Horses are naturally wary animals and many are known as being spooky especially at new things. Portable lighting which I use for my studio lit photoshoots are incredibly powerful and do result in a wide range of reactions from horses. From all that I have photographed though only one we decided it was in the horse’s best interest to stop, all others have finished the photoshoot being totally unfazed and relaxed despite some being initially quite spooky.
For all photo shoots I start by desensitising the horse to the light. I start by firing the light away from the horse so that they can experience the quiet noise that it makes and get a glimpse of the light. We always start with the horse and handler in a safe environment just in case the reaction is extreme! That initial reaction then effects how I then proceed to introduce the light. If little to no reaction I crack on almost immediately. Others can easily take 10 minutes to desensitise, including walking the horse and using distractions as needed. Essentially with some reassurance and patience almost all horses will quickly relax and allow for a successful photo shoot. The only horse that I stopped photographing was renown as being very spooky and although we were able to take a few photos initially it wasn’t showing the normal signs of starting to relax, we believe it was actually the quiet noise rather than the light itself though. With enough time and strategy I believe we would have been successful but we were on quite a tight schedule so I decided it was in the horse’s best interest to make the experience a good one with the time we had available, so we switched to a natural light photo shoot.
If you are booking a studio lit photo shoot there are some things you can do to prepare your horse in advance if you think they may be spooky. Almost everyone now has a phone or digital camera with a flash, which can be the perfect introduction. Making sure both you and your horse are in a safe environment, and perhaps employing an extra person if your horse is known to be particularly spooky, take some photos of your horse using the flash. Start in normal daylight then if reactions are favourable move into a darker area such as an unlit school, dense shade, barn or stable where the difference between the flash and ambient light will be greater. If your horse is reactive take your time, be patient and importantly stay relaxed. Almost all horses flinch at first but if you talk with them and provide distractions most will settle very quickly.
Even without prior preparation almost all horses will be fine to have photos taken with lights just need to be aware a period of time will need to be spent desensitising which will reduce the amount of time available for actual photos.