The Road
Jess Traveled


Documentary Moments of an Equestrian

Owning a horse is more than just winning in the show ring. Think about it. Those fateful few minutes at the show or those few seconds at the rodeo are just a fraction of the time you spend preparing for that moment.

I think photographing horses is the same. Equine photography should be more than the winning show ring photo.

Enter documentary photography. If you’re unfamiliar, the documentary approach to photography is the art of capturing people, places, and events accurately. It entails a photographer stepping into a scene, freezing the moment in time, then leaving it exactly how they found it. This style of photography has a pretty straightforward goal of reporting a story – precisely how it happened. Documentary photography is what initially led me to pick up a camera. I love the raw and authentic nature of it. Life led me towards photographing weddings and I loved it. I had the honor of documenting weddings as far west as the beautiful island of Kuaui, as far east as a renovated castle in Scotland, and celebrations of love of various sizes in between.

When photographing these weddings for my couples, the goal was clear. It was my job to capture the moments of the day. How it looked, sounded, and felt to be there for the bride and groom to relive for decades. There is a lot of competition in the wedding photography industry to get featured on big Instagram accounts. This, unfortunately, leads to photographers feeling the pressure to create images of their clients instead of capturing moments. 

In 2019, I was fortunate to attend an All You Witness retreat in Wyoming that deconstructed this entire issue in the industry. We learned how to set aside our egos and simply serve our clients by capturing the day exactly how it unfolds – nothing more, nothing less. This is the power of the documentary approach.

It changed everything for me.

By keeping my face glued to the camera and setting aside my assumptions of what makes an Instagram-worthy image, I can tell the true story. I can tell a better story

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to take this mindset with me to my horse photoshoots. The equine industry isn’t all that different than the wedding industry. And as an equine photographer, it’s easy to get caught up in taking an expertly posed portrait of a girl and her horse. 

Owning a horse looks like a whole lot more than that winning show ring photo. Owning a horse looks like waking up early to feed them before you can get to the coffee pot. Sometimes it means staying up late to hose down a swollen leg or to do a night check at the show. Owning a horse means smudging your makeup, getting some hay in your hair, wrinkling your clothes, and getting a little (or a lot) sweaty.

Sometimes you get the wrong lead at first. Sometimes your horse pins their ears or gives you a good ol’ fashioned side-eye. There are good rides and there are not-so-good rides. But that’s why we chose this beautiful life alongside horses, isn’t it? We live for those simple moments brushing our horse at the end of a stressful day. We find our sanity in a long walk in the pasture on a loose rein. All the hard work is worth it when that horse nickers at you and trots over from across the paddock to say hello.

The winning show ring photos are important, but let’s not forget about all the little moments that led up to that win. Let’s celebrate those perfectly imperfect in-between moments.

Recently, I joined Meghan and her horse Pied for one of their everyday days. While it wasn’t glamorous, their bond was palpable in these in-between moments. These two are preparing for their big debut at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover in October. It’s obvious that their time in the show ring in Lexington later this year will be important. But these little moments getting them ready for that debut? They are just as important. It’s in these everyday moments that their bond deepens.

So here’s to the everyday. May we treasure every second of it.

A girl halters her horse in a stallA chestnut Thoroughbred mare stands in cross ties with a leather halterA girl swings her Western saddle up over her horse's backA tack room full of Western bridles and saddlesA perky horse stands in cross ties of a barnA girl saddles up her Thoroughbred in the aisle of a barnA close up of some Western bridles hanging in a tack roomA horse stands with her hind left leg cocked while getting saddlesA girl saddles her horse with a Western saddle in a barn isleA girl swings her Western saddle up over her horse's backA smiling girl brides her horse in a barn isleA smiling girl rides her Western horse at the lopeScenes from an arena where a girl rides her Western horsesA girl rides her Thoroughbred with a unique white marking on her shoulderA sorrel horse walks by mid stride with her mounted riderA girl trots by on her Western thoroughbredA girl rides her Thoroughbred horse through some beautiful trees in Dripping Springs, TXA girl hands her thirsty horse a bottle of Gatorade after a long rideA horse yawns dramatically while her owners saddles herA girl holds a bucket of Gatorade in a bucket up toward her horse





Documentary Moments of an Equestrian

  1. Maggie says:

    Beautifully written and the pictures capture your beautiful words! Excellent

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