Horses have been a major part of my life for longer than some of you have been alive, and I've been obsessed with photographing them (and everything else) since I was a child. So as a photographer combining the two, I have a lot of experience introducing my four-legged friends to things that may otherwise seem scary. In fact, it's often more difficult for me to convince horse owners that their horse(s) will probably be pretty curious about some of the things I work with than it is to convince their horses to be curious about them. One of the tools I use most often are reflectors, and I have them in various sizes from handheld to full equine body size. They are usually on spring-form frames that pop open, bend, and twist in a variety of ways, and they do move in the wind. Sure, in the right circumstances they really could be scary to a horse, and while I wouldn't really want to come across one in the woods on the back of my horse, from the ground, horses seem to be really, REALLY interested in them. So interested, in fact, that there are some lip marks and horse schmooze on several of them because some ponies just can't not touch them.
Take this Standardbred mare, for instance - she was so interested in this reflector that she kept gravitating towards it and was compelled to touch it. She walked up to it several times, sniffed it, pushed it, touched it - she couldn't stay away, and I'm pretty sure if we'd have handed her the handle she just might have carried it around for us. ©All rights reserved. Laura Adams and Laura Adams Photographic Art, 2014. Images and text on this site may NOT be duplicated, saved, scanned, screen captured, used, altered, posted, modified, or otherwise captured or used in any manner without express written permission from Laura Adams. (You may use the FB share feature on my Facebook page by clicking HERE, OR pin this on Pinterest using the button below!)
So, how do you get a horse to accept such scary lighting aids?
It's actually pretty simple. I always start with it away from the horse. If you snap one of these babies open unexpectedly next to a horse, you WILL be chasing it into the next county. You'll only make that mistake once (I promise), and good luck getting it close enough to the horse to be useful. Ever. So open it far enough away that the horse doesn't perceive it as an eminent danger.
Open it in an area where the horse isn't confined with it. If the horse feels confined or threatened, there goes your session. Everyone, handlers, photographer, lighting assistant(s) need to be calm and approach this scenario as if it's perfectly normal for people to walk around with reflectors, soft boxes, strobe equipment (whatever). If the handlers are nervous or apprehensive, the horse will pick up on it.
Take your time and make the introduction the one part of your work that isn't on a time frame. An extra five or ten minutes right here will make or break your session. Lighting your images takes them to a completely different level, so this is a really important step for creating amazing images. Relax and take your time here!
If the horse is interested in the equipment, GREAT! Let the horse look at it. If the horse wants to step closer, allow it. If the horse wants to touch it, feel it, sniff it - allow it - so long as the horse isn't fearful of it and it doesn't pose a danger, let them investigate. I've had this take less than ten seconds, and as long as five minutes, and to date, I've not had a horse that's minded any of it. The secret sauce is in the introduction! If the horse is fearful, go back to the first step and start over.
If you're using any kind of studio lighting equipment, always, always, ALWAYS sandbag everything. You don't want to ruin your shoot by a soft box being bumped and turning into a kite with a little bit of wind (and your expensive light attached). Have a large enough area to comfortably work in and make certain your set has obvious and expansive enter and exit areas. A horse isn't likely to try to run over top of you or your equipment, but they will knock over anything in their way if they're convinced something is going to "get" them. Do not let that happen. Ever.
Adding light to your sessions will take your photography to an entirely different level. Practice with your own horses first to find your own way to add these tools into your work comfortably. Having good, solid horse-handling skills is critical if you're photographing horses, and a working knowledge of what makes them tick, their anatomy, and how to light them to flatter their beauty are essential to the job. Good luck!!!