How To Get Your Horse to Behave Like a Photoshoot Pro!

So, I’m pretty sure that every horse-owner I work with thinks the following…
And I have to admit now, I’m a liar. This blog is not about getting your horse to behave perfectly on your photoshoot. Because I’m not unrealistic and nine times out of ten, that’s impossible. Horses aren’t pro models, they don’t understand what’s going on, they don’t want to stand and pose. And that’s not a problem. As long as you have control over your horse and they aren’t dangerous, I don’t expect impeccable behaviour. In fact, far from it.
I have been around horses since the age of 3. I’m now 26. So I’ve come across horses of shapes, sizes and temperaments. I know that to get the best out of these animals, I have to work with them, not get them to work with me. In essence, they are in charge. We just don’t let them in on this little secret. We keep up the pretence that we are totally in control and that we wear the trousers but to an extent, I’m afraid for the purposes of their photoshoot, we let them call the shots. Having experience with horses, in every capacity, from riding, to handling, to competing, to photographing, provides you with a wealth of understanding, allowing you to anticipate and read them as a second nature.
The likelihood is that your horse will probably try to eat grass, whilst they’re standing in a lush, green field and you’re smiling sweetly at the camera. They’ll probably be terrified of the tree we want them to stand under. They’ll probably stand with their ears flat back as I fling everything I have in my bag up into the air to get their attention. They’ll probably see something very interesting in the distance, but it’ll be completely the opposite direction that we wanted them to look. In short, horses are a pain in the bum. And as a self-confessed, seasoned horse fanatic, I am totally allowed to say that.
I’m convinced that when I leave a client’s yard, most of them are worried that their horse hasn’t played ball well enough for me to have a range of usable images. I’m pretty sure that you could ask any one of my past clients and they’d tell you that they were worried that their horse wasn’t good enough at posing, for me to have gotten the results they’d seen from my past photoshoots. I find that they always ask me if I think I got any good shots and nine times out of ten they apologise for their horse being difficult or fidgety. This always makes me laugh. I’ve worked with so many different horses, all with completely individual characters and quirks. And I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but I have never walked away from a shoot with the concern that I haven’t got what I wanted, or needed to get. I’ve never met a horse that I couldn’t work with or that I found too difficult to photograph.
Here’s an example of a client who didn’t think things had gone to plan…
I’ve worked with highly strung stallions, possessive mares and their unruly foals, cheeky youngsters who’ve been all too keen to take a nibble out of their handler throughout the shoot. And never, not once, have I left thinking ‘I’m worried that I didn’t get any good shots.’
Firstly, this is because, as I said a second ago, on my shoots, we work with your horses. I’ll always keep your horse’s tolerance levels, attention span and happiness in the forefront of my mind. If your horse is scared of a space we want to use (and obviously I mean genuinely scared, and not just providing his or her own entertainment, by pretending they can see horse-eating monsters) we won’t use it. We’ll look around and find somewhere they are happy to stand. If they won’t stand still because they’re being bugged by flies, we’ll move. If they’re getting bored, we’ll get them to move around more and keep them thinking and busy. At the end of the day, this isn’t a training exercise. Our aim isn’t to overcome your horse’s insecurities and naughty habits. You can save that for your schooling sessions. This is a photoshoot and the idea is to get great photographs. If your horse is getting aggravated or losing patience, we’ll change our approach. Ponies with their ears back or spinning round in circles, aren’t going to make attractive images.
The second reason that I’ve never finished a shoot without getting the images I wanted is because I love horses with character. You call it naughty, I call it personality. 😉 Yeh, ok, so I know that isn’t always the case, but for the most part, it’s totally ok with me that your horse is a little cheeky or has his own agenda, because my mission is to capture the horse you know and love, and these quirks are part of that. They’re animals, they’re alive, they have their own mind. And as frustrating as that can be, it can also be incredibly useful for your shoot. A lot of the time, I find that when a pony is a bit of a pickle, it makes people laugh. Photographs of people laughing naturally are always a winner.
The important thing is to keep your cool. Don’t lose your temper or get stressed. If you aren’t happy with something and I haven’t already noticed, tell me! Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am very laid back by nature. My Mum always told me that if I was anymore laid back, I’d fall over. And I really believe that it’s one of the reasons I can do this job. I’m patient and calm and not at all worried about working with horses who don’t know how to behave like statues.
I hope this has given you a little insight into the way I view the behaviour and personalities of the animals I photograph. I absolutely adore my job and the best thing about it is meeting so many beautiful and individual horses, and endeavouring to capture their personalities on my camera in a way that you will recognise and love. So, please, please don’t be concerned about your horse not being a pro or being a bit of a fidget-bum. We’ll get around it.
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