Gina Maekawa melds her passion for horses and photography to produce incredible portraits.
Gina Maekawa is an avid competitor that has turned her passion for horses into a side hustle capturing beautiful memories for fellow horse lovers. Gina strives to be the best at whatever she sets her mind to, and she has a big future ahead of her.
Gina’s love for horses came from humble beginnings. Being from Northern California, Gina’s mother took her to Lake Tahoe for pony rides when she was five. Young Gina instantly fell in love, and her insatiable desire to be more involved with horses began. “From there, it snowballed into horse summer camps, trail rides, lessons, leasing, and then getting my first horse when I was 15.” Gina recalled. Although Gina was the first in her family to ride horses, her mother was completely supportive of this passion. Gina is quick to thank her mom for the sacrifices she made to allow her to continue to grow within the horse industry. “She was a single mom and always rearranged her work schedule to ensure she could drive me to lessons and be there at horse shows. She consistently prioritized horses for me, and for that I’m forever grateful. From buying Breyer Horses to buying extra carrots for me at the grocery store, to coming out to Oklahoma to support me at the World Show, my mom has always been my number one supporter.”
A true competitor at heart, Gina was naturally drawn to the showing side of the horse industry. She got her first taste of competition by attending a local schooling show that her barn mates often went to. She was immediately hooked and her desire to learn more deepened. Gina was drawn to pattern classes because of the degree of difficulty required to perform them well. “I enjoy the pattern classes because they are challenging and require a high degree of precision and accuracy. My favorite pattern event usually changes based on each horse’s strengths. I love showcasing a horse that loves their job. With my first horse “Krymsun Glow” my favorite events were showmanship and trail. With “Krymsun Zip” my favorites were horsemanship and equitation. With “Ruf Ya Up” my favorites are ranch riding and ranch trail!” Gina explained. She began showing at quarter horse shows and eventually found Melissa Zanetti, who was an excellent teacher and trainer. Melissa helped to hone in Gina’s innate talents on a horse and pushed her to try new things.
A few members of the Zanetti barn made the transition from All Around horses to Ranch horses. Gina was intrigued by this new set of classes and decided she wanted to try her hand at it. She expressed her interest to Melissa and the search to find the perfect partner was on. Gina was scrolling through Facebook when she ran across the of video of a beautiful palomino. “Matt Flarida had her and I saw her video on Facebook! I watched her video and there was something special about her. I showed my trainer, Melissa Zanetti, and she called in a favor. Gil Galyean went to try her out for us, and the rest was history.” She shared with a smile. Judy, as she is affectionately known, was a natural fit for Gina. Judy is incredibly intelligent and aims to please. “I love this horse so much! She’s so special. My favorite thing about showing her is she gets better every time she steps in the pen. I also love that she is so smooth to ride. She’s just so sweet and lovable.” Gina gushed. Her goal is to meld her past All Around experience with her current Ranch style horse by adding showmanship and horsemanship to their repertoire.
Gina’s competitive spirit has led her to thrive not only in the show pen but in her professional life as well. After graduating from Pitzer College with a degree in Economics, she landed a job with Meta (Facebook). She is a Product Manager, working on operations for new product launches. Working a full-time job with a major tech company may sound like an all-consuming task, however Gina has found time to continue to pursue another passion of hers: photography. “I’ve always loved the photography process, but I got my first “real” camera when I was 19. Before Gina Mae Photography, I primarily shot portraits for my non-horse friends growing up. Eventually my 2 passions collided into equine photography!” Gina revealed. Although she is relatively new to the equine photography world, she has been making quite a splash. Her first equine photo session was in 2020 and since then she has had her work displayed across seven covers for various equine magazines! “I love seeing people and their horses together. I’ve loved horses for so long and am honored to be able to capture others’ love for their horses.” Gina shared when asked how she felt about this feat.
This love for the horse and respect for the rider’s bond with the horse is evident in the images she captures. Her photos have a way of expressing the emotions that rider’s carry for their horse and the bond that they share. Her energy throughout a shoot is extremely infectious, making getting photos taken feel more like a party than a stiff and stressful situation. “I always want to create a positive, no pressure, and fun environment. Let me be your hype woman to tell you that you look amazing and let’s have fun with it. From there, I’m just capturing the energy and the moment. My clients and their horses have done all the hard work of creating that love and beautiful bond, I’m just there to capture it.” Her pictures perfectly celebrate the bond between horse and rider.
The horse industry is filled with many incredibly inspiring entrepreneurs. There is just something about the passion that horses spark within an individual that then spills over into their careers. Gina is an excellent example of that passion shining through. She is going to accomplish big things whether it be at her traditional place of work, in the show pen or behind the lens of her camera. If you see Gina at a show, be sure to say hello!
By Lauren Stanley