Most riders who contact me for horse and rider sessions want something similar: they want to look beautiful and show their love for their horses. This is my number one goal of all horse and rider sessions; and we always get it done even though sometimes naughty horses make us work for it. (See 2021 bloopers here.)
But sometimes people have an EPIC vision in mind… something a little outside the norm that they’ve been dreaming of. I love turning these ideas into reality, as long as we can do it safely. Here are some things to consider if you’ve got epic ideas!
- Horse Temperament
Eddie the Clydesdale (above) is a former Disneyland horse and as bombproof as I’ve ever seen. The hardest part of this session was getting him to climb the mountain faster than a snail’s pace. He was perfectly suited for this gig, but you can understand how not all horses would be good standing at the edge of a cliff while their rider practiced archery bareback with no reins. Any unfamiliar location can create a dangerous situation, so I encourage riders to have their horse visit their session location as many times as necessary before our session date until he’s very comfortable there. I believe that Eddie would be a chill dude even if we shot on the moon… but I would practice with my own horse, who has a much hotter temperament, even if i just wanted a session across the street from her farm.
2. Rider Comfort
Jenna (above) is a professional rider/trainer who has known both of these horses for years. The horses are wearing naked halters (removed in Photoshop after the fact) which gave Jenna very little control, but because she knew the horses so well, could predict how they behave around each other, and was confident in her ability to stay safe even if the unexpected occurred, we were able to get this shot. We also had two assistants nearby and we stayed in the arena the horses worked in every day for maximum safety.
(Side note: the unexpected DID occur right after we finished shooting… the black mare spooked and got loose, and both horses trotted up the hill back to the barn with Jenna still aboard the grey mare. We all had a good laugh about it–Jenna’s seat was so secure she was totally unfazed–but for a less advanced rider this could have been scary.)
3. Horse’s Previous Experience / Desensitization
Would you like to gallop on the beach with a fifteen foot long parachute train flying behind you? Of course. Who wouldn’t. Is your horse well suited for it? I’m going to guess that 9 out of 10 horses would need some serious desensitization before attempting it. Penny and Nicole (above) are long-time partners and have extensive costume class experience, as well as experience trailering to new and exciting locations. So they were perfect candidates for this session, and it went off flawlessly.
Again, using my own horse as an example, if I were planning to ask her to do something like this, I would first “test the waters” by actually hauling her the beach and assessing her reaction. If she handled it well, my next step would be to wear a tarp around my waist while riding to simulate the train. Here is a lightweight one that blows in the wind: Amazon Beach Blanket.
4. Team Power – Invite Your Trainer!
I am a lifelong horsewoman and I almost always have a horse-savvy assistant with me. But our primary focus is on getting the shot (and getting ears up!). If you want to do something risky, I highly recommend having your trainer or another experienced equestrian join us! In this session above, Campbell’s mom–a professional horse trainer–was standing next to Blondie (I edited her out in Photoshop). That allowed us to capture this perfectly relaxed and beautiful moment with zero stress.
When I did my own session with my horse, I asked my trainer to be in charge of handling Aria (and paid her for her time) which definitely put my mind at ease! And my feet were grateful too — I wore some long dresses and killer heels that would have been difficult to lead a horse in.
I want to make your horse and rider photograph dreams come true… with the right pre-planning and the right team on board, we can make it happen!