(or video shoot!)
This may not be something trainers talk about often, but we should! Photoshoots with horses is a common thing! Whether they are for a senior portrait, maternity session, for social media, or pictures for our homes… we like to get nice photos of our horses.
We want the horses to look alert, with their attention directed towards the photographer, eyes open, ears forward, and either standing still or moving at higher speeds. We want majestic, posed, gorgeous. I get it. I want these too.
The trouble is these poses and behaviors are often the result of stress or worry. We’ve been conditioned to find stressed horses visually appealing unfortunately, because we struggle to recognize the difference between a horse with its attention captured and a horse on high alert. So we set the stage for creating worry and stress, capture that, and then put these pictures up everywhere. And so the conditioning cycle continues.
So what do we do? And how do we do it while being able to still get beautiful pictures of our horses?
First: Equine Photographers and Horse Owners/Caregivers alike need to study equine behavior, facial expressions, and signs of stress.
Second: Prepare your horse ahead of time positions/ behaviors you’d like to achieve, and in the locations you’d like to achieve them. If you want your horse to pose with ears forward standing still, train that behavior. (Personally I like to capture this through clicker training, it’s not hard at all.) If you want your horse to trot down the beach, gradually expose them to the beach with positive conditioning and take it slow. If you want three horses to stand together, practice ahead of time and make it enjoyable for everyone!
Third: Prepare your horse for the photoshoot equipment and people. If you're going to have lights, introduce your horse to lights beforehand. Get a friend to bring their fancy camera out for a little practice shoot ahead of time and have them moving around, doing the shutter sounds, etc, using lots of positive conditioning. If you're going to use special tack, practice ahead of time!
Fourth: During the day of the shoot, schedule PLENTY of time so you don’t have to feel stressed or pressured. It may cost a little more, but you’ll feel happier and your horse will be less stressed. (For my crew I usually schedule half and full day photo shoots so we can take our time.) You can also use props to help get your horse’s attention, but keep them lowkey. Think of something your horse might *look* at briefly, but then would quickly approach and investigate.
Fifth: Try and avoid “show day syndrome”. Meaning, keep your routine familiar and try not to do too much different that may make your horse worried. I usually bathe mine the day before, I choose locations close to their familiar training/living areas where their friends are close by.
Sixth: Have fun! Relax. I don’t know about you, but my favorite photos are the ones I feel truly capture the relationship between my horse and I in an authentic way. I don’t like to look at photos later and know that the horse was stressed or I was not enjoying myself. I like to recall a positive memory. That’s what makes the photo special to me. So maybe you don’t get a perfectly squared up, both ears forward, sterile white stockings photo.. But you get something REAL with a happy memory. And that to me is the most important thing.