“Women working in the horse industry, particularly those who are impassioned, knowledgeable and empathic, are unsung heroines. They work long hours, often in dangerous circumstances, doing mundane, tedious or specialized tasks that require focus, intention and patience at all times.”
This is how Dorothy Chiotti describes her photography series, which will be displayed at the ScotiaBank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto in May. Her photos feature two professional horsewomen, with an intimate insight into the daily tasks of caring for horses. The original artist’s call out was for “Women at Work,” and Dorothy was immediately accepted.
A lifetime equestrian herself (except for one four year break, which she calls “the most miserable of my life), Dorothy competes successfully in Dressage at second level and has her Advanced FEEL (Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning) Practitioner status.
“I appreciate the wear and tear on mind, body and spirit, but also know the inestimable satisfaction to be experienced in ensuring the health and welfare of our equine companions at work, rest and play,” Dorothy says of working with horses, a concept she thoroughly understands through years of doing it herself. In her early thirties, she traded a promising career in public relations for a coaching internship at Cornerstone Farms with hunter/jumper trainers Barb Mitchell and John Taylor. She refers to this experience as “going in a marshmallow and coming out toasted.”
The coaching training was supposed to take six months, but it turned into a “most gruelling” year and a half for Dorothy. In the end, she obtained her coaching status and enjoyed teaching part-time. She bought her first horse, a rising five-year-old Hanoverian dressage gelding named Shakespeare. Soon after, her and her husband pursued a lifelong dream of becoming “country bumpkins” by trading city life for a 100-acre farm in Mono, Ontario.
A mostly self-taught photographer, Dorothy pursues her art mostly for her own enjoyment, and occasionally for commissions. Her debut in the ScotiaBank CONTACT exhibit is a culmination of years of learning, with her subject focus being equine and travel. She’s inspired by the “beauty and spirit, and by the connection that’s possible when we engage with [horses] in the moment, earning their trust to create a deep and meaningful relationship.”
Her series of images is deeply personal. The one black and white photo of the collection features her horse Shakespeare, who died suddenly a few days after she took the photograph. The human subjects in the six images are Eira Engzell and Courtney Dunkeld at Santerre Show Stables. Dorothy had ample time to get to know both women, as Santerre is based on her own property. This familiarity is evident in her photography, which portrays a quiet intimacy.
Her advice for aspiring equine photographers is to focus on what it is about the horse that moves them, as equines mean different things to different people. Perhaps it’s their natural beauty, their power or industry, or all of these put together. She counsels to “see each horse as an individual, identify with their character, cater to their specific needs and truly enjoy their company.”
See Dorothy’s work in person at Urban Gallery at 400 Queen Street East in Toronto during the month of May, and online at aimwellcreativeworks.com