We would like to take the opportunity to present our members for the IAEJ community of journalists and photographers during these trying times of a global pandemic. Next to go is one of our journalist members from the U.S : L.A. Sokolowski
Questions & Answers
Q: Where exactly are you based?
A: Just south of Saratoga Springs, home of ‘horses, health & history’ and America’s oldest operating sporting venue (racetrack), in Albany, the capitol of New York State and relatively equidistant from Manhattan, Montreal, Boston or, thanks to an international airport, Heathrow, Orly and Schiphol. I am a native New Yorker.
Q: Do you live with any partners, family and/or pets?
A: My partner Charles, who is embracing my transforming him into a riding/driving horseman, our rescue cat, Pandora, and beta fish, Camille and Garbo.
Q: Do you work independently or are you affiliated with a particular organization?
A: Yes and yes. I am an independent contractor who has several terrific longstanding relationships with editors and companies.
Q: How long have you been an equestrian journalist?
A: Honestly, I’ve had a published byline for 50 years. At nine I was secretary for my 4-H horse club (yes, my first horse was a palomino named Trigger) and my father suggested, since my notes became the next meeting’s report anyway, why not add an engaging opening line, close it with an interesting fact or lesson about horses and horsemanship, and take it to the editor at our Greene County News and see if there was interest? My horse club news and trivia became a regular contribution. That was 1970 and getting an unpaid byline is still easy. It’s the paid ones that are trickier albeit far more helpful at keeping a career.
Q: What was your path to becoming an equestrian journalist?
A: By fifth grade I was using a reel-to-reel tape recorder to interview horse models and stuffed animals for my own show and coerced two horse-crazy friends on my bus to create stories and ‘photos’ for a monthly horse magazine, on lined notepaper and bound with the gaudiest rainbow yarn imaginable. My nascent publishing enthusiasm and attraction for deadlines lasted much longer than theirs. Fast forward to degrees in Journalism (SUNY Albany) and Equine Business Management (Johnson & Wales), then public relations writing for USET, Stadium Jumping, 1996 Olympic Media services with Max Ammann, a dash of grant writing and fundraising for the zoological industry, a dotcom ride with Equisearch.com as content director, and ghostwriting for J. Michael Plumb and (later) Chester Weber. My peers seem to think I’m reasonably capable of my craft and I accepted an AHP Spirit Award in 2017 for my contributions to the industry, last year I was first (with New York Horse) in feature writing and general excellence at the 50th AHP Conference & Awards, and have been nominated for my second Syracuse Press Club sports writing award. You know what they say about people who work for themselves. We get to choose our own hours: All 24/7 of them. Since entering this industry in 1992 my path has never been idle.
Q: What sports and types of competition do you cover, or other types of equestrian-related assignments?
A: Stepping into the horse industry at the level I did with the Team, I became conversant with all the USET/FEI disciplines. Fortunately, my horsemanship had always adopted the creed you ride the horse, not the saddle, so I had experience in a little of everything, from dressage to over fences, riding reiners or ex-track horses. I picked up a little driving after making some friends at the 1992 World Pairs at Gladstone. Over the last 10-15 years I’ve seen an editorial shift to focus on lifestyle and when appropriate, I swap my leads accordingly, including serving on the organizing committee for the Equus International Film Festival in Montana.
Q: What new skills did you pick up during quarantine? How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your life?
A: My impression has been that the rest of the world is seeing what freelance life has pretty much felt like for years. I’ve been submitting work electronically from a home office since the 1990s, although I find since quarantine that people seem more willing to talk, whether it’s via phone or Zoom. A hunger for contact has been making access, ergo my job, easier. My pandemic experience has been more about refreshing or renewing old skills, particularly riding. I am blessed to know someone with a privately owned horse who needs all the work he can get and has hundreds of acres of trails. So I am six feet up in the saddle, socially distanced, and riding more in the last year than the past 30. And when I’m not riding, I’m longing or schooling Charles, which is a real treat to share what I love and nurture the same enthusiasm in another adult amateur.
