is a retired horse trainer who lives in California. She met him at the track. “I drive across the country to go see him, around a 45-hour drive. He’s a big supporter and sounding board. Before he retired, he got up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work, usually before I would. Now that he’s retired, I get up hours before he does,” she mused. “We both love horse racing. And not seeing each other all that often might be good for a relationship, so that’s fun.”

Barbara doesn’t own horses; she travels frequently, and it wouldn’t be fair to them. She has purchased a couple out of situations where she worried about their long-term welfare, and others have stepped up to keep them safe and support them in lifetime homes. Interestingly and romantically, she did this with one of her boyfriend’s old trainees, Story to Tell. “His final trainer was kind enough to sell him to me for just the price of his shoes. Really expensive shoes,” she laughed. The horse could no longer race; Barbara bought him, and various good-hearted people made sure he made his way to a forever home in Florida.

Equine Magic
Why do people have such a love and fascination with horses? She’s never found a way to express it in words, but she believes it is a spiritual connection. She mused that they are magical creatures you would find in a storybook, and they don’t look like they should exist. “I’ve never found another creature so beautiful as a horse, although deer come closest; they’re little horses with antlers,” she laughed. “A horse, a remarkably large, powerful, often strong-willed creature, will say, ‘What can we do together?’ And that’s pretty remarkable. Racehorses are perhaps just extra magic because of their speed and competitive spirit.”

In hindsight, she realizes that the ’70s were good for her, an incredible time for racing and a great time to become a fan. “Between Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning the Triple Crown, including Affirmed’s famous rivalry with Alydar; Ruffian; the great Forego; Spectacular Bid; they all just happened to come along in that decade. It seemed the racing stars aligned in the 1970s, and they aligned in the Capital Region. All of those horses were stabled here, and that makes it pretty neat for a teenage girl,” she revealed. 

“I was so lucky to choose this path. I’m incredibly lucky to do what I do, and I’m so grateful that I grew up in the Capital District near a racetrack that’s right up there in the list of top tracks in the country. How could I help but be inspired?”

To follow her amazing journey, visit