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Preparing Your Horse For a Photo Shoot


By Nancy Brannon

When showcasing your horse to the public in photographs, whether in a print publication or online, you want your horse to look absolutely stunning. There are at least three components that will facilitate getting that “glamour shot” for your horse: healthy coat, immaculate grooming (including clipping), and ground manners so that the handler can “pose” the horse at the best angle, and the horse will stand still for being photographed.

Photographer Pam Gamble, who regularly rides and drives horses, offers this advice for photographing your horse:
“To me the best portraits are taken with a long lens. When shooting a 3/4 head shot, people usually want to fill the whole frame with the horse and with a regular or wide angle lens the horse's head will be distorted and appear huge. A telephoto lens will collapse the image and is much more flattering to horses and people. 

“It really takes three people to get good shots: Photographer, handler, and ears person. Have a designated person to get the horse’s ears forward.  A white plastic bag, grain, or something to attract the horse’s attention can be used.  
“If the aperture is opened up a bit, (smaller f-stop number), the depth of field is decreased and the background will be blurred, which focuses the eye on the subject. This technique is a staple of portrait photographers. 

“Shoot from a low angle and have the sun low in the sky and behind your back (watch for your shadow).  This low light will illuminate your horse in a very flattering way without any weird shadows that might make him look pot-bellied and sway-backed. If the sun is not cooperating and it is too bright or high in the sky, shoot in open shade.
“If you have time, play around with different settings and lighting situations. Have fun!”

Photographer Liz Pantall, who broke and trained horses for 20 years, offered these suggestions:

“Don’t photograph the horse straight on; that angle makes the horse’s head look huge. Rather than standing up, the photographer should take the photo from a lower angle; this will give a better shot of the horse.

“The photographer needs to know horses in general. And the horse needs to get used to the camera. Test the horse’s reaction to a flash.  You can get a reaction from the horse, i.e., rearing, striking with the front foot. Be aware of the particular horse you’re photographing and who’s handling the horse. Don’t get into an enclosed area with the horse. Have an experienced handler handling the horse for you when photographing.

“Grooming is important. Don’t photograph a hairy horse on a muddy day! For proper presentation of the horse, the horse needs to be clean, clipped, and well groomed. Some people think it’s important to put Baby Oil around the horse’s nose and ears, but this isn’t necessary. Just as I don’t want to photograph a person wearing a ton of make-up, extras on the horse aren’t necessary. Trim the bridle path, the hairs off the nose, and around the coronet, if really hairy. The feet should be neatly trimmed.

“Get the horse’s attention and the ears up! The horse should look alert, but not like he’s ready to blow up. Be patient and take time to photograph the horse on more than one day.

“Take lots of photos in the right lighting and pay attention to background. You don’t want extraneous objects in the background that will detract from the horse. You want to show a good photo of the horse’s conformation, so don’t have things in the background that will draw attention away from the horse’s conformation.

“The photograph should reflect the horse’s personality, and should show the horse’s specific discipline. If you’re trying to sell the horse, you might consider showing the horse at its gaits.

“Generally, have the horse look like he has been cared for. Keep him clean, use the right light, and a good background.”

In Covertside magazine, you will often find stunning photographs made by the professional photographers at Middleburg Photo, Karen Monroe and Doug Gehlsen, who specialize in equestrian photography, particularly foxhunting. They regularly schedule portrait sessions with people and their horses. They have several recommendations for preparing for the photo shoot. See their photos at:

Karen’s advice:

“Time of day for taking photographs: early morning and evening light are our favorites.
Present a well-groomed horse!
Clean tack is a must for those close-up shots. This often catches folks off guard, as they don't think the camera will pick up the dirt, but it does. Buckles need to be shiny!
Present a happy horse with a full tummy, so he is relaxed and not looking for the feed tub.
Use fly spray if it is in summer; kicking at flies makes for bad photos.”

From Trish Stanfill, stallion owner:

“When I get ready to take pictures of my horses for sale, it's important to make sure that, at first glance, a prospective buyer sees something spectacular about the horse. I start by washing my colt and knocking all the dirt off. No one wants to see manure spots or dirty legs! Groom your horse as you would if you were entering a show ring. It makes a big difference to have the mane, tail and forelock shining. Trim, paint and ‘spit shine’ your colt!

“It is a wise idea to set up the landscape to compliment your horse's best features. Find a place at your farm that you think is picture worthy. A beautiful background can emphasize a horse’s good looks, while an unattractive or cluttered background can detract from the most handsome horse!

“Make sure the light is sufficient to show color and definition.

“In the Quarter Horse market, photos tend to focus on the hind end. So, I position my colt in a way that best emphasizes the rear without taking away from the rest of his conformation. Try not to get too close to the head or the hindquarters when taking the picture because that can make the horse look out or proportion. Stand back and get the full view!

 “People want to see calm, quiet horses with physical capabilities for the job they are purchasing a horse to do. Obviously different events require different physical qualities. It would be beneficial to photograph according to your market’s desire. Know what you are trying to accomplish and ‘dress’ your horse accordingly.”