Q: What’s your all-time favourite moment in equestrian sport?
A: All the best ones are off the record of course! But updating the late radio personality Paul Harvey on how an ex-track horse (formerly raced as Stand By For News) fared in the jumpers at Madison Square Garden. Paul Harvey the horse was amateur champion two years in a row, and two years in a row, Paul Harvey the radio celeb shared every detail I shared with him about the horse and its classes on his show the next day. And that, as he would say is, “the rest of the story!”
Q: Talk about your most memorable adventure while covering equestrian sport.
A: Swapping shirts with Klaus Balkenhol amid the final flurry of trading souvenirs at the conclusion of the Atlanta Olympics. He was keen to have my teal-green Media polo shirt and I got his Deutschland team dressage t-shirt. I still have it, coffee stains and all.
Q: What is your favourite competition venue and why?
A: I truly pine for the late, great National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, in the heart of Manhattan and always right around Halloween. That was such a great confluence of visuals and atmosphere. I recall closing the pressroom (well after midnight), and taking the AP reporters, etc., for drinks and a drag show at Lucky Cheng’s to unwind.
Q: What is the last book / latest streamed series / favourite podcast you read / watched /enjoyed?
A: Book: My niece in London recommended Where the Crawdads Sing. I’m not usually a fiction reader. Prior to that I was reading William Kennedy’s Oh, Albany! For streaming series, just finished Kim’s Convenience (Time magazine recommended if you enjoyed Schitt’s Creek, which I did) and the darkly amusing Flack, set in the PR world. My guiltiest pleasure was a South Korean romantic drama series, Mr. Sunshine. My favorite podcasts are any that invite my clients on as guests.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: I just took a look at horsewomen trailblazers for a Horse Illustrated piece, many of the names coming from my own rolodex (is that still a thing?) and I was reminded how humbled and inspired I am to enjoy the candor and wisdom of such rare individuals as Dr. Temple Grandin, Linda Tellington-Jones, Anne Kursinski, Bernice Endes, Debbie Loucks, Jean Abernathy, Lynn Palm, Patricia Kelly, Patti Colbert, Stacy Westfall, Laura Hillenbrand and the late Jane Savoie.
Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
A: Last summer Charles and I rolled up our sleeves and helped our horse’s owner disassemble her 40’ x 20’ carriage shed that had been destroyed in a storm. It involved the three of us tearing down and rebuilding the entire structure from the ground up, using only existing or found repurposed and recycled materials. (A riding accident, years earlier, put her on disability and a restricted income, so those were our parameters). Oh, and the facility has no electricity. So our only tools were a cordless handheld drill, a Husqvarna chainsaw (no doubt invoking Paul Harvey’s spirit), three hammers, two shovels and a pick axe; even a partridge in a pear tree would have been put to work. It took three months for the three of us to reconstruct the building, installing three sets of double doors, a dozen windows, and leak-proofed metal roof. ‘Other work’ is easy in comparison to that old fashioned exchange of sweat equity to ride but it kept our bodies (and heads) in healthy places.
Q: What is some of your work that you’re proudest of?
A: I’ve always been proud of how I was thanked by major non-horse press covering the ’96 Olympic equestrians for making their job easier and presenting more three-dimensionality to the horse and rider information than they could remember since the Los Angeles Games. If I helped bridge their readership divide and attract new fans to our sport, that’s everything I can ask for. As a writer, I’m proud (when Modern Arabian was publishing) of how my profile of Angel Heart Farm’s work with pediatric cancer patients increased donations and grant opportunities for them. I’m also proud of telling the story of hunter/jumper trainer Jennifer Dahlman Gurney, who follows in the boot steps of her stepfather Harry deLeyer in giving a new generation of Snowman, i.e. former racehorses, new careers (https://issuu.com/newyorkhorse/docs/15fanyhorseissuu), and earned my first Syracuse Press Club award. I’m always proudest of what’s coming out next. I like to see this as an ever-evolving craft.
Photo credits: Charles Joseph Berry