This time, instead of doing the usual interview questions, I thought I would do something a little different as this young rodeo competitor, Zakk Tompkins of On The Edge rodeo apparel, has quite a story to tell. You can find Zakk and his brand on Twitter at @OnTheEdgeRodeo . Check out his unique brand on his website at On The Edge apparel.
I’m a 23-year-old cowboy, entrepreneur and freelance writer born and raised in central,IL.
Running both a full service equine facility, and an apparel company, keeps me fairly busy! Average days consist of feeding and caring for the 18 horses we have on site providing full board, training and lessons. Whether it be cleaning stalls, fixing fence or working colts my days are filled with these chores for the most part.
We currently do about 20 lessons a week with folks of all ages. Lessons are western riding ranging anywhere from complete beginner to those wishing to compete in rodeo. The latter is perhaps the most important part to me and the motivating factor in continuing even during tough times.
As a young kid, like many others I wanted to be a cowboy. Although I didn’t fully understand all that the lifestyle and job entailed, I knew wanted to be a part of this amazing subculture. Unfortunately, I was already committed to competing in wrestling and martial arts.
I began training Muay Thai with my dad at age two, as he had competed professionally prior to my birth. I vividly remember religiously watching episodes of Walker Texas ranger and then having to “Walker fight” my dad after each show. This consisted of him being the bad guy and me of course playing the part of Chuck Norris. By about 4 years old, my cut kicks were leaving sizeable welts on my dad’s legs which apparently was a green light to further my training.
As the years went on my training continued. I began to compete across the country at national events. Although I loved the sport and travel, I always wanted something a little different. I just wasn’t sure what.
School work and sports came easy. I had many friends and a seemingly happy home life. Yet, even though I was only twelve, I was slowly loosing myself, slowly dying. As fear, doubt, and anger consumed me, I fell into a deep depression.
I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me, I tell you this because I want everyone to see and realize that depression is a biological disease. One that does not discriminate between race, gender or socio-economic status.
The ridicule at school became nearly unbearable. I was withdrawn and depressed and couldn’t explain why. Being someone who relied on logic, the feelings of sadness and anger being inexplicable were totally unacceptable to me. No matter what I got or how good life was, I was depressed. Coming home only to lay under a blanket in total isolation. Weight gain and self loathing followed. I allowed the symptoms of the disease to consume me.
This was a mistake that at the time I wasn’t aware I was making, and had no idea how to combat it. As the symptoms worsened, I finally spoke with a professional. In the midst of getting the help I needed, things continued to worsen.
At age 13, I left a suicide note and ran away from school. I will never forget every detail of the steps I took that day. I was found very shortly by my father who had been contacted by authorities. As he eased my mind and convinced me to come home I felt some relief. I was admitted to a local mental health facility where I spent three agonizing days. Help was not immediate and it took years and personal dedication to make any headway.
Although I still suffer often from depression, I have found one of the greatest God-given coping mechanisms – purpose via horses.
One thing that drove me to get help from day one was that I knew others, who were less fortunate than me, were suffering the same as I was. As I slowly dropped out of traditional sports and grew older, I found various ways of becoming involved with horses.
I began dating a girl from school my freshman year who had a few Haflingers and was involved in Pony Club. Although English wasn’t my first choice for riding, it was my only option. My girlfriend at the time began teaching me to care for and ride the horses they had. Before long, I was volunteering full time at a local barn. I worked seven days a week doing the worst jobs you can find on a farm. I did this as a way to afford lessons.
I spent every free moment watching people ride and train, learning what I could. I watched and read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I got a paying job as a glorified stall boy at another local barn and took the horse I had purchased there. After about a year and working with several other trainers in both cutting and pleasure, I began leasing the property and running Westbrook Stable. This is the full service facility I now run.
When I took over, it was a small operation providing boarding only with about 8 clients a month. Over the past three years, it has grown to 18 horses, a lesson program and training.
Having struggled through the grind to get where I am, I wanted to find a way to give back. We began a rodeo team for youth and adults that provides all the necessary equipment, knowledge and connections at the most affordable rate possible. It is amazing how many young lives we have been able to touch, and honestly is better than any medicine I’ve ever been prescribed. It took a combination of correcting the chemical imbalance, professional therapy and a LOT of self-help.
My girlfriend and I now compete in rodeos across the Midwest in barrel racing and tie down roping respectively. And yes, we are seeking sponsors!
This eclectic background is what drove me to start my apparel company called On The Edge. I wanted a brand that represented a lifestyle. I began designing apparel with a message. The message was simple – Lose the fear and doubt, live on the edge and chase your dreams! The brand is still small, but is gaining steady business we sport my brand and travel the rodeo circuit.
