When photographing horses, knowledge of horse conformation, timing, and lighting are crucial to the success of the image. Having been a horse person all of my life, I can sense when the shot is about to unfold because of the cues the horse will give such as a perked ear, a swish of a tail, or a subtle head movement. Its always easier to photograph your own horses, because you are on your own time and purpose; but a horse photographer can always walk away with good, solid images because of approaching the shoot with an open mind. You have to look to see what is there. Among this set of images are photographs taken because of lighting, mood, timing, angles, and all are gifts for photographing that moment in time.
Photographing people and horses together can be extremely rewarding. These four images illustrate different viewpoints and access. Of course, the paddock at Churchill Downs is available to racegoers from across the fence and watching the horses being saddled and riders up is thrilling. We were fortunate that day to watch world famous winning jockey Calvin Borel ride that day but best of all was to see him up close in the paddock and see his lips pursed and talking to his mount. It’s a trait he is known for and I was able to capture that on camera that day. Portrait photography with horses involves safety first of all and secondly to show relationships between the horse and people. The image of the show horse leaving the ring with a smiling rider and champion ribbons was a moment as she reached to pet her horse and express her pride of him. Flash, natural light, and being ready for the image was key, as I could see the excitement in horse and rider.The rodeo image was taken because I had watched that rider and horse work all evening, and it was obvious they were a good team. My attention had been drawn to them again and again. That particular steer had been an issue for them to remove from the arena and I was ready for the moment that presented itself.
Photography is sometimes being in the right place at the right time. While visiting Arlington National Cemetery with my family one early spring day, I was witness to the funeral procession of what I have read to be the casket of an Army or Marine Corp commissioned officer holding the rank of Colonel or above. Presidents of our nation are accorded the same honor. The six gray horses are paired into three teams, lead team, swing team, and wheel team. All of the team is saddled but only the horses on the left have mounted riders. In the days of old, one horse was mounted and one horse carried feed and provisions. The horses and riders train constantly for this duty. They are members of the Caisson platoon of the 3d United States Infantry “The Old Guard.” The riderless horse being led behind the caisson is indicative of the rank of the deceased. If you notice in the photograph of the black riderless horse, the saddle is empty and the rider’s boots reversed in the stirrups. This is in acknowledgement that the warrior will never ride again. These images were taken without flash and with discretion as not to dishonor the mourners as they followed the caisson. Information compliments of the website of Caisson Platoon HHC, 1st Battalion, 3D U.S. Infantry Regiment
An afternoon at the races is one of the most fun things ever! Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky is one of the most iconic tracks in America! Some of the greatest Thoroughbreds ever raced have run on that track! Churchill Downs is a horse photographer’s dream to photograph and it would take several planned visits to be able to be able to only partly photograph the images which are available. The races, the horses, the jockeys, the railbirds, the fans, the stables, the celebrities, the trainers, the historic buildings, the stables, the winner’s circle and celebrated stakes races on special days such as Derby Day. Its a who’s who of horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners. These few images were shot just in a quick stop while in Louisville on a race day in the spring. Another lesson in photography; know where to go to get the best images !
In the fall of 2016 I decided to try my hand at documentary photography. The rules of documentary photography are basic. You shoot it as you see it, try to get the most interesting angles, images should tell a story, and no editing other than basic processing and cropping. Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia is the home of several wild pony herds who live among the mountains and valleys from the Grayson Highlands to Mount Rogers. The ponies are descended from coal mine ponies which were placed on the balds in the 70’s. The local coal mines did not need ponies anymore to pull the coal carts from the mines and the state of Virginia decided that a good use for the retired ponies was to eat and keep brush down off the natural balds on the mountains. These ponies are descendents of that original herd. The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association is a family group who cares for the ponies’ needs throughout the year from providing veterinary care or hay in the cold winter. Once a year in September a week long gentle roundup is held and the Wilburn Ridge Pony Association camps on the mountain and looks over the needs of the herds from health care to weaning of the spring foals. At the end of the week on Saturday, an annual pony auction is held and the spring foals are in demand from buyers all over the country. The price of a foal can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The proceeds are then used to continue the care of the ponies on the mountain. I made the drive up to Virginia four times, most days arriving just about sunrise and not leaving till the sun set. My backpack had two camera bodies, three fast lenses, a flash, extra batteries and memory cards. I would pack a lunch and snacks, plenty of water hanging off my pack, and trekking poles. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park thus many tourists and hikers were in the area at all times. Finding the ponies in the early heat of the fall meant that they were higher on the mountain and you had to go look for them. As the air cooled, the ponies would come closer to the base of the trails and graze. I would use my long lens to ascertain at a distance which ponies were where, because generally where one particular pony was, you would find another that hung with it. You learned who grouped with who and where you might find the stallion. It was always amazing how well the ponies blended into the brush and could hide. It’s always exciting to go to the mountain and spend a day with the ponies.
One of the rules in photography is to wait for the shot. This method of shooting takes a lot of patience and most of all a hope that something is gonna happen. I was waiting one day to see if the stallion was going to appear; I watched the herd mingle and graze. This little mare caught my attention as she laid on her right side to scratch an apparent itch. Then…she did this. She sat up on her haunches and instead of rising to all four feet, she started scooting her herself around using her front two feet and then she crossed them! And never raised off of her haunches, I was flabbergasted. I have watched horses for over 50 years and have never seen such. The little mare then laid on her left side and scratched that itch. Once satisfied, she rose onto all four legs, shook and walked off. It was like watching a circus pony trick. I don’t know if she had seen this done before and imitated it or she had reasoned it out on her own but to get all 12 frames was exciting. It is one of my favorite images!