Say ‘Carrot’: How to Include Horses in Your Engagement Shoot

Horses+wedding= certain doom (at least in my overly neurotic mind). But horses+photo shoot with my babe= fun!

This story was originally published on December 6, 2014.

If you’re a lifelong horse person and you get engaged, EVERY SINGLE PERSON you talk to about it will say, “And you can have horses in the wedding, how romantic!”

No. NO. Just. No.

In my experience, horses are not romantic. They are time-sucking life-threatening money pits that for some reason I find myself addicted to. If I had a true steady-eddy type of horse, perhaps I would think differently, but all I could imagine was old Dobbin farting his way down the aisle, or Ginger giving a whole new meaning to “runaway bride.” For me, adding horses to my wedding would just invite a lot of potential for chaos on a day when everyone would be watching.

But when my fiancé started riding lessons, the wheels started turning. Adorable photos of us side by side on the trail danced through my mind.

Why not do an engagement shoot at the farm, then use the photos in a guest book for people to sign at the wedding? In my mind this was a low-stress way of having horses involved in a small aspect of my wedding without all of the logistical challenges live horses would present. (And from the looks of our recent engagement shoot photo challenge, I’m not the only one who thought that way!)

Here are a couple lessons I learned during the process:

Think backward.

If you show or do other events with your horse where you need to be at a certain place at a certain time, you’re probably already great at creating an itinerary of bathing, grooming and hauling for the day. Treat it like a show, since you don’t want to “wing it” and be late when you’re probably paying good money for your photographer’s time.

Prep as much as possible.

Hopefully it goes without saying that you should have the proper experience, horses, and permission to ride wherever you plan to have your shoot. I would not have felt comfortable doing the shoot if my fiancé Byron hadn’t done the legwork in his lessons (quite literally), and gone on several trail rides around the farm on Tommy, the been-there-done-that lesson horse he came to know well over the summer. (Of course, I had never even seen my mount, Rio, before the day of the shoot … but I knew he was used for children’s lessons.)

Closer to the event, there were a lot of details to coordinate. Byron really wanted to incorporate a picnic into  the shoot, so I made sure to get all the food we would need days ahead of time. Since we would be borrowing horses, I made sure I knew what tack to use and where it was. We cleaned tack the night before, and made sure all attire for horse and human would be easily findable the day of. And as with any equine event, I made sure to know the weather forecast (and chose to completely ignore it with my fashion choices).



Wind blowing my hair=FREEZING. But worth it. Also, note the farmer tan.
Ian Sbalcio Photography

Get your horses ready, then get yourself ready.

I like to think of the grooming process as simply transferring the dirt from your horse onto yourself–so for my engagement shoot, my fiancé and I got the horses ready around noon, Show Sheened the living daylights out of them, then went home to shower, blow dry, and change clothes. We were back at the barn at 4:45 p.m. for some last minute grooming before we met the photographer at 5 p.m. — just in time for a dramatic sunset ride!

Help your photographer to help you.

It may be a hectic day, but make sure to go over basic safety with your photographer if he or she is not experienced with horses. (Not walking directly in front or behind of a strange horse, whether using a flash is OK or not, wearing sturdy boots, etc.) And don’t be shy about letting your photographer know if there are particular places you want to shoot, or sending a few examples of the kind of shots you do or don’t like. Most likely, they will appreciate a little direction as long as you allow them to use their professional judgment as well.

For example, I thought this particular shot wasn’t going to come out that well–and it ended up being one of the best ones. To my mind as an equestrian, the humble barn aisle didn’t seem like a great photo op. The light was dim, a bunch of dirty girths and turnout sheets were hanging up, and it’s not like the barn had impressive high ceilings or fancy stall door grilles. But from a photographer’s perspective, it was the perfect opportunity to play with an anamorphic lens and get a wide-angle perspective shot. And in black and white, the multicolored sheets and dirty girths just fade into the background. That is what you pay a professional for!

And finally…have fun!

It’s easy for all the logistics of wedding nonsense to turn stressful. Things will go wrong. (Like someone forgetting the picnic basket in the car when we had already walked a mile to the perfect spot.  Not pointing the finger of blame … because it was me.) But who cares?

At first I found it was  a little awkward to get all lovey-dovey with my groom-to-be while on camera, but the familiar surroundings of the barn soon helped me to feel comfortable, and soon enough I was just having fun with my baby at the barn. Sure, there were a few snags, but overall the planning paid off and I could just relax!

I mean, really — what could be better than a date with the two loves of your life, and getting to revisit that amazing day whenever you flip though your beautiful photos?

Go Riding.

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