a girl and her welsh pony

Preparing for a Photo Shoot; How to Handle a Tricky Horse…!

Feb 25, 2017 | Preparing for a Photo Shoot

Week 5 of my blog series is all about How to handle a tricky horse on a photo shoot! So far we’ve covered ‘What type of shoot is right for me?’ ‘What to wear (Humans!),’ ‘What to wear (Horses!),’ and ‘Where to go…Location, location, location!’ But now for the nitty gritty!

I know this is something which people worry about a lot in the run up to a shoot and even puts some off. Whilst it can make a shoot a little trickier and it might limit a couple of things throughout the shoot you will still get some gorgeous photos of your horse. However uncooperative they attempt to be…..

First of all I have to say that safety is as important to me as getting amazing images so it is vital to me that neither your nor your horse’s safety is ever compromised. Communication is the key to any shoot but particularly with a tricky horse. At the end of the day you know your horse best so I will be guided by you as to how comfortable you feel with locations or poses I may suggest and if you don’t feel happy or comfortable then I’m never going to force the issue.

I do however have over 20 years experience dealing with, riding and working with horses, both at home, in competition and in the film and photography industries so I have a fairly good idea of what’s sensible to suggest and gauge how your horse is reacting to various situations.

I will also say that it’s usually the horses who I’m warned about in advance that turn out to be absolute angels and the ones whose owners think are going to be absolute angels turn out to be the naughty ones…! So be warned!!

One of the first things to consider is if your horse is used to being out in the field all day do try and minimise the length of time they are left standing on the yard before their shoot. I know it’s important to keep them clean but having a fed up and cranky horse from the start can quickly change the mood of the shoot.

On that note I find the biggest difficulty to overcome on a shoot with a difficult horse isn’t necessarily the horses’ behaviour and lack of cooperation but it’s how the owner/person being photographed with them reacts to it. This for me can honestly be the hardest bit to work with. I do completely understand it’s stressful being in the middle of a photo shoot when your horse isn’t behaving itself, they may have stood on your toe, they may already have slobbered all over your white shirt (they may well have done both simultaneously!) but maintaining a positive outlook and a sense of humour can really be the difference between having an average shoot or an outstanding one.

I will tell you repeatedly throughout the shoot to relax, to keep smiling, to look lovingly at your horse (pretend if needs be!) because when they stand still for that fraction of a second or prick both their ears at the same time I really need you to look as though you are enjoying yourself and love your horse! (Despite the fact they may be acting like a total numpty!) It only takes a split second to get what I’m trying to capture once the horse has decided to look beautiful. There could be only one chance in a location where we will get your horse to relax/look alert/stand still and it could just be the location of the shoot and if you’re busy scowling at your horse it just isn’t going to work!

Often with a horse who’s nervy or spooky they will need to be settled into a location and I will of course give you that time to settle them down. However with a horse who gets bored easily it’s a case of getting in and out of a location while they still look interested and move on before they decide they have lost all interest in being photographed!

If a horse is being really difficult I will often suggest putting them back in their stable for 10 minutes with a haynet just to reset them a little before asking them to do anymore. It is important to remember that we are asking them to do something entirely out of the ordinary and we have to have patience with them. Taking them out into a field of long grass or their usual turn out field and expecting them to stand beautifully, prick their ears or turn their neck or nuzzle into you isn’t exactly what they are use to doing!

Shoots with tricky horses will often be pretty tiring, they will often run over in length (I’m rarely clock watching) but they can be every bit as rewarding as a shoot with the most well-behaved horse. My clients who have had tricky horses never fail to be amazed by the shots we do end up getting and if we all work together and maintain a sense of humour they can be some of the most entertaining shoots and don’t forget there will be some great outtakes from it all too!!

The photos below have been taken from some of my trickier shoots and I am fairly confident that you can go through them and not be able to tell what the horses and ponies were attempting to do split seconds before and after these particular photos were taken…

TOP TIP: The photos you see at the end of the process may look beautiful and the subjects carefree and serene and as if they have the best-behaved horse in the world but that is rarely how it feels when you’re actually on the shoot! Staying relaxed and keeping a smile on your face throughout though will most definately help the situation!

My advice to anyone with a tricky horse who is looking at having a photo shoot is to think about where your horse is most likely to be comfortable and behave itself. And then talk to me, before and during the shoot about any concerns you may have and together we will accommodate your horses’ behaviour, have great fun and get some gorgeous images throughout the session!

Until next weekend and the final blog of the series – ‘What to do with your photos,’

Ciara x

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