Linda Finstad’s latest book, The Humans of Horse Racing, started out with her pitching the idea, changed completely when she took on the project herself, and wound up being the picture-perfect tribute to Northlands Park.
She’s certainly no novice when it comes to capturing horses through the lens or through the written word. But, on this occasion, the horsewoman, who for the past 20 years has earned her living as an equine photographer, covering horse shows, events and hundreds of private equine photo shoots, decided to offer up a book proposal to someone else.
“I was talking to Julie Brewster, who is the social media coordinator for Horse Racing Alberta, and mentioned that something should be done to honour the racetrack,” said Finstad, in speaking of Northlands Park. “It’s an iconic landmark. It’s going to be gone and so are the people. I said, ‘You should do a book.’ She said that she couldn’t do it, but that I could.”
So, that’s precisely what Finstad did.
The premise for the book was for Finstad to photograph the horsepeople of Northlands Park – a racetrack that’s been in existence for nearly 120 years – and have them tell their story.
It was a seemingly straightforward plan. But as she would quickly discover, the undertaking would have its challenges.
Armed with a media pass and access to almost everywhere at Northlands, Finstad started out by striking up a conversation with everyone she met – grooms, hotwalkers, trainers and jockeys – hopeful they would share her enthusiasm for the project.
“At first, it was difficult,” admitted Finstad, who learned to ride at the age of four, competed at horse shows, studied to become a British Horse Society riding instructor, and judged at horse shows. “I was excited. I’d walk up to trainers and introduce myself, tell them I was writing a book and they’d look at me with an expression of, ‘So what?’ I thought the only way to approach this was to let them see I was serious, that I’m not just a flash in the pan. I spent tons and tons of time at the track – not just on race days – and I’d be there at five in the morning. I was especially excited if it was raining or snowing because it showed people that if you’re out there, so am I. I’d chat to anyone that would talk to me.”
Gradually, the convivial Finstad won people over. She even earned a badge of honour, so to speak, through how she was referred to on her numerous visits.
“It was incredibly hard, but I got it done,” she said. “It was a process. They even gave me a nickname after a while. They called me Mumsy. I was there long enough to get one. It could have been a lot worse, couldn’t it? I was happy with it.”
She’s also happy with how the book turned out and what she learned about the thoroughbred world.
“It became apparent that it’s a very elegant jigsaw puzzle – life at the track – and it takes every single person to make that puzzle complete,” offered Finstad. “There are no real stars. It takes everyone. I wanted the book to be a tribute to the people who weren’t in the spotlight. They are there because they love the horses. That was the common thread amongst everybody. Yes, they love racing, but the love of the horses is what gets them out of bed in the morning.”
Something Linda Finstad knows a thing or two about.