The “bible” on proper horse grooming is Grooming to Win by Susan Harris. It is now available in its third edition.  Susan is an international clinician, riding teacher, equestrian author and artist. A Senior Centered Riding Instructor and Clinician, Susan apprenticed with Sally Swift. In addition to the Grooming book, she has written numerous horse books including three U.S. Pony Club Manuals of Horsemanship, and the USPC Guides to Longeing, Bandaging, and Conformation.Read more about her at:

The Horse Channel offers advice on how to Prepare Your Horse for a Photo Shoot at:

International equine photographer Scott Trees offered a webinar entitled A Primer on Equine Photography for Marketing this past summer. In his presentation, Trees discussed the importance of the image in marketing, how it applies to the equine industry and the many considerations involved in photographing horses. Says Trees, “With today’s technology, people will try on their own to take pictures of their horses. There are times when this works, but there are also times when it is necessary to hire a professional.”

A memorable image is critical for good advertising and promotion. Scott Trees is noted for creating powerful, unforgettable advertising images of horses. The dramatic style and emotional portrayal of his subjects is a specialty of Trees. For more information about Scott Trees photography, visit:

Importance of Diet on a Healthy Coat. The AQHA publication America’s Horse Daily informs readers: “A balanced diet is vital to keeping your horse’s skin healthy. Skin and hair lacking necessary nutrients will not function properly and more susceptible to damage and infections.

“There are some specific vitamins and minerals that will ensure that your horse feels and looks his best.

“Biotin helps metabolize the fats and proteins essential for skin and coat health. Inadequate biotin levels may result in dryness, flaking, fungal infections, a fine and brittle coat or hair loss.

“Niacin and pantothenic acid (vitamins B3 and B5) help release energy from food for a sound skin and coat. Riboflavin (Vitamin B12) aids in healing skin trauma. Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) facilitates hair growth and reduces skin inflammation.

“Vitamin A (retinol) is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is critical in promoting good skin and hair. Vitamin E, another antioxidant, retards cellular aging, fights stress and supports the immune system, as well as contributing to thriving skin tissues.

“Minerals also play an important role; imbalances and deficiencies are a common cause of coat-related problems. Selenium contributes to the efficiency of the immune system and also works with vitamin E. But don’t over-supplement selenium, as it has a narrow safety margin.

“A zinc deficiency may cause slow hair growth and shedding, delayed hair re-growth, flaking skin, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to skin irritations and infections, and a dull coat color. Copper is another key mineral for the production of dark coat pigments; inadequate copper is often why a horse’s coat and mane bleach out from sun exposure.

“Protein and amino acids are crucial for skin and coat health. Although a deficiency in protein is rare, some amino acids might be lacking in a horse’s diet. Sulfur amino acids originating from methionine are the most abundant in hair, but the coat also requires generous levels of lysine.

“If your horse is getting a balanced diet and still has skin problems, consider adding fat. It’s what gives the skin and coat a soft texture and forms a protective waterproof seal between individual cells and around the shaft of the hair.

“The most important fats are the ones the horse can’t make themselves: the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fresh grass contains high amounts of these fats, but they are lost when grass is dried and baled into hay. A variety of oils and other foodstuffs have these nutrients, but flax seed contains them in the balance that is most beneficial and with fewer calories.”

Bathing and Grooming. America’s Horse Daily continues with advice on healthy coats: “Bathing is a necessity for horses that show, but shampooing too frequently can strip the natural oils, leaving the skin and hair without protection against excessive drying.” Choose a shampoo that is formulated for and the correct pH for horses. Shampoos made for humans, babies, dogs and other species may be the wrong pH for horses. Be sure to rinse the shampoo thoroughly, especially in hard to reach places like under the belly and behind the elbows, mane and tail. Follow up your rinse with a moisturizing conditioner that will replace natural oils that have been removed, and nourish the skin and hair.

“Bathe less frequently and groom regularly. Investing in regular grooming will not only remove scurf and dust, but will also stimulate the glands to bring out the natural oils in the skin. Many top show horses are groomed up to three times per day to achieve that deep bloom.”

Care of grooming tools is important, too, because you don’t want the brushes to put on more dirt than they take off. Do not let dirt build up on brushes; knock off the dirt and hairs after each grooming session (that’s what those metal curry combs are for!). Your grooming box should include a curry comb (not metal for the horse), a medium brush, a soft body brush, a rub rag, a hoof pick, and a plastic comb or brush for mane and tail. Products like Show Sheen are essential for removing tangles from the tail so that the brush can smoothly glide through without removing a lot of tail hair.

Additional Grooming Resources. U.S. Pony Club (USPC) is one of the best information sources for teaching youngsters how to present horses at their best. At official USPC events, a Pony Clubber must pass formal inspection before being allowed to mount and ride. Formal inspection is not about glamour, but is workmanlike in approach.  However, attention to every detail is important! The horse must be immaculately clean, and is thoroughly checked by the inspector, who pays close attention to often neglected areas. There should be no scruff in the mane and tail, and the dock and sheath areas should be clean. Formal inspection also includes the tack: all tack on the horse must be immaculately clean, supple, in good repair, and fit the horse properly.

USPC describes all the required equipment that should be in a grooming kit at this webpage: The 2010 USPC Horse Management Handbook is another excellent information source on grooming equipment, and also feeding, first aid kits for horses and humans, a utility kit, a tack cleaning kit, and more. It is available online at: A variety of instructional materials are available from USPC: Click the link to Grooming, Tack, and Turnout.

Vetrolin has a Grooming Guide available online at the Farnam website:

For ease of shampooing your horse with a shampoo that gets the horse clean with a minimum of suds and rinses cleanly, eZall Total Body Wash is one of the best. It’s like running your horse through the car wash, and you horse is clean and shiny when the bath is completed.

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