Top Bracket -- born 1955 by Top Deck TB. Photo taken in the sixties. This was a reject photo.
When I started taking photos of livestock my Dad warned me that everyone had a camera. There were photographers everywhere; local photographers who could take photos. He did not think it could be a good business. He was right, except there was a tiny place available in the industry, only if photos could be taken better than all the other photographers knew how to take. That was the only place left to develop this business. That became the only valid target. One day I was reading my Bible (KJV) Proverbs 22;29 "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings." That was it! I had to be more diligent than all other cowboys with a camera - that was the answer. The Kings of the earth appreciate professional skills and seek out those who are most diligent.
I attended every AQHA convention that I could afford, about 20 in all. I went to the Keenland Sales in Kentucky, the Arabian National Championship in Albuquerque and Scottsdale. I acquired a veterinarian surgery book to read and know about every muscle, vein and joint. I met the "kings" of the horse world at these conventions and events. During the AQHA convention I met the heir of the 6666 Ranch, respectfully referred to as "Miss Anne" who in real life was Anne Valliant Burnett, Windfohr, Meeker, Tandy. Her dad, Tom Burnett, made her the sole heir to the massive oil and gas industry on the 6666, who also raised livestock. She called and asked me to photograph all the 6666 stallions. Miss Anne, everyone knew she was royalty, and treated her with great respect. Miss Anne said they had a horse that was difficult to photograph and needed special considerations -- that was Top Bracket.
I went to the 6666 different times. They invited me to stay at the big house where foreman George Humprey lived. George wore thick glasses, was a soft spoken fellow and had his hands full with the massive management at the 6666. He was very kind and up in years when I was there. He worked to keep the chuck wagon old cattle handling ways and ran cattle just like in 1880, except for a few pickups moving around. Breakfast was prepared for about a dozen of us in the big house and then a chuck wagon food service was outside in the back yard at noon. Of course there was a lot of beans and beef served with all the hot sauces in the world. There were about 25 cowboys showed up for lunch and in 15 minutes they were gone.
For photos there was Hijo The Bull, a stallion named Eight something-or-other and some Thoroughbred stallions that were nervous and difficult. The old Hollywood horses had been replaced by tall nervous race blood. I photographed one Hollywood stallion.
If you want to really find out about a horse, talk to the traveling horse shoer, the veterinarian who flys from ranch to ranch or the photographer. Things are said and passed on that you may not read in the magazines. Rumor was, Top Bracket was born with a 5th small leg growing out of his right front knee. It had been removed when young, and had been pretty hush-hush. Yet, with some slight bend in the knee he still ran very well. Supposedly, the 6666 folks determined if he could run that fast with a goofy knee, what would his foals do who did not share this one in a million defect? It was a serious theory in a world that was starving for more speed.
Miss Anne told me photographers had a problem with Top Bracket. He had once been photographed with his legs wrapped to prevent the flawed visual. As I walked around him he was a typical Top Deck, somewhat raw-boned, racy looking, basic plain conformation, but highly valuable to running horse people. It was his right knee that had a slight bend forward and out. You could see something wasn't right, but he was totally sound and jumping all over the place. The key was to not photograph him from the right side, but to turn him to an angle where the bend was either toward the camera or straight away. You could not get a good shot any other way. We posed him for a left side and arranged his leg by hand placement. He took amazingly good rear views from the left and direct-on front shots blasting right into the front bend of the knee. As we worked on these 3 angles there was no evidence of any flaw in the final shots. This gave Miss Anne what she wanted to promote Top Bracket. Once this problem was solved for Miss Anne I was invited back to the 6666 several times. The food was good. The people were colorful. It was often hot and the dirty Texas wind was always blowing. On the 6666 Ranch, every direction you looked was a legend.
Author: Darol Dickinson