Photographing a Model Horse for Performance
Setting up and taking performance photos can be a fun and very educational challenge. One of the most fun things about it is getting to learn about your favorite subject (the horse, of course) and how it is shown in various events, then actually applying that knowledge in the photos you take.

Outdoor settings are usually the least expensive. See the info on Halter Photos for specific details regarding cameras, backgrounds and so forth.

When photographing a model in performance, many more variables are added that you will have to check to be certain they are correct. This includes saddles, bridles, obstacles and props and perhaps even doll riders. You should note that in most cases for showing models in the USA, rider dolls are optional. However, for some particular classes or scenes, they can help the scene a lot. (I should note also that a great many people prefer NOT to show with dolls in the US)

Pleasure classes are the easiest classes to get started with, however, they are also among the most popular so the competition can get pretty stiff. "Pleasure" usually includes classes such as Western Pleasure, Huntseat Pleasure, Saddleseat Pleasure, and if you're up for a challenge, Pleasure Driving (harness).
Generally speaking, most pleasure classes can be considered to be "showmanship with tack". You will want the photo to show off the model's best aspects as well as depict how nicely turned out the model appears under tack.
Poor Pleasure Pic This is a notably poor pleasure type photo. The model is not very close to the camera, and quite lost in the background. Lack of sunlight to bring out detail gives this photo a "muddy" quality as well.

In addition, the western saddle shown is rather shapeless. The bridle appears to either be a mechanical hackamore or has a noseband, either of which is not appropriate for western pleasure.
The breastcollar seems to be a fleece style, which would not be the best choice of "style" for this class. The saddle blanket appears unusually thick, or out of scale, as well as being poorly positioned. The model itself however, is in a pose that is acceptable for a western pleasure class, particularly for the apparent breed type shown (Appaloosa).
Nice Pleasure Pic
This photo depicts a model in a nice cantering pose, sporting a variation of western sidesaddle. The photo is clear, the model fills the frame. The tack appears to be properly fitted and adjusted. The only minor thing wrong with the photo is that the stirrup is a little askew. This would be normal for a cantering horse with no rider tho, but in most cases photos should be presented as to how the tack would appear if a rider was there.

Complex Performance is any class that requires a model and tack as well as some type of obstacle or prop that the model is expected to interact with or "work" in some way. Some types of performance take very little extra paraphernalia, while others can be very challenging.

Check Live horse rules, about a particular class. You can ask people who show in the event, obtain copies of rulebooks from various associations or ask other hobby exhibitors about what is required and expected for a particular class.

You should know that because models cannot move, and aren't exactly like "the real thing" some types of rules are specific to hobby showing. For these it is best to ask other hobbyists who do show, particularly those that are successful at it, for their input, since there is no formal rulebook at present that hobbyists use for this purpose.
Start Simple. Begin with events you know a little about or interest you the most. Once you get the equipment for those classes mastered and experience a bit of showing success, add more classes that you are interested in to your repertoire. Learning about how to show in various classes as well as obtaining or creating the props and models to show with can be a lifetime pursuit to enjoy over the long term.

Cutting Photos
Poor Cutting Pic
This photo, although it is in focus, is a very poor example of a cutting picture. For starters, the horse is in a standing pose, and while that is possible with a cutting horse, either while he's still in the herd, or when the "cow" critter stops, this particular horse doesn't look like he's at all ready to move if the "cow" does. On the positive side, the model does appear to be looking at/paying attention to the "cow" as he should be in this class.

The tack is also questionable, the saddle is not particularly realistic, but most notably, the horse sports a mechanical hackamore, which is not a "legal" piece of equipment for this class.

From a "reality" viewpoint, that "cow" is not a good choice, given the long horns (you wouldn't see this in a show ring, for safety reasons if nothing else) not to mention this longhorn is way out of scale for what would generally be used for a cutting class for live horses.

Nice Cutting Pic
This is a much better example of a cutting picture. For starters the model does look like it's performing. He's paying attention to the "cow" (calves, cows, steers of appropriate scale are all usually accepted in this class) and appears to be positioned to prevent this critter from getting back to the herd.

The tack is nice, the reins loose and offset to the side the model is turning to as expected in this class, the rider doll is positioned nicely to appear to be balancing along with the action. The boots and such on the horse add realism for this event, the fence and bit of a 'herd' showing in the background are nice touches.

In pleasure classes, a primary consideration is whether or not the model is suitable for the class it is being shown in. For pleasure classes, it's safe to assume that any model shown in a post that is bucking, rearing, acting up, running too fast, laying down and so forth is probably not a good candidate in pleasure. (For most people horses acting like this aren't much of a pleasure.)
Also, you want to select models to show in this class that appear to be doing a 'legitimate' type of gait. Some models are in poses that are very questionable as to whether they are walking or trotting for example. Sometimes models in iffy poses will not fare as well as others might. Way of going as expected for the breed or body type is also a consideration. For example, an Arabian might be expected to carry himself and appear to "move" in one way, while a Trakehner or a pony might be expected to move somewhat differently.

It is not necessary to follow all live horse show "trends" to the letter however, for example, it is not necessary or required for a stock type model to be in the low-headed 'frame' one might see among live QH showhorses. A common middleground for all breeds/types is typical of what most judges base their placings on, since most performance classes are open to all breeds and types.


