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HOW TO: Take a basic conformation picture of a horse

The standard basic conformation picture of a horse is a  side shot that will show the basics of the the horse's basic structure and build.  Your viewer will be looking for the balance of the neck and body, structural soundness, functional soundness and various aesthetic features--many of the latter which may be subjective.
Basic conformation photos of horses are used in ads and marketing for sales among other purposes.
After making certain that the horse is clean and clipped properly, you are ready to start the photo session.
1. INITIALLY-- you have to decide whether a Halter or Bridle be used on the horse for the photograph. 
The first decision is whether to use a halter or a bridle on your horse for the photo.  Use this "Basic rule of thumb":  Take a picture in what is considered the standard for the breed or discipline in which you are primarily advertising. 
       Examples of the former are for quarterhorses-paints-stock types: use a basic leather halter; some have some silver on them.  The silver can detract from the horse if overdone.  However, on some horses the silver will enhance the appearence.  If you are unsure, just use the basic leather halter.
      Try to avoid nylon halters; if necessary, use only dark colors like brown.  Some of the colors will change in the "publishing to the web" process.  Gaudy colors may be trendy for the moment, however in the long run will look cheap and amateurish.
     As another example of breeds, the Arabian breed uses particular show halters that you can find in major tack stores.  All of these generally have a line or chain that goes from one side of the noseband through the other side and clips under the chin.  Generally one that is very thin rolled leather will make the head look more refined.  However keep in mind that this is individual--horses with heads that are not very typey should have halters that do NOT accentuate or bring attention to the head.  A "pretty halter" cannot make a pretty head--the effect in the picture is just the opposite.
       Thoroughbreds should be in plain leather halters; rolled jaw line is okay however, otherwise just use a standard flat leather.
        Sporthorses--European warmbloods, etc.--are generally shown in hand in snaffle bridles (age 3 and over) or plain flat leather halters.  The snaffle bridles are of dressage type or hunter type.
If in doubt, look in breed journals for tips-- there are lots of variations. Saddlebreds and Morgans show in a saddle seat curb bit.
Disciplines such as hunter- jumper, combined training and dressage generally will have the horse in a bridle--generally a snaffle.  Rolled bridles are recommended for hunters and conformation hunters, with very generic sort of snaffles--tho full cheek snaffles for hunters, and large loose ring snaffles for dressage horses are often considered standard.
    As noted above, dressage bridles are used on dressage horses, and plain flat bridles on others.
    Again, if in doubt, look in the breed or discipline journals to see what the standards are that are currently being used.  Even if, perhaps even Especially if, you are a small breeder, just starting out, knowing this aspect will let the buyer know that you are serious about presenting your horse in the best light possible in accord with the standards in which the horse will compete.
NOTE: goes without saying that generally horses under 3 will be in a halter.
Your horse needs to know how to stop on command and stand while the handler steps away in order to not be in the picture before you can take a good picture.
      The way that the horse stands depends on different breeds and disciplines.  Some stand totally square, with one leg "at each corner", such as quarterhorses and other stock horses.
Arabians generally have the far back leg slightly more forward than the other.
Sporthorses have the off legs set slightly forward (back leg) and slightly back (for the front leg) so that all four legs can be seen from the side view.  (this is the stance required for inspection too).
As you can see, many of these can overlap--for example quarterhorse hunters may be in a snaffle bridle, yet stand square.
Again, check your breed journals for the standards being used and other tips.
a. EARS-- Once the horse is set up and the handler steps away, you must make certain that the ears of the horse are up.  This makes the horse look very interested and looking forward.
Often it is necessary to have a second person that will be behind the handler and wave something like a cloth or hat to get their interest.
2.NECK--look in your breed journals to see standards of how horses have their necks in pictures.
You can get a horse to "stretch" its neck if you put something in front of the horse that gets their interest--often feed, or a small box with rocks in it, a squeeze toy...for stallions, mares are used.
However, this "stretching" of the neck is not considered acceptable in some breeds.  Generally the saddle breeds (Saddlehorses, Arabians and Morgans in particular) use this all the time.  In fact the latter are trained to do so for showing.
The danger of doing this in a picture is that while it may look nice, it may distort the actual shape and size of the neck--so a person may be "very disappointed" when arriving after a long trip to see your horse!
If in doubt, take a picture stretched AND relaxed, so that the viewer can see the horse each way.
Be certain, at the same time, that the horse is not "pulled back".  This basically puts your horse at an unfair DISADVANTAGE, as a horse only gets that way if they are backing up or scared, and the neck will look unnaturally short and stockier.  The back will drop too, which will distort the overall conformation.
i.  Stand even with the shoulder in order to get the most balanced angle on the whole horse for a side shot.
       Check the breed journals and see if three quarter shots are used.  These are standard in some breeds, particularly quarterhorses and other stock breeds; occasional in others like Arabians. 
         You have to make certain that these shots, as in any angle shot, do not distort the horse especially in a very negative way.  In particular, the neck and/or hip can be made to look shorter.
ii.  Try to take a similar picture on each side.
iii.  Make certain that the horse is on level ground.  One rock under a horses heel can make the horse's pasterns look off angle.
     If your horse has a leg problem, it is best not to try to hide it.  Better just not to have a person visit than to get to your place and be "rather annoyed" that the horse has some problem, esp. if it is obvious.  At the same time, do not overemphasize it unless pointing it out for some reason--like soundness considerations for a particular discipline.
iv.  Lighting-- Best time of day for photos--generally morning til noon, and afternoon after 4pm, tho conditions vary in different areas.  Be certain the color of your horse is truly represented, and shadows do not interfere.  Cloudy days can work very well too!
v.  BACKGROUND--is very significant in the final picture.  Use a very pleasing and pleasant background that does not detract from the horse.  Natural enviroments like trees are generally standard, however make certain that the horse will show up against the background. 
Use your imagination!  Basic conformation shots are the foundation of a file on your horse...after that, pictures of the horses turned free, under saddle, free jumping and so on will be beneficial to add.   These will be covered in future articles.
A Note on Professional Photographers--Professional Equine Photographers can arrange farm visits to take pictures of your horses, or generally will take pictures at a show for you, whether you are showing or not.
    Check with them at shows, or before a show, or if they are going to be in your area.  Breed journals are a good resource too.
     If you have a lot of horses and/or are going to advertise on a National level, this can be an added benefit to your advertising and marketing.  
For photo examples, look at

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