The winner of our 12th annual photo contest, New York police detective Danny Nestor, is living his childhood cowboy dreams.

Growing up, Danny Nestor dreamed of becoming a cowboy, but being born and raised in the concrete jungle of New York City, his aspirations of riding under big Western skies were more of a fantasy than a reasonable career path. So, he put his childhood dream aside to become a police officer. It wasn’t until he developed a passion for photography that he realized all Western hopes weren’t lost.

The photography bug bit Nestor — a detective for Patrol Borough Manhattan South, the area of Manhattan covering everything south of the 59th Street Bridge — during a visit to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. “I was hooked after that,” Nestor tells C&I. “Then, the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it.” Now, with 15 years of shooting photos under his belt (his No. 1 activity when he wasn’t fighting crime or running marathons), Nestor teaches a photography workshop at the Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana. That’s where he captured Painted, the shot that takes home the gold in this year’s C&I photo contest.

A powerful portrait of a decorated palomino, it reminds us of the majestic nature of the equine and the historical significance of symbols painted on Native American war horses to ensure safety and victory. Whatever the graphics — a circle around the eye and nostrils invoking keen vision and sense of smell, handprints on the chest signifying the takedown of an enemy — you could hardly ask for a more compelling equine photograph. “It was one of those photo ideas in your head that when it comes to life, you look at the image and think, Yeah, that worked,” Nestor says. “I think looking at that image shows the soul of the horse.”

Wildlife had long been the focus of Nestor’s photographic passion, but when he started training his lens on horses out West, something clicked. “I was always amazed by horses. Especially the power of a horse. I just find them incredible. I did a horse shoot with a company called Triple D in Whitefish, and I just got hooked on all the Western stuff, and I guess I rediscovered my deep-rooted longing to be a cowboy.”

In fact, horse culture is one of the draws that’s convinced Nestor to finally follow his childhood dream. As of December, after 23 years of working for the New York Police Department, he has traded the asphalt and skyscrapers for the big skies and mountains of Montana.

See last year’s winner.

From the February/March 2017 issue.