What started out as location scouting has evolved into a deep love of the Danada Equestrian Center (aka Danada Horse Farm). From it's rich history which began in 1929 when it was built and founded by Dan and Ada Rice to it's 152-acres of lush pastures and trails (perfect for photography) the Danada Equestrian Center has become a personal pastime favorite for my kids and myself. It's the place we picnic, the place we wander, the place we waste away time enjoying the long lines of white fences and the open aired barn that once housed a Kentucky Derby winner. Just a few short miles from my now family home in Naperville, Danada Equestrian Center has become a weekly past time for us. Located just north of Naperville, in Wheaton, Illinois Dan and Ada Rice built not only the farm, a training track, and starting gate, but their family home. As a closet horse racing fan and an non-closet admirer of horses, being at the farm is like fulfilling a childhood dream of mine.
Once a would-be client mentioned she was looking for a barn setting for her family photographs, I set out with my two kids for what would be several test shoots across the western suburbs. We started at the big red Barn off of Hobson in south Lisle. The "Greene Farm Barn" as it is called was so majestic in pictures and offered much potential. Despite the extensive green lawns of the park that surrounds it, with a concrete bottom, no way to get inside, and signs that read "Keep Away" I didn't see much inspiration in this beautiful barn that just didn't lend itself to pictures of children and families.
Next we ventured to the St. James Farm just north of Naperville in Wheaton, Illinois. It's beautiful lawns, long sweeping fences and blue blood barn were everything I was looking for. However, it fell a little short for me as well as farm as the barn was concerned. Without being able to freely move in and out of the barn and the lack of friendly volunteers (like there are at Danada Farm), it just wasn't quite as versatile as I was hoping for. I'd still love to do a photo shoot there one day, but Danada hands down won on my favorite location.
What is it about Danada?
First, the horses. Grazing in the pastures, watching their movement, watching them watch us in return. The power and fluidity in the their strides as they race right up to the fences. Nostrils flared, throwing their heads in the air. Their sense of wild un-tameness, but then relenting to the commands and wishes of the volunteers that work with them. In the arena, lessons, training, listening. In the barn, we get so close, so much bigger. They stomp their feet, we take a step back. The scent, the noises, the excitement. The getting to know the horses by name, like Tucker the smallest of the horses with the same name as my son but who doesn't sweat and stays in the barn more with his industrial fan blowing on him...
The kids. Running down the paths, finding shade among the trees. Climbing on the lines of white fences. Enjoying, learning from the site of the horses in an environment that is much the same as it was nearly 100 years ago. Leaning over the fence, daring to get closer. Yearning to be old enough for lessons, to climb aboard the giants and move as one with them. Climbing on the saddles in the barn. Pretending to be aboard California Chrome in route to another big win. Searching for the barn cats, which is often more exciting than the horses.
Me. Seeing the light bouncing between the trees. The way the wind blows the kids (and the horses hair). The barn, the grass, the flowers. All these things that make perfect backgrounds for photographs and makes me take in a long deep breath of relaxation. Yes, the barn and the light. Oh the light... Glowing in through the doors. Beaming in through the windows. Backlighting the rows of stalls. Illuminating the children as they watch and play, as I watch them through the eye of a mother and the lens of the camera. Seeing the horses, being part of their life, I life I so wanted to be close to as a child.
The volunteers. Always friendly. Remembering my childrens' names on only our second visit. Offering their time for the horses and equally taking the time to stop and talk to us. Their belief in the cause they give their time to. A friendly face to a wonderful place.
Danada certainly is a magical place for me. It makes me feel alive like a child and allows the children to be themselves, running, exploring, and climbing. It's these moments I love to watch and love to capture in photographs. We've spent many a days there this summer and I can't wait for the fall. I'm always open for a photo session there.
In the meantime, we are off to explore another farm this evening. We'll be attending the Cabernet Cabaret and the polo fields in Oswego. Hoping for a good time and a potential new location for photographs ...
And finally, a video because there are so many photos to share from Danada.