PROCTORVILLE — Definitely, he was the thoroughbred with ‘tude. John Henry, the gelding, who could tear steel buckets off stall walls and stomped them into the sawdust of the barn without a bead of sweat dampening his forelock.
Out of 83 starts John Henry took 39 wins and placed 15 times bringing in $6.5 million during his racing career.
But ole John had a soft spot once in a while for the human kind around him. And one of those two-legged creatures he liked was Steve Faust who hails from Proctorville.
It was Faust who developed a unique relationship with the temperamental John Henry, finding the quadruped a kind of mentor in a career he never expected to have.
Yet today Faust is an official photographer for the prestigious Rolex Cup equestrian trials, a regular at the Kentucky Horse Park and in September will be one of a handful of credentialed cameramen at the World Equestrian Games that will bring the international horse world to Lexington, Ky.
“It was the most incredible thing to be that horse’s friend,” Faust said. “I had seen him before and admired him. He was so mean and ornery and so independent. The blue collar racehorse that nobody wanted. He didn’t care about what anyone thought about him.”
Faust, whose day job is as a route driver for Snyder’s of Berlin, picked up a camera as a teen, mainly because his buddies at Fairland High were into photography.
Originally from Salem, Ohio, Faust moved to Proctorville when his father took over the post as minister at the Church of Christ in South Point.
“I never did anything with it except for myself,” he said about taking photos. “Never once did I dream I would be doing this.”
It was at the Kentucky Horse Park where Faust and John Henry first met face to face. “J.H.” had been moved to the park in 1985 and found his new home at the Hall of Champions’ barn.
On his days off Faust would go down to the park and start shooting everything he saw including the special daily events that show off the numerous breeds at the park with riders dripping in their finery.
A chance meeting between someone at the park and Faust led to his showing officials what he could do with a camera.
“I had a season pass and would shoot all the shows,” he said.
Then one Wednesday at the park, Faust was told he was wanted in the front office.
“They had my pictures on their desk and asked if they could use them,” he recalled. “That was a big thing. I thought I had reached seventh heaven, they just wanting my pictures.”
But that was just the beginning, for the horse park proved to be a treasure trove of opportunities for the self-taught photographer. On John Henry’s 32nd — and last — birthday, Faust got a chance to go a little closer, positioning himself on the inside rail of the paddock to shoot the legendary racehorse. He took his trusty Nikon and a whole bunch of caution.
“He was kind of looking at me and I felt comfortable around him,” he said.
The next week the horse’s handlers let Faust get even closer to the unpredictable animal.
“I was out there and he looked up and showed me his teeth. Then he started walking toward me. I thought this horse is going to bite me, then I will have John Henry tattooed by the marks,” Faust said. “But he just lowered his head on my arm. I bent down and kissed him. From that time, that horse let me in and was my friend. John Henry picked his friends and if he picked you, you would be his friend for life.”
From that moment, doors to more photography assignments opened up for Faust, from calls from editors he’d never met before to getting an 11th hour okay to shoot the Rolex to the upcoming world games.
“I think the Lord used that horse to open the doors for me,” he said. “You can’t out give God. I think this horse was the doorway. I knew nothing about horses. I knew nothing about photography. I don’t know any of the technical aspects, but give me a camera. It’s like I can play music, but I can’t read it.
“I don’t try to make anything happen. I just sit back and let it open up.”