Horses & Art: ‘The Indeliable Project’

Caitrin O’Shea takes us inside a photography project by Heather McManamy of ShortHorse Studios that aims to capture the spiritual intersection of horse and rider.

From Caitrin:

The Indeliable Project

Equestrians know that horses are etched into our beings. Each leaves an indelible image, like a tattoo on the soul. The Indelible Project is being put forth to express our experiences–our joys, sorrows, humorous moments and devastating losses–as though we would wear them on our skin.

Each image will be created from two separate sessions: one with you and one with your horse. Both sessions can be done in one day, but it may not be necessary or possible to do so.

ShortHorse Studios (Fitchburg, WI)

(c)SHS. One of Heather’s “Signature Collection”
which was the precursor to the Indelible session.
(c)SHS “Signature Collection”


Let’s begin with an introduction. Heather McManamy of ShortHorse Studios is an artist first, photographer second. I think the order is important, because many people can pick up an expensive camera and call themselves photographers, but there’s a lot more to it then picking the right lens and knowing when to push the button!

Now off of my soap box…

I asked Heather if she would like to collaborate on a story for Horse Nation–maybe I could tag along on one of her sessions? She did one better! She said “Let’s do one of YOU so that you get the whole inside process.”

I, of course, said Heck Yes.

We started the process by talking through different ideas for the final image. The question that really set me on my heels was, “What part of your body has changed because of riding?”  Really when you stop to think about it, this is a big question. There may be injuries, there are certainly muscles, and there is the emotional toll, both the sweat and tears but also pride and confidence.

(c) SHS. The first Indelible Session.
The bond between horse and rider.


Have you ever experienced the stranger or new acquaintance saying “Oh, you ride horses? The one time I rode a horse I…” and then they tell you the story. Even if they themselves didn’t actually ride the horse, even if it’s not actually their story… they want to share it with you. No one ever walks up to Lance Armstrong and tells him about the time they went bicycling. It’s one of the things I find most fascinating about horses, and it’s what this project is all about. If horses could leave such an indelible mark on all of these people, just think about all the millions of ways they have changed you!

The concept that Heather developed was spot on. As I was an eventer, we were going to focus on strength and courage, whereas the first Indelible Session sought to capture the grace and bond between a dressage rider and her horse. Each shoot is completely customized to the particular horse and rider. For my shoot, we used a dark red dress and fabric, with gold make-up (aka, my cross country colors). We did the photoshoot on our cross country course while the apple trees were just starting to lose their blooms, so the setting was pretty magical.

(c) SHS. A selection from the first session.


We took pictures with me standing in front of jumps, standing on jumps, laying on jumps, walking up jumps. Heather also climbed trees, stood on jumps, and ran circles around me in order to catch me from multiple angles, with different lighting. Her part-time assistant, and full-time Significant Other, Mike, was also constantly on the move, making sure the light was coming from just the right place. All together, we were at it for about two hours. It didn’t feel like that long, because the whole process was very fun. As barn girls, we don’t often get a chance to get all dressed up and be girly, so it was a nice change of pace, and since riders tend to be pretty physically fit, we tend to “clean up pretty well.”


The horse session was much faster paced. What’s that old Hollywood saying? Never work with children or animals? That’s where Heather’s mettle came in! We took my cute little 4-year-old up to the water jump, which was actually very deep after recent rains! Even my trusty Dubarrys were no match… they don’t protect from the horse splashing water into the tops of your boots!! So, we had a young horse who’s still a bit green with water, me not able to go more than 5 feet in from the edge because of the depth, the sun was setting, and somehow Heather had to get a cool photo before the light was gone!

(c) SHS. Zahra’s session.


Well, of course, Heather stepped up. We got Zahra playing in the water, pawing at it, jumping down the banks, galloping through it… and Heather caught the playful spirit of my horse perfectly! We took pictures for two hours with me, and only 20 minutes with Z, but they. were. awesome. Zahra’s just more naturally photogenic I suppose!

The last piece was pulled together by Heather; in my imagination it was done in the middle of the night, with the light of her monitor as the only glow, and a bottomless cup of coffee, as she bent layers, masks, and vectors to her will. The final image, in my opinion, is almost ethereal. A benevolent horse goddess looking down upon her creation. What do you think, HN?

(c) SHS. The Final Image.


So, you think you want one too? Here are the requirements:

Candidates must:

  • be comfortable with showing some skin (no “parts”) in a safe environment
  • be comfortable in front of the camera or willing to try
  • own or have access to a horse
  • have a horse that can tolerate lighting equipment, props, etc.
  • be open and willing to take direction as well as initiative – this is a collaboration and ideas are welcome!
  • sign a model and liability release

Visit for more!

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