Equine Photographer Manuela Stefan
While I have had the great fortune of horseback riding in some of the most beautiful places in the world during my work as a travel writer, it is some of my online discoveries that are most rewarding. Recently, I viewed Manuela Stefan’s engaging photos of horses when she was on assignment at Wyoming’s Gros Ventre River Ranch. It is with pleasure that I share my discovery of her work with Writing Horseback readers.
Writing Horseback: When did you become a professional photographer? Proudest accomplishments? Difficult moments?
I am an Engineer (Power Generation) by trade, graduated in Bucharest, Romania. After a few years of working in the field, I switched to International Business, then came to Canada and continued on in the corporate world. Photography has been with me since my teenage years but have not done anything else with it until 2005 when I decided to work in a Toronto studio on weekends, for fun. Two years later I was laid off from my corporate job and…opened my own photography business. This is how my creative journey began. It has not always been the easiest and smoothest path, I had moments when I contemplated getting a regular job so I would feel ‘safe’ again, but a part of me decided to trust and move forward. Continuing on and not giving up is probably my biggest accomplishment. And the rewarding experiences that followed stand as best confirmation.
Writing Horseback: I understand that as a child you spent summers around horses with your grandparents in Romania. What role does Romania play in your photography?
I grew up in a Communist Romania. As oppressive and restrictive as the system was, the outer adversity has helped me (and many of my friends) shape up differently and develop a keen interest in literature, quality films and art in general. It was good for the soul, in that harsh context. I also recall having vivid dreams about traveling. I was born with an inner appreciation of beauty and the political context at the time somehow forced me (and others) to turn inwards and explore different interests, as an escape.
I loved making my own clothes, knitting and of course, taking photos.
I am now happy and proud to connect these two worlds and build a creative bridge between them through my work. Going back to Romania, tapping into that rich culture and revealing it to the world is one of the most rewarding things I have done. This past January I traveled to the Romanian Carpathian mountains and wrote a story about the magnificent Hutul horses. I plan to return in December and continue on with a new photo essay, this time with an accent on the importance of horses in Romanian villagers’ households.
Writing Horseback: How does your passion for travel and the geography around you influence your photography?
I have always loved to travel and it is interesting how my interest for certain destinations has shifted. Now, as horses came back into my life, my travels revolve around them as I am truly passionate about finding them in the most amazing locations around the world. I love to photograph them in beautiful landscapes, running free and just being who they are. I have done equine projects in France, Romania, Mexico, Jamaica, US and Canada.
I hope to add more dots to my map!
Writing Horseback: Do you own any horses? What is your equestrian riding style?
I do not own horses. At least not yet. I now have the privilege to enjoy others’ and who knows what my love for these animals will finally lead to? I sometimes dream of a horse sanctuary, a place where people could come and enjoy their beauty. I would have a gallery and exhibit my art.
I have resisted riding for a while, as I preferred watching horses at liberty. This past September I visited a fabulous Mexican ranch and I was put on a horse’s back…a gracious stallion…and slowly started enjoying it. I realized this ‘give and take’ dynamic simply added a new layer to my connection with them.
My favorite activity so far has been riding and swimming in the ocean bareback. I do not have big riding ambitions, I think I will always do it leisurely. The world looks different from a horse’s back!
Writing Horseback: What is it about girls and horses?
I think women connect with horses very well given the emotional nature of both subjects. Horses are very sensitive and highly perceptive creatures and I believe this fits in well with how women tend to be. Plus, I think women are, overall, more gentle horse handlers and the animals respond to this approach better. I often feel ‘understood’ while looking into a horse’s eyes. They stand there, in front of me, with no judgment, but pure love. Something that humans can aspire to offering each other…
Writing Horseback: Tell us a little about your involvement with Polo for Heart.
Polo for Heart is a large fundraising event which has brought international Polo players to Toronto for 34 years. It has raised over $5 million for Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation. I have been involved by participating in their Art Walk with my fine equine art pieces. I also love donating photo sessions to their silent auction.
Writing Horseback: Any additional questions I didn’t ask that you would like to answer?
I often get asked: Why horses?
After my grandparents passed, I stopped going to their village in Romania and being with horses. I continued on with my life in the big city and slowly, this connection was pushed somewhere in a corner of my memory. I had to come all the way to Canada, start on my photographic path and rediscover the four legged through a farm project I did three years ago. I will never forget the sense of awe, peace and tremendous inspiration while around their energy. I remember coming back to Toronto with a certainty that ‘this was it’ for me. Since, I have traveled to find horses all over the world. And I know I will keep on doing so. Their beauty and majesty trigger my creativity to a great extent. I also know that I am on a mission to reveal their true nature and spirit to the rest of the world the best way I can.
My horse photographs are an homage to their power and grace.
Where to Buy:
Equine photography courtesy of Manuela Stefan.
Interview courtesy of Equine Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California.