‘Her legacy will live on in people’s hearts and homes’: tributes to top equestrian photographer

  • The equestrian world is mourning the loss of pioneering equestrian photographer Barbara Thomson.

    New Zealander Mrs Thomson was reported missing after she did not return from an early-morning fishing trip close to her home at the mouth of Waitahanui River on Lake Taupo on Tuesday (21 February).

    Sadly New Zealand Police confirmed yesterday (Wednesday, 22 February) that they had found and recovered the 75-year-old’s body from the lake.

    Equestrian Sport New Zealand (ESNZ) chairman Nick Pyke extended his “deepest sympathies” to the Thomson family.

    “Barbara was so well known by such a large number of equestrian people and her legacy will live on in people’s hearts and homes throughout the country in the form of wonderful photos and memories,” said Mr Pyke.

    “Barbara was a pioneer in equestrian photography and many have shared their stories and memories of her photos and support.”

    Mrs Thompson photographed almost every Olympics and World Equestrian Games in the past 30 years.

    As well as the many international championships, she covered countless shows and events across New Zealand.

    She also owned racehorses and eventers, including a share in Blyth Tait’s four-star ride Delta III — who was second at Badminton in 1994, competed at WEG the same year and won the Scottish Open Eventing Championships.

    “She will be greatly missed by the whole equestrian community in New Zealand as she was an ever-present member and a great supporter,” Blyth told H&H.

    Barbara then went on to own horses for eventer Heelan Tompkins, including her 2008 Olympic ride Sugoi.

    An inspiration

    Fellow equestrian photographer Libby Law said Barbara was one of her “ultimate inspirations”.

    “When my sister and I were riding, we used to hope to receive her amazing image proofs in the post after events — and when we did, it was like winning the lottery,” Libby told H&H.

    “After growing up knowing and loving her work, and finding myself following in her footsteps, I finally got the opportunity to introduce myself to her at the 2010 Taupo Three Day Event.

    I let her know what an inspiration she was to me, how incredible her work was, and what an honour it was to meet her.

    “She looked bemused and laughed, and lightly brushed off my compliments — but her smile and love for what she did was obvious.

    “Since then I have had the pleasure of seeing her often at events around New Zealand, and every time we chatted and laughed, and she gave me advice and encouragement, and I think I just confused her with my ongoing praise and admiration for her work!”

    Libby added that seeing Kit Houghton and Barbara — “the two most pivotal people in regard to what I do” — both standing in the WEG 2014 media centre will always be one of her ultimate career highlights.

    “I would like to be standing beside her many more times chit-chatting and laughing, and capturing the action with our cameras of course, but that will have to wait,” she said.

    “For now, I am giving her my own standing ovation — and am letting the tears flow.

    Barbara will continue to hold that infinite pedestal position, I will always have her in my thoughts everywhere I go, and every time I look through my lenses.”

    ‘Wonderful, talented and generous’

    Jan Sutherland started her career as an equestrian photographer working for Barbara.

    “Barbara taught me so much about the idiosyncrasies of ‘good photos’,” she told H&H.

    “Many riders and organisers will remember, probably with frustration, the time spent at presentations getting a horse to stand correctly and everything looking good.

    “At the end of the day you just want to go home but for Barbara it wasn’t worth taking a photo if you couldn’t do it right.”

    Ms Sutherland added she admired the fact that “you always knew where you stood with her” and she was unpretentious to the extent many did not know how influential she has been in the equestrian world.

    “She was easy to talk to, fun to be out on a course with and always so helpful,” added Ms Sutherland.

    An amazing woman who had an equally amazing adventurous life. It is my privilege to have known and worked with her both as a friend and colleague.”

    New Zealand Horse & Pony, for which Barbara provided photos for almost 50 years, has also paid tribute.

    “Barbara had the rare ability to capture that perfect moment with a single click of the button,” wrote editor Rowan Dixon.

    “We are deeply saddened by Barbara’s death, and will forever treasure our memories and association with such a wonderful, talented and generous person.

    “We wish to send our deepest condolences to Tom, and the couple’s son Mark and daughter Michelle, and grandchildren James and Grace. Rest in peace Barbara, you will never be forgotten.”

    A service will be held for Barbara at St Andrews Anglican Churst in Taupo at 11.30am on 27 February.

    Messages to thomsonphoto@xtra.co.uk and donations to The Heart Foundation or RSPCA in lieu of flowers.

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