We have been asked to help with a good few photoshoots over the years but last week we had a really fantastic opportunity to work with photographer Jon Stroud, who is among the best in the business.
I’ve met Jon once before when he came to take pictures of Valegro working on our Aquafit water treadmill earlier this year. This came about when I was asked to write a piece for the book ‘Valegro: Champion Horse’ for which Jon was commissioned to take many of the photographs that embellish and illustrate it. He captured us beautifully and I was astounded with what he managed to achieve while just pretty much following Blueberry, Alan (Davies, Valegro’s groom) and I around for about an hour, snapping away quite naturally (clearly there was a lot more technical stuff going on, but he hid it well!).
Our shoot last week was a more staged affair, with full studio lighting put up around the high speed treadmill. All of this takes a bit of setting up, but was needed to achieve the kind of dramatic, artistic images we were after. I was fascinated by the process as I really have no idea about this kind of thing other than what we have done before, and so it’s was great to see just how you go about producing such a picture.
We have a pool of student horses that we train up each year for purposes just such as this and from these we recruited the gorgeous Annabelle for the day. This lovely mare is owned by Hartpury student Sophie Hulme who very kindly agreed to let us borrow her for the shoot.
We’d previously trained Annabelle to walk, trot and canter happily on the treadmill and she loves it, but there was a lot more for her to see that day and you’re just never 100% sure how a horse will react to such intimidating surroundings. Sophie assured us that she was pretty cultured and so wouldn’t mind the flashes but we did a bit of a road test with her before we actually got her on the treadmill.
The tricky thing about the lighting was that when the flash came on, there was a moment of dark straight afterwards, which understandably would worry a lot of horses. Not Annabelle; as you can see from the video, she just kept cantering! Safety is the most important factor in anything like this and so she was hooked up to our overhead harness while working on there, which operates a bit like a seatbelt to stop the treadmill belt dead if the horse trips or stumbles while cantering.
I can’t wait to see the pictures. Just what Jon showed us on the screen of his camera looked awesome. I think a good equine photographer is a very special and incredibly difficult thing to be. As we all know, our horses possess a huge number of different expressions and there will be some of those that we favour more than others! To capture the side of a horse’s character that we recognise and identify with most takes great skill and understanding, and Jon has this in abundance.
Let’s hear it for the owners
We are very lucky to have some super horses pass through our hands at the Therapy Centre at Hartpury, and equally to meet some wonderful people at the same time.
Our owners come from all strains of life, with a variety of expectations of what they hope us to achieve with their own horse. To rehabilitate a horse successfully you need a willing charge, but you also need a receptive owner. It’s a very humbling experience to witness an individual who is willing to give everything they can to their horse and does their very best to get it all right for them.
Sometimes it all goes swimmingly, and the horse will cruise through its rehab, stay on course and we’ll have a great result for a very happy owner. Other horses can have a rockier road to recovery and it’s these people that I feel for enormously.
The vets are pretty good at predicting what will happen during a case, and we will at times know from the outset that there is a subtle lameness that will either improve or worsen with exercise. Although a vet will generally always give their opinion of ‘worst case scenario’ it doesn’t always make it easier for the owner to take when reality hits and the horse stops making progress. The phrase I hear most often is: “We want to give him every chance” and I am always in great admiration of anyone who strives to give the best care possible to their animals, whether they are with us or outside of our care. Often, the horse will come out the other side again following problems along the way, but this can cause huge emotional turmoil in the process.
From a personal perspective I am very lucky to have support of Trish and Peter Andrews who gave me Charlie, my lovely ex-racehorse. I’ve met a lot of people from far reaches of the horse-world over the years but Trish and Peter are among the most kind, loyal and straightforward that I have ever come across. The generosity they have shown in allowing me to have such a wonderful horse, and the support and advice they have proffered since I’ve had him, reaches levels that I could just never thank them enough for. Trish is a great sounding board and I regularly phone her to ask for her take on something with Charlie. She has an amazing ability to bring clarity to a situation, and regularly comes up with a nugget of advice to help me manage him better. If the world was full of more people like them, it would most certainly all the better for it.
Looking at the horse world objectively, you can’t deny that horse owners are a passionate and at times batty bunch — you have to be a little bit I think to go through the highs and lows of owning and riding horses! Equally you will find within it some of the most caring, dedicated and grounded people you could hope to meet; what better combination of character traits to be on show so readily within a population.