November marks the beginning of our fifth annual “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” six month auction series with Old Friends Equine of Kentucky. Each month, from November through April, MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® creates a one of a kind Derby hat honoring one of the Thoroughbred retirees at Old Friends. The hat then goes up for auction on Ebay with all of the proceeds going to Old Friends. To date nearly $17,000 has been raised.
The first hat up for bid honors Kentucky-bred Sean Avery. Perhaps best remembered for his Grade 1 win of 2011 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap over Trappe Shot and Calibrachoa, the bay gelding arrived at Old Friends in March 2013 thanks to the generous donation of his owners, Black Swan Stable. To learn more about this champion, please visit the Sean Avery webpage.
To kick off our new season, jockey Rosie Napravnik has agreed to join us for the fundraiser. Well known in horse racing circles, Rosie’s devotion to both racing and the welfare of retired racehorses made her seem to me the perfect choice to join our “Hats Off” team by modeling our first hat, the “Sean Avery,” in a photo shoot at Old Friends.
Sylvia Stiller, the office manager at Old Friends who gives so much of her time and creative energy to the organization, liked my idea and made my connection with Rosie. Rosie graciously agreed not only to the photo shoot but also to a Q & A interview last month for this blog.
Next we needed a photographer for the photo shoot at Old Friends. I contacted Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos, longtime supporters of our Old Friends hat auctions whose expertise in both horse racing and wedding photography is second to none. They graciously accepted the invitation as well.
It was time to create the hat. Before I could begin, though, I had to do my research on Sean Avery. This research is always crucial in creating these hats to honor the horses at Old Friends. Rick Capone and Laura Battles, two talented photographers who also give generously of their time and talents to Old Friends, graciously shared photos of Sean at his new home. As you can see in this slideshow of Laura’s images, these photos gave me valuable information about the horse’s coloring, conformation and spirit.
I then went online and printed out Sean’s racing bio and watched the video of his win in the Vanderbilt Handicap. Sean Avery’s racing connections, Black Swan Stables, were the perfect inspiration for the design with the imagery of black swans. Soon my table was piling up with pedigree sheets, Bloodhorse.com articles and photos of swans with charcoal-tinged black feathers, red and white bills and curvaceous necks.
Sketches were made, fabrics were chosen and soon the hat was underway.
The hat was a challenge as it needed not only to be reminiscent of Sean Avery and his Black Swan connections, but also durable for an outdoor photo shoot, easy for Rosie to wear while managing a horse, and a design that would not spook a spirited 7 year-old Thoroughbred known for his playfulness!
I went back to the drawing board many times, downsizing the hat’s overall size, curving the feathers to frame the face more tightly, shaping and reshaping black, charcoal and white feathers to imitate a swan’s wing.
At last, the hat was finished.
Soon it was packed and on its way.
The weather was drizzly the morning of the shoot which meant a move indoors, into the big barn. I was on pins and needles all day, so curious about how it was going at Old Friends, frustrated not to be able to see it all unfold.
After lunch I received a call from Michael whose excitement could be felt right through the phone. “Sally, it just couldn’t have been better, ” he said. ”Sean tried to eat Rosie, but it just could not have gone any better.”
And Michael was right. The images I received from Matt took my breath away. Rosie looked stunning in the hat and Sean stood tall and statuesque beside her. There was even a shot of Rosie with Little Silver Charm (“Charmie”) who is a huge Rosie fan!
I also received a bonus: a “behind-the-scenes” Vimeo video that documented the photo shoot, complete with music soundtrack. I felt like I was right there in that barn, witnessing the magic. Sean’s playfulness, Rosie’s expertise as she held him while keeping her dress and hair and the hat in place. Little Silver Charm was of course the perfect gentleman, and that smile of Michael’s lit up the whole barn as he looked on with his wife Diane.
Please also enjoy this slideshow of the “Sean Avery” chapeau. For updates on the ongoing auction series, please visit our new Facebook Page that showcases the fundraiser as well as the Sean Avery hat webpage.
EBay bidding for the “Sean Avery” chapeau started on November 1st and ends tonight, Monday, November 11th at 8 PM EST.
Thanks to Rosie, Sean Avery, Little Silver Charm and the entire “Hats Off” team, I hope we have our very best auction season yet!
Hats Off to the Horses of Old Friends!