Sometimes, creative angles and obstacles can help and you can really 'snow' the viewer and come up with a truly believable-looking picture (which is what it is all about of course), but it does not work all of the time. The results have to really be convincing...not to you, but to any future judge.
Some models are just inappropriate no matter what (a bucking model in a western pleasure class for example) and there's no way to hide or minimize it. It may be realistic that once in awhile a horse kicks up his heels in the showring, but generally speaking a live horse won't place when he does, and neither will a model.
Experience and skill that you can build on over time WILL allow you to get more out of models in photos. But, if the model simply IS NOT suitable for a class, save your efforts and money on film for models that ARE.

You may make your own from kit or from scratch, or purchase tack from hobby artisans. Used tack can be found in ads within hobby magazines as well. Good quality tack is not inexpensive, but it isn't always necessary to pay premium prices either, unless you desire premium craftsmanship and detail.
Basic Tack Buying Considerations:
  1. Realistic scale, proportion and fit
  2. Details are as realistic as possible or practical
  3. A neat and orderly appearance, not sloppy or shoddy.
  4. All of the above apply whether the tack is plain and unadorned or exquisitely decorated.

Tack up your model, and then double check for basic tack faults. Set the model up on the ground in your photo area, adjust for sunlighting and most attractive angle for the model. Take a look at your tack and specifically check the following:
  1. Bit should be in the mouth with the mouthpiece area appearing to be at the "corners" of the mouth. (A bit out in a photo is usually cause for disqualification). Both sides of the bit should be even and parellel.
  2. Breastcollar or breastplate (if used) should be sufficiently adjusted to not be loose, sloppy or hanging
  3. Reins should not be excessively loose, tight or sloppy; best positioning of reins varies according to the type of class
  4. Bridle should fit well and not have strap ends sticking out, sections gapping away from the horse's head, or have a strap covering or coming too near the eyes.
  5. Rear Cinch (if used/western saddle) should hang straight down, and should have a small connector strap to the front cinch (a piece of embroidery thread will do in a pinch)
  6. Stirrup Leathers or Fenders should be hanging straight down, not twisted, kinky or skewed.
  7. Saddle should be appropriately placed on the horse's back: neither too far forward over the withers, nor too far back. Saddle should be in scale as well, not noticeably oversized or undersized for the model.
  8. Saddle Blankets or Pads should be as centered and even as possible for a nice, sharp look.


Using the same basic guidelines for halter photos regarding sunlighting, camera settings, footing etc., begin to set up your still life scene with your model and props.

  1. Be sure you have all required tack for the class and it is adjusted properly.
  2. Be sure you have all required obstacles or props for the class, and that they are correct, in-scale and appropriate as expected for the class.
  3. Set up the basic scene, then move the model around a bit to find a set-up that will make the model really appear to be doing something with the obstacle or prop. For example, in a trail class, the model should look like it is actually ABOUT TO move over or through an obstacle, or is in the middle of going through or over the obstacle correctly, or has just completed that obstacle. You really need to think about how to set up your scene to CONVINCE THE JUDGE that what you intend is what appears to be going on in the photo.
  4. Vary the model's position, perhaps scooting back a bit to include more of the scene for better effect. You want the model to look like he's really performing, not just standing there or aimlessly walking around with a bunch of stuff in the photo.
  5. Vary your angle with the camera toward the scene so you can try to enhance the illusion of what you are trying to portray. Perhaps scooting back a bit to include more of the scene will help, or instead try getting in a little closer. Either way, enough of the 'scene' should be showing so that there is no question what the model is doing.
A Few Handy Tips . . .
  1. Using a stick or wire, you can prop up the model leaning over a bit to creat the illusion of turning or turning at speed, or turning sharper. This can be effective for games classes and cutting where the prop can be positioned to easily hide the prop stick or wire.
  2. Use 3/4 front or sometimes rear angles to add the illusion of increased speed to a model that actually is in a slower pose. Keep in mind that performance judging is based on WHAT APPEARS TO BE, so the trick is to make a model APPEAR to be doing whatever it is.
  3. Always try to present creative viewpoints or ideas that depict the event correctly, but in an unexpected way. Many photos can start to look a lot alike to a judge after awhile, but very often an unusual way to present a model in a class, that is still as correct and accurate as any will usually catch the judges eye.
  4. Remember that it is your job as the exhibitor/photographer to IMPRESS THE JUDGE. That's what every other shower is out there doing. With practice, experience and also by seeing other people's show photos (through judging shows yourself) you'll be able to see what other people are doing and get many great ideas to work from.


The competitive level is no pushover, but neither is it so difficult or exclusive that you cannot succeed. Anyone who tries hard to improve and finds out what it it takes and works to get correct and innovative photos will do well, step by step.
Showing your models in photos is the best gauge to measure your personal successes, abilities and growth. Each photo session should yield better photos and more realistic and correct scenes as you learn more....and in turn, improved photos should bring home better placings on average. Use show results to measure your own work against yourself and what you have done previously, not necessarily how your work stacks up to other's.

Photoing models, particularly in performance, may seem impossible and overwhelming at first...but it isn't really. One learns through a gradual process of trial and error what works, and what doesn't. Once you get started, progress will tend to snowball, and in a relatively short time, you will see great improvement in the results of your efforts, and you'll be able to get enormous personal satisfaction in it!

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