Animal Portraits: The Study of a Horse


A Noble Subject

I’ve always liked horses. They have a graceful beauty that draws my attention whenever I see them standing in a field or gazing over a wooden railing with gentle curiosity. I’d never really had the chance to get to know these gorgeous animals, however, until I embarked on a photo shoot at Potten Farm Equestrian.

In my limited experience, horses were faithful pets, a little like a dog who was too big to come into the house. What I learned on my day at the farm was that they are capable of so much more than carrying human cargo and pulling carts. These amazing creatures are highly intelligent and compassionate animals who can help to treat a multitude of ailments. Hippotherapy is drawn from the Greek for “treatment with the help of horses” and is employed with patients suffering from autism, arthritis, stroke, head injuries and a host of other disorders. They are companions, helpers, and healers of both body and soul.

In setting up for the photo session, I wanted to find a way to capture the essence of this noble beast, beyond a simple composition of hooves and mane.

The Lonely Irish Hunter

My introduction to Harley (the "horse name") was memorable. He exuded a comforting warmth that invited an instant friendship. Horses are social animals, and you’ll usually find them keeping the quiet company together as they graze. Unfortunately, there was something about Harley that the other horses couldn’t tolerate. He’d been bitten and harassed to the point where he had to be kept apart, and now spent most of his time alone. My heart went out to this beautiful Irish Hunter who could only socialize with his human companions.

I found Harley in a fine dramatic mood, willing to pose patiently for my camera as I sought to take the perfect shot. I didn’t want to go home with a series of pictures that only paid homage to his rich coat or thick mane. Rather, I struggled to record the soft intimacy of his gaze and the half-smile he seemed to flash every time I moved my lens. Harley evoked a complicated mixture of exuberance and empathy, from one angle a joyful playmate, from another a wise and knowing confidante. Above all, Harley was a presence who demanded to be acknowledged, respected, and loved.

I moved up a notch in my understanding of animal portraiture after my time with Harley. I learned a lot about horses, but even more about the need to isolate their spirit before pressing the shutter. Like people, animals will let you see their true selves if you take the time to build trust - and share a little of yourself in return.

I found “The Dynamic guide for horses lovers” by Carol J. Walker to be very helpful in preparing for my equine photo-shoot, and recommend it to anyone with a love of horses.