Larry Larson is this year’s BHSS Horse Person of the Year.
Larry Larson is this year’s BHSS Horse Person of the Year.

For Larry Larson, the love of all things horse began early in life.

His intense desire to be around horses led his dad, who owned a general store in Wakpala on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, to barter cases of canned food and cartons of cigarettes with a nearby rancher, Fritz Wientjes, for a gelding named Honda. That was the mid-1960s. 

Larson’s love for horses and the horse business has never faded, which is why he is the 2019 Black Hills Stock Show Horse Person of the Year.

His family later became involved in farming and ranching near Mobridge, S.D., where Larson and his three brothers continued their education. Larson was the only one in the family with a horse addiction and will be forever grateful for his dad’s unique payment plan and the early years of being tested by his horses in those gumbo pastures along the Missouri River.

Growing up, Larson rode horses every chance he had. For a time, he worked for a dollar a day at the fledging race stable owned by Bill Mott, the local veterinarian’s son. Mott was a year ahead of Larson in school, attended the same church and trained racehorses throughout high school with Larson helping as needed. 

Larson was also heavily influenced by Tom Eliason of Gettysburg, S.D. Eliason was a Quarter Horse breeder and horse trainer, as well as an AQHA judge who competed successfully in almost every AQHA show event and eventually showed an AQHA World Champion in roping.

From the mid-1970s into the early 1990s, Larson showed professionally for others as well as hauling a few of his own home-raised horses. A broodmare he purchased in 1982 at the National Western Stock Show in Denver provided him with several competitive offspring. Her second foal, a filly named Parsuasive, sired by a full brother to Zan Parr Bar, earned many Futurity and AQHA class wins as a foal. He sold her as a weanling and she went on to become an AQHA Champion, Superior Halter Horse and a Canadian National Champion. 

One of Larson’s favorite memories from showing was at the Summer Quarter Horse Show in Sioux Falls in 1984. In the grand champion class, his broodmare, her yearling filly and her current year foal were all in contention. It was a proud moment for Larson and an unusual occurrence even today. 

After 11 years of managing a veterinary practice in Mobridge, Larson made the move to Rapid City in 1984 into the unfinished apartment above the newly opened Hart Ranch Arena. He continued to show horses professionally and also gave riding lessons. One riding lesson and a visit with a student’s father was a life-changer for Larson. 

The father was there to watch his daughter ride and struck up a conversation with him. Larson received a call from the gentleman’s wife a week later wanting to know if he would work for him. When asked what her husband did for a living, she said he was an eye surgeon at the Black Hills Regional Eye Institute. 

Having no previous eye experience, the ophthalmologist thought they would work well together, so he was willing to train Larson. Larson went from unknowingly being interviewed in the middle of Hart Ranch Arena to now celebrating his 35th year at Black Hills Regional Eye Institute in 2019.

Feeling a slight burnout from showing in 1991 but still having the desire to remain in the horse industry, Larson shifted directions. Photographers were seldom at show events, but at the 1991 Central States Fair Larson was able to purchase a photo of a daughter of his mare named Inspired By Money by Inspirative

Larson realized the diagonal was off, it was very blurry and blared of other unappealing traits. He thought to himself, “What if I could offer a product that everyone would appreciate?” 

Larson saw a need for quality equine photography in South Dakota and the surrounding area. Despite having no past photography experience or even experience with cameras, Larson enrolled in the last photography clinic being offered in 1992 by Don Shugart from Grapevine, Texas, after admiring Shugart’s equine photography for years and wanting to learn from the best. 

Larry Larson Photography, Inc. is now in its 27th year. Larson specializes in equine photography, graphic ad and website design, along with equine photography clinics that have now drawn hundreds of students from across the United States and Canada with additional clinics in Laramie, Wyo., and Anchorage, Alaska. One of his most rewarding projects was being the official photographer for the South Dakota State 4-H Horse Show in Huron for 20 years.

Larson says his clients are very knowledgeable horsemen who find the best crosses for broodmares in their herds. Larson photographs new mares, stallions and horses being added to their herds or being prepared for sales and then produces national ads and websites, along with horse sale catalogs. Promoting a stallion for breeding and progeny for sales is the main goal for most of Larson’s clients. 

Diagnosed with lymphoma in April of 2007, chemotherhapy and radiation followed right in the middle of his busiest time of the year. He sponsored his photography clinic, photographed and produced two sale catalogs and managed and photographed three Quarter Horse Show Circuits by the time his treatment ended. He was invited to ride multiple World Champion Harley D Zip in the 2009 Cancer Ride during one night of finals at the AQHA World Championship Show in Oklahoma City.  

The biggest change Larson has witnessed in his nearly three decades of equine photography is the introduction of digital photography. He switched from film to digital in the spring of 2004. 

Larson has been active in the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association and Center of the Nation Quarter Horse Associations since the early 1970s, serving in nearly every office and position including president. His involvement with the Rapid City Quarter Horse Association spanned more than 30 years.  

Larson was instrumental in naming, managing and photographing the now very successful Black Hills Stock Show Winter Classic Quarter Horse Show Circuit. This event has become a huge part of the overall success of the Black Hills Stock Show with trainers from across the nation marking it a major event they will not miss due to large class numbers earning points leading to qualification to the AQHA World Show.

The Black Hills Stock Show Horse Sale has also become one of the top sales in the nation for both high sellers and overall averages. Larson has done the sale coverage as a freelance writer for many years as well as having a promotional booth on the sale weekend.

Larson managed and photographed the Black Hills Summer Circuit and the Central States Fair Quarter Horse Show for close to 20 years and the AQHA Region 2 Championship for several years since it’s inception in 2006. He was on the original planning committee in Amarillo, Texas, to set up the guidelines for these AQHA Regional Shows (now championships) held across the nation. 

His dedication to promoting the American Quarter Horse and the equine industry helped him being elected as an AQHA national director in 2000 and then his elevation to AQHA director at large in 2015. Larson is an ambassador for the AQHA Foundation, the fundraising entity of the AQHA, for scholarships and breed education and he is a member of their Heritage Society. He served on the AQHA Marketing Committee for 14 years, is currently a member of the International Committee and was recently appointed to the AQHA Hall Of Fame Selection Committee, which begins now in 2019.

He was honored as the 2016 South Dakota Horse Council Horse Person Of The Year – joining a long list of previous winners he had always admired.  

Perfectionism isn’t always a bad thing and Larson has always tried to treat his clients like he wished to be treated. He admires their horses as if they are his own and his main goal will always be to promote their operations in the most professional manner that he can. 

He takes it as a challenge to capture the best photo of each horse standing in front of him – accentuating the best features and masking the less favorable ones. Larson says the best compliment he receives is when clients say they didn’t know their horses were that beautiful.

Larson has always had a huge desire to promote the horse industry, not only in South Dakota, but across the nation. He has never turned down a challenge to promote any aspect of the horse industry.

Larry Larson will be awarded at the BHSS Stockman’s Banquet & Ball on Jan. 26 in Rapid City at the Ramkota.