"There'll never be another Camelot again."A New Jersey livestock auction was the furthest thing from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' mind when she said those words, but it doesn't make the quote any less true. Five years ago, I photographed the horses at Camelot Auction in Cranbury, NJ for the first time. Over photographed 4,500 equines (including my rough estimate of over 400 ponies, 400 Paints and pintos, 375 Quarter Horses, 300 Thoroughbreds, 220 gaited horses, 200 donkeys, 160 miniature horses, 150 draft horses, 140 Appaloosas, 120 Haflingers, 100 Standardbreds, 100 Arabians, 80 mules, 50 warmbloods, and hundreds with no breed announced) later, I'm paying my last visit to Camelot, camera in hand. Auction owners Frank and Monica Carper will hold their final livestock sale on Wednesday, December 17, and an era will end. The property will be leased and the horse sale will continue under another name.
Although the horse networking effort now known as Camelot Horse Weekly officially began in November, 2009, reaching out and helping horses at risk of shipping to slaughter is not a new concept. What was unique about Camelot Horse Weekly was the 83,000-strong horse lovers in the network, the reach that the effort had, the number of horses it helped, and the fact that it was all organized by unpaid volunteers.
As the volunteer effort expanded, my role in the network evolved. Every Thursday, I visited the sales barn and photographed the horses who were unsold at the previous night's auction. Initially, my mom kept track of the list as we went through the barn, and I photographed the horses loose in the pens. After a few months, friends accompanied me in the pens and held the horses for the photos. If you've ever photographed horses, you know how precise things need to be to get just the right angle and just the right pose. My friend Rachel has a great talent for posing horses in photos, and once we started bringing the horses outside, the photos took on a new dimension. Chronic back pain forced me to reduce the amount of time that I spent doing photo work, and Ida and Mark Howell generously helped with the majority of Thursday photos in the past year or so.
At the end of every week's photo session, I made a habit of taking "just one last photo." The photo was sometimes a horse with a striking appearance, sometimes it was a sunbeam hitting a strand of mane in just the right light, sometimes it was a weanling in the pony pen who was too friendly to be ignored. These photos were always my favorites, and I shared them at the end of the night after photos of all of the available horses were posted online.
The popularity of these photos inspired the Horses and Hope Calendar Project, which raised well over $100,000 to help horses in need, and funded medical and feed grants through the work of One Horse at a Time, Inc (Related note: thank you for your inquiries about the Horses and Hope calendar. Unfortunately, we were not able to publish a 2015 calendar, but we hope to be back next year with a 2016 version.).
Photography is a wonderful thing. It can bring your mind back to a memory with incredible detail. When I look back at my "one last photo" collection over the past five years, I feel warm horse breath on the top of my head while I crouch down for a photo. I smell the alfalfa hay. I feel the wooly winter coat of a Shetland pony. I hear nickers of recognition and snorts of concern. And this is what I see:
Below is a letter from Frank and Monica Carper of Camelot Auction:
"Dear Ladies and Gents,
If someone had told me five years ago that horse rescues and tons of regular folks would step up and help find (and be) homes for horses that weren’t getting sold, or were being sold for slaughter, doubtful would have been my thought. Words after the first six months or so? Shocked, speechless and amazed are a good summation of what we thought would surely be a short-lived endeavor, boy were we wrong.
It started innocently enough with some networking and a few pictures from Lisa Post. Then a board on Alex Brown Racing (Friends of Barbaro) that also sent out to other groups about the horses that were landing in the #10 pen. If I remember correctly, November of 2009 was the first time that the pen was cleared. A landmark for sure and a testament to the ladies who checked horses, took notes and pictures in crowded pens so horses got a chance.
Sarah Andrew, equine photographer, called and asked if she could come and take pictures. The next few years are history, with beautiful ‘glamor pics’ and a few totally awesome calendars that helped to support the mission of One Horse At A Time with their gelding fund. Because of Sarah’s generosity with her time and talent, countless horses found a new life. When Sarah injured her back (she’s ok now), Ida and Mark Howell graciously stepped in to continue in Sarah’s footsteps. Also along the way several new rescues were started, and some established ones got new energy and focus. To have watched these rescues grow and find their ‘spot’ is simply amazing. The lives they saved, and the public education that was generated is enormous. To have been a part of that... fabulous, and humbling for sure.
To say that there was a huge learning curve when it came to working with the rescues would be an understatement, but it was worth it. A complete shift of thought process. To remember the beginning of the Camelot Horse Weekly page on Facebook, wow, just wow. The major excitement when there was 5,000 likes!! Now there are how many, over 83,000 as of this writing!! To know that because of that page and the ladies who started it - what were unwanted horses (and a few kittens and bunnies) have gone on to caring homes in almost every state including Hawaii!! Canada, England and Bermuda too!!
To have our "little ginger dog" Rosa become the poster child for the 'all clear', and to have had Penny Austin write stories about her and her exploits, warms every corner of our hearts. Frank and I started Camelot Auction on August 1, 1994, and here we are twenty years later saying goodbye with our last sale on December 17, 2014. It would take a novel to write about all the incredible people and horses that we’ve met over the years, and I’m not sure if that would even cover it. The changes in the industry and the world itself, from the first home computer and the infancy of the internet, who thought then that computers would become such an integral part of our lives?
After all this rambling on, it’s still hard to say what I came to say, which is farewell. I’m all choked up and stalling about the inevitable. I know that we can’t personally shake each hand, and kiss each cheek, and hug every person we’ve had the great pleasure to encounter, but know that we’d like to for sure! One of the big smiles of every day is looking at the Camelot New Beginnings page on Facebook and seeing the horses happy and cared for. That makes the craziness, tears, joy and angst all worthwhile.
Thank you especially to all the CHW Ladies for more than words can say.
Thank you to all the rescues, words are inadequate once again.
Thank you all for caring, and opening your hearts for these horses, most times from only a picture.
Thanks for creating a new path where there was none, and leaving markers for others to follow.
Thanks for the love, and the hate, a powerful combination for forging change.
Thanks for showing an old horse trader that yup, these horses are wanted.
Thanks for being the greatness that the world, and these animals needed.
Thanks for your kindness, your determination, and for your decency.
Thanks for the memories, we'll never forget them, or you.
~Monica, Frank and everyone at Camelot"