Feature

Farrier & Photographer Juan Vidal

Polo player knows horses

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As a farrier, Juan Vidal shoes horses; as a former professional polo player, he certainly can ride a horse.

Juan Vidal

But it’s with his camera that he captures that moment of connection between a human and a horse. He also creates captivating images of a barn’s roofline, a fencepost, a puppy, a riding helmet–anything that crosses his path as he traverses the Brandywine Valley.

“I see the world the way I see it; I’m always looking for a shot,” the self-taught photographer says. “I carry my camera with me in my truck. I’m always around horses and driving by horses. I love to find the connection between the rider and the horse, or find the definition between dogs and their owners.”

His work has not gone unnoticed–he’s the farrier for Dressage at Devon, but in 2007 he also served as its official photographer. His photographs appear regularly at www.thehuntmagazine.com, our website.

Vidal grew up on a cattle ranch in Argentina, and his dad was an avid amateur photographer. “I grew up riding and playing polo,” he says. He attended a college-level military academy in Argentina with the goal of becoming an officer, but after three years, he realized that wasn’t for him. A friend offered him a chance to manage a polo club in the south of France.

“That was more interesting than the military,” he says with a smile. Vidal, who is fluent in French, Spanish, and English, managed the club and played there for three years, then moved to Maryland to play for the Maryland Polo Club. He made his living as a professional polo player until 1995–but marriage and three children made that lifestyle impractical.

“The traveling was too much,” he recalls. “I was traveling all up and down the Eastern seaboard.” The family had settled in Lancaster, and Vidal apprenticed with farriers there. After three years, he launched his own business.

As a child, he had learned photography from his father, but as an adult, “I learned by the ‘oops’ method,” he says. “If it was underexposed, if it was overexposed, I figured out what I did wrong.”

Vidal, who is now divorced, focused on his work as a farrier, which supports his family–his oldest daughter, Victoria, is a college freshman, and he has a 16-year-old daughter, Alexis, and a 13-year-old son, Nicholas.

“But I decided I was going to get back into photography, and see where that would take me,” he says. He also resumed playing polo–although these days he does it more for its social aspects. He’s playing for Phillip Miles, the patron of Destiny Stables, a polo team from Carlisle, Pa., and coaches as well.

“I like to coach; I like to pass my knowledge on,” he says, noting that he also teaches skiing at Bear Creek Ski Resort in the colder months.

Vidal lives on a farm in Douglassville, but he doesn’t have any horses of his own at the moment–he doesn’t have the time to care for them. While waiting for a match at the Brandywine Polo Club, he pulls out his smart phone and shows pictures of his house and barn. Like all of his work, they’re beautiful photographs.

“The light is so important to me,” he says. “Light and background–they make the photo. I see through the image; I’m always looking for it, and when I see the connection, I know. I’ve seen more people get the image of the horse that’s jumping perfectly, but I’m always looking for the connection.

Vidal is social and affable, at ease talking with everyone from wealthy polo pony owners to their grooms, and he’s equally adept with animals. When a nervous horse behind him suddenly gets loose, he quickly steps on the trailing lead rope, soothes the mare, and reties the lead.

“Growing up with horses and being around them all my life, I can sense a horse even before he walks in,” he says.

His friend Sharilyn Gilfillan credits his connection with animals as a key part of his success. “The animals naturally go to him, and they’re calm and comfortable and he can get those shots,” she says.

Vidal’s work as a farrier keeps him grounded, “and it pays for the lenses.” His clients have grown used to the fact that after he finishes with the horses, he might snap a shot of a barn cat or a flowerbed.

“He’s a very generous, energetic, and creative gentleman,” says Miles. “He’s a real professional when it comes to polo and his business, being a farrier.”