I’ve been lucky to be introduced to the world of photographing equestrian events by Athalens, a company that specialises in this field.
I rode a horse for a few years as a child but haven’t been on one for many years. I love the dignity and presence of horses and the strong connection that there is between horse and rider. Visually, the power and strength expressed in great movement and elegant angles creates some beautiful images.
I have photographed horses all my life, including at Point to Point meets, Spanish Fiestas, riding schools, in stables or paddocks, and in natural settings like the New Forest and the Camargue. But working through three or four days of eventing has been great fun and photographically challenging.
The day starts anytime between about 7 and 9 in the morning and ends between 5 and 7 in the evening with only very short breaks. Usually I am either shooting in the showjumping arena or out on the cross-country course. Dressage is rarely photographed in this way because of the chance of distracting the horses or rider from their transitions at the critical moment.
Show jumping is the most demanding because there are very few gaps in the day. Horses compete one after another with often the next horse already in the arena when the previous horse finishes their round. Standing in the middle and moving between shooting spots, each horse usually gets captured by me over 5 or 6 fences. If it’s not possible to cross a part of the arena due to the riding line then I will set up a remote camera on a trigger at a key fence.
Knowing how to behave in the arena is vital. Not telling a rider when they’ve lost their way, or ensuring that you shoulder your camera when someone has had a bad fall are just a couple of the issues. Getting a good relationship with the arena team and the course builder early on helps deal with any issues that arise in locating the best spot for photos – something that will change as the sun moves and the course changes between classes.
Whether jumping in the arena or going over obstacles on the cross-country, the best shots will be the horse at full stretch over fences. But other shots, with maybe some lower angles or ones which get the rider in just the right position on going through a fence or obstacle look fabulous also. Many are sold on the day and of course some look even better after a bit of work in the digital darkroom.
Eventing is dangerous, but all the riders and horses clearly enjoy it unless they are having an off day. Most times a rider is unseated it’s no big fuss and for safety riders are not allowed to continue when they have taken a tumble of any kind. Participants can get quite badly hurt in a fall, particularly on the cross-country course and anyone on or near the course needs to be alert and aware.
When you are standing on the course with expensive cameras and lenses you also need to be conscious of your own safety and those of others. Follow the course rules and any instructions given on the day. A good relationship with the fence judges is essential. A runaway horse once took out my tripod with an expensive camera and lens on it. Fortunately, whilst the tripod was a write-off, the camera and lens continued working fine. Phew!!
During a day of shooting I have usually walked between 6 to 8 miles with heavy camera kit and in all weathers. After an active 12 to 14 hour day it’s great that I still look forward to the next day or the next event, the people I meet and the challenge of more great photography. The horse commnunity are very special and good to be around.
Of course at an event there is only a very small amount of time with each horse compared with being able to prepare and shoot with horse and rider for a dedicated shoot of a couple of hours. In a bespoke shoot of horse and rider there is time to see different sides of your equine friend and your special relationship. If you’d like me to photograph you with your horse or an event you are involved in, just drop me a line and I’ll be in touch.