By Lauren R. Giannini
Andrew Ryback ventured into horse show photography quite innocently when he fell in love. He started going to shows to take photos of Stacy, an avid hunter-jumper rider who later became his wife.
Stacy’s show photos led to Andy being asked to shoot a small schooling show at her barn. As his work gained attention, the big plunge came when Patrick Boyle, manager of Showcase Productions, asked Andy to be the official photographer for Ledges Sporting Horses, about two hours north of Chicago.
“Our business started to grow exponentially in 2015 when I decided it was time to dedicate myself full time to photography,” said Andy, who freelanced as a photographer in college and throughout his corporate career in guest relations, training and development with Walt Disney World and Motorola. “Showplace Productions and Pat Boyle have been extremely supportive of us and, as they have grown into one of the biggest and best show production companies in the country, so have we. Last year alone we covered over 50 shows, big and small, and had 35 different part-time employees working for us. I believe we have one of the most dedicated and talented photography teams out there.”
Andy intended to build his brand slowly as Andrew Ryback Photography (ARP), but from the start he seemed destined for success.
“Andy has a very unique eye,” said Pat. “He started out small, but he was very good and excited about show photography. He’s a real asset to shows everywhere he goes. He’s the best of both worlds: great for the clients and for the shows. His personality is really fun, he’s outgoing, and he’s gotten more and more creative over the years. The kids — everyone loves Andy and Stacy. They have great energy and love what they do. He has a fun setup and all sorts of products in his booth, not just photos, but also pillows and canvases, etc., that they can order. It’s a real win-win for everyone.”
When a show proved too much for one person, Andy found himself training serious amateurs and aspiring professionals. He went to a show every weekend, sometimes all week, thanks to a liberal vacation package from his corporate job, which he left in 2015 in order to focus on ARP. He credits his success in show photography to the years he worked at a famous theme park in Florida.
“Working for Walt Disney World was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had,” said Andy. “The opportunity to work for the gold standard in customer service certainly helped me form the foundation of my company. I held many roles at Walt Disney World including Jungle Cruise skipper, guest relations host, VIP tour guide, and trainer and facilitator. One of my roles as a traditions facilitator was training new hires on the core values of the company. This, in addition to my role in customer service, has influenced my business greatly and I think really differentiates us from other show photography companies.”
Stacy Ryback has a background in horses, but Andy didn’t pay much attention to horses as a kid even though members of his family owned horses. “I was always fascinated by them, and I can still recall a favorite coloring book that was horse-themed,” he said. “I’m interested in pursuing the sport when I actually have some free time as I loved all the times I have been able to ride, mostly pleasure rides when Stacy and I go on vacation.”
“We cover shows all over the country, from our home state of Illinois to Texas to Vermont to Florida, and we have a huge staff of contract photographers that we try to use geographically,” said Andy. “As much as we’d like to hire locally with shows, we tend to travel with some of our more seasoned employees. We try to hire people familiar with the hunter-jumper world as that makes it easier to train to our style of photography. We’ve hired several college students who show and can be found along the rails with their own cameras.”
Depending on the show, they either bring a booth setup or their own 1950s Airstream-style travel trailer. “That typically means a lot of time on the road driving from place to place,” said Andy. “It also means I get to experience more of this beautiful country and I frequently plan little side trips to find something I want to photograph.”
Sometimes, however, their work and show schedules keep them apart, like this summer: Stacy held down the fort in Illinois while Andy led ARP through its second year as official photographer of the Vermont Summer Festival.
“It can be challenging to be away for the whole summer as I do miss my dog, Ansel, and cats, Jr. and Cleo — and, of course, my wife,” said Andy. “I consider myself lucky to work with such a great team and I know that Stacy has things under control when I’m gone.”
Ruth Lacey, Marketing Director for the Vermont Summer Festival, was full of positive feedback about Andy’s work and said, “We’ve really enjoyed our partnership with Andrew Ryback Photography. Andy’s put together a team in Vermont that not only captures photos that reflect the incredible beauty of our sport but also the grandeur of our location in the Green Mountains. He’s brought a fresh approach to equestrian event photography that has really resonated with our customers. We’re hopeful that he’ll continue to shoot our shows for years to come.”
Although Andy used to do weddings, they’re rarely booked. “When I do, it’s usually for a good friend or existing customer within the horse world — I much prefer the sanctity of a show ring to the craziness of a wedding,” he said. “However, I love portrait work, from horses and their owners to dogs, high school seniors and even engagement sessions. That’s really become a large part of our business and we usually book up months in advance for portrait sessions.”
Beyond the Ring
Stacy and Andy were married in October 2008, years before ARP became the focus of their professional lives. While Stacy understands the principles of good show photography, she’s happier in the saddle and does a good amount of the office and sales work.
“Stacy likes to call herself the CEO of ARP. Although my name is on the business, Stacy really is the heart and soul of our company,” said Andy. “She makes all the schedules, handles the paperwork, returns emails and phone calls, keeps me in line and is the general do-everything person. I certainly couldn’t do any of this without her as she keeps me sane and grounded. I learned everything about the hunter-jumper world from Stacy and I’m lucky to have met someone as passionate about the sport as she is.”
Stacy was 8 when she started riding and has competed with a number of amazing and talented horses, but Shenanigans, aka Star, a 15.3-hand bay Trakehner-Quarter Horse mare, gets the nod as her all-time favorite.
“Star is the one that stole my heart,” said Stacy. “She was the one that took me from the hunters as an adult and introduced me to the jumper ring. We started in the modified classes and she carried me all the way to the adult jumpers and a year-end reserve championship. She has been leased out twice and helped others to learn the jumper ropes. Andy and I still own her and adore her.”
Stacy’s former jumper, Utopia III, aka Bunny, is leased and “rocking the low jumpers.” The recent purchase of Carlotta W, a 9-year-old Hanoverian mare, will be Stacy’s ride to move up to the low amateur jumpers when the time is right. This will, of course, require photographic documentation by Andy.
“It’s a running joke in our company that Andy can’t take a great photo of me competing because he still gets nervous and is often distracted by cheering me on,” said Stacy. “So we regularly let other staff take my competition photos at shows ARP is covering.”
Traveling the World
“We love to travel and have been to many wonderful places in the U.S. and all over the world,” said Stacy. “Some of our favorite destinations have been Japan and Africa — my personal favorite as we have been there twice — and last year we went to Patagonia in Chile.”
The Rybacks enjoy pleasure riding while they’re on holiday, and Andy always packs along his camera. An artistic eye is part of his persona.
“I know that most people go on vacation to escape their daily lives, but my passion for photography and Stacy’s passion for horses make it hard to leave that behind,” said Andy. “People always say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I truly feel that way with a camera in my hands.”
For information visit www.andrewryback.com
All photos courtesy of Andrew Ryback Photography