Renowned photographer Barbara Livingston suspects Thoroughbreds view her as an “odd clicking person.”
Humans would more likely describe her as a wonderful clicking person.
Make no mistake, clicking sounds emanate from her almost constantly as she strives to record the magnificence of one horse after another, all the while brightening the dawn at racetracks across the country with her smile.
Livingston is the chief photographer of the Daily Racing Form. As important as that is, it does not begin to describe her impact on the industry. She has set an unthinkable pace in winning five Eclipse Awards, three for photography and two for audio/multi-media. Her itinerant life revolves around securing the next great image.
“It’s not a passion for me. It’s actually an obsession, and I’m not sure it’s always helped me because it’s such a strong drive,” Livingston said in 2018. “But what are you going to do? When you are obsessed, you just are.”
That obsession led to the publication of seven books, four comprising her popular “Old Friends” series, which depicts the nobility of retired Thoroughbreds. For Livingston, her art is much more about the horse than the array of equipment she uses.
The native of Schenectady, N.Y., became fascinated with Thoroughbreds at a young age. She was 10 when she used an Instamatic to take her first images at the track. She was 13 when she recorded Ruffian’s victory in the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
What is it about Thoroughbreds that they have maintained a lifelong hold on Livingston?
“I’m never able to explain what it is,” she said. “They are almost mythical creatures.”
Livingston thrives on the opportunity to work one on one with her equine subjects.
“I’ve been seeking an answer that sums up the feeling you have when you are with horses, when you are listening to them, when you are feeling them, when you are smelling them,” she said. “There is something incredibly spiritual about that connection. Even a horse you don’t know will watch you and think of how to work with you.”
Livingston is painstaking in her attention to detail. She has undoubtedly strained the patience of many a staffer as she waits and waits for the one shot that she knows is there, the one shot that she must have.
“She is very meticulous and demanding. She won’t do anything second-rate, ever,” said Michael Blowen, who founded Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm in Georgetown, Ky., in 2003.
Blowen estimates that Livingston’s work helped raise more than $50,000 for retired Thoroughbreds at his farm, which takes its name from her book series. She snaps all of the photos in an annual magazine published by Daily Racing Form that helps to draw attention to Blowen’s cause.
With each image, Livingston conveys the dignity of the horse, its power and, in some delightful instances, its playfulness.
“They are very rarely static,” said Blowen. “There is always movement, and that is the beauty of these horses.”
Blowen added, “She could have made a ton of money taking photos of celebrities. Thank God she decided she was going to focus on these Thoroughbreds because she’s made a huge difference to the animals and the sport.”
Whether it is a horse or human in need, Livingston wants to help. She has arranged more than her share of horse adoptions. She rallied to the side of horses in desperate need after the 2017 hurricane in Puerto Rico.
Closer to home, Livingston immeasurably brightened the Thanksgiving and Christmas of Jacqueline Holcomb, an avid racing fan and a patient at Pathways Nursing and Rehabilitation in Niskayuna, N.Y., who is unable to speak.
For Thanksgiving 2018, she arranged FaceTime with two of Holcomb’s favorites from the riding world, Edgar Prado and Julie Krone. When she used social media to suggest fans might reach out to Holcomb for Christmas, they responded with almost 100 cards and 15 presents.
“She was so appreciative,” Livingston said. “You could tell with her eyes.” (Holcomb passed away in 2020.)
In 2017, Livingston also spent time clicking away in a pasture with Boom Towner. She was not on assignment. There was no fee. She has documented his life in pictures every 10 years, and he turned 30 in 2017, graying around his temples and jaw and very much slowing down.
“A lot of older horses, I definitely initiate those,” Livingston said, “because I like the idea of recording the history of a horse where people might not be doing so as much.”
And so Livingston focuses in, revealing the essence of each Thoroughbred one click at a time.
Note: This profile was written in 2018 and has been updated.
- Livingston kept a diary when she was young and wrote of her desire to be a photographer
- Livingston also aspired to be an artist, but did not feel she had enough ability to pursue that
- Graduated from Syracuse with degree in experimental photography
- Estimates that she drives between 30,000 and 40,000 miles annually
- Her license plate: Alydar