2019 Black Hills Stock Show Horse Person of the Year: Larry Larson
Most who know Larry Larson in the capacity that brought him the title of 2019 Black Hills Stock Show Horse Person of the Year most likely don’t know that is only his part-time career. He spends 40 hours per week at the Black Hills Regional Eye Institute in Rapid City. After that he puts his time into his other two passions—horses and photography, successfully combining the two for nearly 30 years.
Larson grew up near Mobridge in the midst of big ranch country, though not on a ranch himself; for many years, his parents owned a general store in the small town of Wakpala on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, then later were involved in farming and ranching. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, he continued his education in Mobridge, where he and his three brothers graduated from high school.
Larson always felt an intense desire to be around horses, and his dad set up a trade for a gelding named Honda with a nearby rancher.
“That unique payment plan between my dad and a very tolerant rancher named Fritz Wientjes included random deliveries of cases of canned food and cartons of cigarettes from our store,” Larson said. “I will always be grateful to my dad, since nobody else in my family shared my horse addiction. Needless to say, my first horse was a challenge and subsequently tested me daily in those gumbo pastures west river along the Missouri River breaks.”
In addition to that first horse, Larson rode friends’ horses every chance he got and, for a time, he worked for $1 per day at a then “fledgling race stable owned by our veterinarian’s son, Bill Mott,” Larson said. “He was a year ahead of me in school, attended the same church, and he trained racehorses throughout high school.” Bill went on to eventually become the trainer of the champion racehorse Cigar, among others, and is still a leading trainer at Churchill Downs.
Larson was also heavily influenced by a trainer near Gettysburg, South Dakota, Tom Eliason, who was an AQHA judge, and also ran a band of Quarter Horse broodmares.
“He showed successfully in almost every AQHA show event offered,” Larson said. “Eventually, he showed an AQHA World Champion in roping; he excelled in every aspect of the industry.”
Following in Eliason’s shoes, Larson showed professionally for others and hauled a few of his own horses from the mid 1970s into the early 1990s. A lone broodmare that he purchased at the Denver Stock Show in 1982 provided Larson with some showing stock, including her first foal Parsuasive, sired by a full brother to Zan Parr Bar named Par For The Course.
“I showed her to many AQHA class wins as a foal while still on the mare and sold her that fall as a weanling,” Larson said. “She became an AQHA Champion, Superior Halter Horse, Canadian National Champion, and more. At the summer show in Sioux Falls in 1984, my broodmare, her foal, and her yearling filly were all in the same Grand and Reserve class, an unusual occurrence even today.”
Larson put down new roots in Rapid City in October of 1984 in an unfinished apartment above the newly-opened Hart Ranch Arena, where he gave riding lessons and established a horse sale with a two-year lifespan known as Hart of the Hills. While there, Larson received a unique offer from a father of one of his students, eight-year-old Maria Wright.
“Her dad came to watch her ride one day, and the next day, his wife called saying her husband wanted to know if I was interested in working for him. I asked what he did, was told he was an ophthalmologist, and I started the next day with no prior training. I’ve been at the Black Hills Regional Eye Institute on the Eye Surgery Center floor now into my 35th year.”
Their daughter Maria continued to train with Larson through a very successful AQHA youth career.
Feeling slightly burnt out showing in 1991, Larson decided to shift his love of horses to photographing them, despite not having any prior experience with photography or cameras. Photographers were seldom seen at events, but at the Central States Fair in 1991, Larson was able to purchase a photo of a daughter of his mare, Inspired By Money, sired by Inspirative.
“I realized the diagonal was off, it was very blurry, and blared of other unappealing traits,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘What if you could offer a product that everyone would appreciate?’ I decided to enroll in the last photography clinic being offered in 1992 by Don Shugart, then from Grapevine, Texas, whose equine photography I had admired for years. I came back to South Dakota and have been busy ever since.”
Larry Larson Photography, Inc, now in its 27th year, specializes in equine photography, graphic ad design, website design, and equine photography clinics that draw hundreds of students from across the United State and Canada.
“He had experience in horses before starting taking pictures, which helps his overall knowledge of horses and what they are supposed to look like,” said 24-year client and long-time friend Bill Myers, owner of Frenchmans Guy and Myers Performance Horses near St. Onge, South Dakota. “His background in the horse deal has been very important to him and the people who work with him. Larry has dedicated most of his life to the horse world and horse business.”
In April of 2007, Larson was diagnosed with lymphoma, receiving chemotherapy throughout the summer, never missing a day of work at the Eye Institute while still producing two horse sale catalogs.
“During my 35 daily doses of radiation in the fall, I managed and photographed the Central States Fair Quarter Horse show and then did the same at the AQHA Region Two Championship the end of September,” Larson said. He had helped establish the criteria for all the AQHA Region Two Regional Shows, now Championships, two years prior, though the first show in Rapid City was postponed until 2006 due to a contagious horse disease prevalent in 2005.
Larson was also was instrumental in initially naming, organizing, managing, and photographing the Black Hills Stock Show Winter Classic Quarter Horse Show, now one of the largest horse events in the upper Midwest.
AQHA asked Larson to ride multiple-AQHA World Champion Harley D Zip at its Cancer Ride one evening at the 2009 AQHA World Show during the finals in Oklahoma City. He described it as “an evening I will never forget, emotional for me, and very humbling. I now know that God had other plans for me.”
Larson will receive his Horse Person of the Year honor Jan. 26 at the Black Hills Stock Show Stockman’s Banquet and Ball.
“As a photographer, Larry is one of the best in the business. He’s extremely particular, but that’s why his stuff turns out flawlessly,” said SDQHA Vice-President Amanda Dikoff, who has known Larson since she was in high school. “He is always there to give some encouragement to the younger generations. He is a tireless supporter of the SDQHA and has been involved with that for many years. All-around great guy that loves horses and appreciates all disciplines.”
Larson was also awarded 2016 South Dakota Horse Council Horse Person of the Year.