As last year was my rookie year in IPRA, I had a lot of tough times and lessons to learn. I’m now practicing harder than ever. In tempo with my usual MO, my goals for this year are sky-high, yet attainable. I am currently working to gain sponsors as well as preparing myself to chance to compete in RFD Tv’s The American. I will also be part of a six shooter series put on by a popular stock contractor on the IPRA circuit and am looking forward to a chance at winning the series and buckle.
If any one person can take an ounce of motivation from my story of struggle and perseverance, then it has all been worth it. My personal strategy every time I back in the box is to improve on ONE predetermined area of my roping during that run. Perfection is great but only comes after the building blocks are set in place. With that in mind, I don’t expect to be perfect.
My pastor, Jason Schifo was a major factor in my mindset. After hours and hours of talking with him, I finally realized that perfection wasn’t ever going to happen. It was beyond my control. What was in grasp of my control was the proper mindset, and remembering to get better with each and every run to the best of my ability. Leaving it all in the arena, one run at a time.
This time we talk with UK photographer Ceri Dickinson of Pure Essence Photography. Not only does she live and love the horse life, she has a fantastic eye for capturing the moment. I think you’ll love seeing her work and finding out more about what makes her tick.
Tell us what a day in your life is like.
A day in my life can be very different depending on which day you catch me! I work as assistant manager on a livery and hunting yard so, on a work day, it’s up early to do my horses and then off to work. Work can involve anything from a lot of mucking out to schooling a horse, teaching a client or getting hunters ready for action.
On a photography day I will (again) be up early to see to my horses and then prepare for the shoot. It’s really important that all my gear (and back up gear) is in good working order and ready to go – batteries will be fully charged the day before. I also like to spend a little time reading through the booking form the Client’s fill in so that I can get a feeling of who they are and what kind of shots they are going to like.
On a day off it gets really boring – that’s when I have to catch up on the paperwork side of the business and do my housework! If I’m really lucky I might squeeze in a bit of free time to do some “just for fun” photography.
Are you a full time photographer?
No, I’m part time. In all honesty I’m not sure I would want to be full time. As much as I love photography I also love working with horses.
I tried to leave a couple of times but ended up going back! I’m very lucky with the job I have now as it allows me a balance. Horse jobs are generally all consuming, they are not a job, they are a way of life and I always accepted that. I never thought I would find a way to be able to do both horses and photography but I have an arrangement with my current employers that I work 3 days a week in summer and 5 in winter, which leaves me with enough time to do both! I’m a lucky girl!
What types of photography are you most known for?
I like all kinds of photography and particularly enjoy a bit of landscape or macro photography when I’m just having fun but Pure Essence is all about lifestyle portraits.
What led you to that type of photography and what inspires you when you’re behind the camera?
What first drew me to photography was landscapes. I love the outdoors and was constantly disappointed with my inability to capture the scale and beauty of nature on my little compact camera so I decided to go and learn how. I never intended to get hooked! I thought I would stick with my (decent) compact and just learn to use it better – how wrong I was!
At first I hated portrait photography, I thought it was too posed and false and there was too much airbrushing (no, it’s not just for celebs) the finished photo often looked nothing like the person once all their imperfections were removed. Then, one day, I was at a competition with a friend and was snapping a few pictures of her horse. I decided I would try not to attract her attention and grab a few candid shots. I loved the results, I fell in love with the idea of photographing relationships and moments. This technique is the aim of all my shoots whether with animals, children or couples I always want to put them at ease, make them laugh and then capture the real them.
What role do horses play in your life & in your photography? Any good horse stories?
Horses are a huge part of my life. I have tried to get away from them a couple of times but I’m always drawn back. I have worked in many different areas and have some amazing memories….. grooming at the European Eventing Championships, competing at the BD National Championships, seeing horses I’ve backed and produced go on to have wonderful, happy lives. I think one of my favourite moments was riding a pretty sharp, 14.3hh, 6 year old who had been bred by the people I worked for and backed and produced by me to 8th place in the BD Novice Winter Championships. It wasn’t the rosette that made me happy, I was just so proud that the little horse went into that scary arena with all the people and stands, etc and trusted me enough to get on with his job. Moments like that make all the hard work worth it!
What is the most favorite photograph you’ve taken and why?
My favourite photo is one from that first day when I was taking pictures of my friend and her horse at a show. Barnaby (Hailstone Hero) was a horse I had produced and sold, I kept in touch with his new owner and she became a good friend. I took this picture of Barnaby as he was tied at the side of the lorry, there are things I could have done better and things I would change given a chance but I love this photo as Barnaby’s personality just shines out of it. His owner has a framed copy in her home.
How can readers find out more about your work?
I am based in Yorkshire but am willing to travel to any area of the country with a travel fee, if you can organise a group of 4 or more of you at any one yard I would waive any travel costs.
My website is www.pureessencephotography.co.uk I apologise for the lack of updates on my blog – I’m a terrible blogger but there are plenty of examples of my work there.