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From Prop to Partner – Capturing the Bond in Your Equine Photoshoot


I don’t know about you, but I geek out when my clients say they want to include their fur babies in their session. Like I was already pumped about the shoot, but now we’re talking 5-shots of espresso after 4 pm pumped! And then it hits you, how am I going to pose them? What if they don’t cooperate? How do I keep control of the session? What do you mean they aren’t talking about their dog or cat?!

That’s right, your client just said they want to include their 1,200lb horse. A freaking horse y’all! And your heart skips, maybe from excitement, maybe from fear, but you’ve got the opportunity for an epic shoot on your hands and you want to make the most of it.

As a horse owner and equine photographer, there’s nothing I love more than photos that capture the bond between a horse and its owner. It’s the images that make you stop and feel the partnership shared that is my absolute favorite. When you head into a session with horses, focus on the bond. Don’t let the horse simply become a prop to your session.

Which is easy if you are a horse person. You get what I’m talking about because, at some point in your life, you’ve had that bond. But I hear you…you who have never even ridden a horse, let alone shared a bond with one. So how do you bring that out without over-posing and creating stiff photos?

First, get to know the relationship your client and their horse share. There’s a story between them, there always is. Use that, ask those questions, stir those memories and you’re already ahead of the ball to bring out the emotions. Did your client rescue their mare from a kill-pen and save their life? Maybe they’ve both overcome huge injuries to make it back into the winner’s circle. Or maybe, this is the horse that taught your client how to ride, and their children how to ride, and they want photos to remember all those moments before they have to say goodbye. Those emotions are going to lead you to capture beautiful photos that highlight the bond between them.

Sammie D. Photography

So you’ve asked the questions, you know the history, you can appreciate the path they’ve traveled together. Now what? Maybe at this point, you’ve moved over to Google or Pinterest to start planning shots you want to include. Maybe your client has sent you a slew of images they love and want to do. That’s great! Just understand, most of those images you are going to see don’t happen just because the owner stands beside their horse and smiles.

Here’s a secret, the horse will more than likely care less about photos, and care a whole heck of a lot more about the grass under their hooves. So you’ve got to feel confident enough to prompt your client into creating those Pinterest-worthy moments.

My favorite prompt is to tell my clients to play with their horse. Sometimes it flops, but most of the time, this leads to warm embraces, tickling the horse’s top lip for funny shots and always, natural smiles and candid moments. If you need to prompt them a little more, ask your client where the horse’s favorite spot to be scratched is, what the horse’s little quirks are. These encourage those warm fuzzy feelings and are typically followed with little stories that help you get to know your client more. My own horse loves his teeth rubbed, he’s a total weirdo like that, but it makes for some comical photos!

Here are a few more general tips when horses are involved in your session:

  1. You, as the photographer, should remember to wear closed-toed shoes. Most likely your client already is, or they are comfortable around their horse (and assume their own risk) to wear open-toed shoes. This keeps your feet protected from those hooves, and gives you the freedom to move around for your photos! I know it seems like a simple thing, but I’ve had non-horsey friends join me for photoshoots, and unless I mention it, they typically don’t wear the right footwear. 
  2. Ask your client to bring some treats for the horse. These can help in a few different ways. You can have your client hide one in their hand, and have their horse wrap around them like they are hugging. You can also have them hide it in their hand just to get better interaction, nuzzling shots. You can also hang on to the treat so the horse focuses on you for a few shots. This is normally easiest with wrappers since they make noise.
  3. Bring an assistant, bonus points if they are comfortable around horses! There can be a lot going on, and a lot to wrangle when you are by yourself. Have an assistant along with you so you can focus on taking photos, and your assistant can help with capturing the horse’s attention so those ears and eyes look great in the photos!
  4. Speaking of attention-getting, I’ll share a few of my favorite things you can bring from around the home that helps grab a horse’s attention. My favorite is the ‘All Ears’ selfie app. I downloaded it years ago, but it’s preloaded with tons of horse sounds that help get those ears facing forward. I also love grabbing a dog toy that’s been lying around my house. The squeaker works great for getting attention, the smell of the toy can get you those lip-lifted, “laughing” images, or when all else fails, you can toss it around to the ground to get the horse looking in the general direction you want! Mirrors, feather dusters and toy horse sticks are all tools I’ve used during my sessions as well.
  5. Most importantly, have fun and breath! If you start getting frustrated, your client and their horse will sense it. If the horse isn’t cooperating, ask the owner to walk it around and change the scene. Just like kids, horses get restless and bored. Give them breaks, and use those breaks to focus on the smaller candid moments that bring you back to the bond between your client and their horse. 

Sammie D. Photography

Sammie D. is an equine and portrait photographer based in Clarksville, Tennessee and travels throughout Middle Tennessee. She was a photographer in the U.S. Army for 9 years of Active duty and enjoys spending time with her family, a motley crew of rescue dogs & cats and her Off-the-Track Thoroughbred.

This article was featured in Summerana Magazine | January 2020 issue

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