Proper preparation is one of the keys to creating the perfect image. The camera captures everything in minute detail, so you need to be sure that those details are just right.
Unless your goal is to let your horse go totally au natural, clipping is a good place to start your preparation. Be sure your clippers are running smoothly and your blades are sharp to minimize discomfort to your horse. If you’re experienced at clipping and your horse is comfortable with it, try using a No. 40 blade on the whiskers and bridle path for the cleanest possible look. The No. 40 blade also works well for trimming fine ear hair. Change to a No. 10 blade before tackling long jawline hairs; the No. 40 blade will clip too closely for this area.
Use a No. 10 blade to clip your horse’s legs. Your goal here is to have the legs look clean and tidy, so pay extra attention to the hair around the coronary band at the top of the hoof, and the long hair at the back of the fetlock joint and pastern. Some horses also grow longer hair on the inside and back of their knees, so be sure to check those areas. This is a good time to peel chestnuts (the horny growths on the inside of the knees and hocks) and ergots (similar growths at the back of the fetlock joints). If the chestnuts or ergots are very hard, tackle them after bathing your horse–the water will soften them. Be sure to touch up any long hair, especially around the ergots, if you peel them after the bath.
To help white socks and stockings look their best, do a close clip on those markings. Instead of clipping in the same direction as the hair growth, clip upward against the hair. The shorter hair makes it easier to keep white legs clean and bright. A word of caution: Be sure your clipper blades are cool, and keep them especially well-lubricated for this.
If you and/or your horse aren’t accustomed to clipping, ask an experienced friend or your barn manager or instructor to help you. The camera will magnify every mistake, so this is not the time to practice.
No matter the reason for your photo shoot, you want your horse as clean and shiny as possible. That means it’s bath time.
If you have a gray horse or one with lots of white, you have some special challenges in terms of stains and brightness. Fortunately, there are a number of products available to help. Absorbine recently introduced ShowSheen Stain Remover & Whitener, which has Oxi-Eraser stain lifters. There’s no bleach and no bluing, so it’s safe for any coat color and won’t leave a blue or purple tint in your horse’s hair. Spray it on the stains or white markings, let it sit for five minutes, rinse it out, and then proceed with the full bath.
Although it’s tempting to grab a bottle of inexpensive shampoo at the local drugstore, remember a horse’s skin is very sensitive and has a specific pH balance. A shampoo that’s designed for horses is well worth the little bit of added expense in the long run. After all, you don’t want your horse to break out in bumps or develop dandruff. Absorbine’s ShowSheen 2-In-1 Shampoo & Conditioner is specially formulated for a horse’s sensitive skin, with no sulfates or parabens. Having the conditioner built in means you only have to wash the mane and tail once, rather than shampooing and then conditioning.
Use a soft rubber curry comb to really lift the ground-in dirt from your horse’s body. Your fingers work best for the mane and tail; be sure to get the shampoo right into the roots. A soft sponge is good for the legs and face. Be careful not to get soap and water into your horse’s eyes and ears.
It’s All in the Details
Be sure any tack you’ll use in the photo shoot is clean and in good condition. To make leather look its best, try Absorbine Horseman’s One Step. Be sure everything is well-adjusted with all straps and keepers are in place. If you’re going to be in the photos, you want to look as neat and tidy as your horse, so make certain your outfit is ready in advance.
Your final preparations should start with a good brushing of the coat, mane and tail. Next, using a damp towel or sponge, gently wipe your horse’s face, especially around the eyes, nostrils and muzzle. You can also run the damp towel or sponge over the his body and down his legs to pick up dust.
A coat conditioner/polish will help give your horse a finished look. Absorbine’s ShowSheen Original Hair Polish & Detangler has been a favorite with horse people for more than 30 years. ShowSheen was updated in 2010 and now includes pro-vitamins and silk proteins to nourish and strengthen the coat, mane and tail. For the ultimate shine, apply ShowSheen to the wet coat, mane and tail immediately after you bathe your horse. Then apply it again when the coat is dry. Your horse will absolutely glisten!
To make your horse look his best from head to toe, you can use either a hoof dressing or hoof black on his feet. Absorbine’s Hooflex® products, both the original and all-natural formulas, are a popular choice in hoof dressings. Absorbine SuperShine Black and SuperShine Clear will put a high-gloss finish on those feet. To really perfect the look of black hooves, try applying a paste show polish on the hoof, buff it, then apply the SuperShine Black. The base coat under the SuperShine will give the hooves the look of patent leather
To complete the picture, use a light oil on your horse’s muzzle and over the eyes to highlight those areas. If it’s bug season, apply a fly repellent such as Absorbine’s UltraShield EX so your horse isn’t fussing, twitching and swishing his tail.
Every detail needs to be as perfect as if you were headed into competition. If you take the steps to prepare properly, your photos will be everything you expected and more, capturing your horse at his or her absolute best.
Once you’ve got your horse photo-ready, enter the 2011 Horse Illustrated photo contest.
Molly O’Brien works in the marketing department at W. F. Young, Inc., the maker of Absorbine products. She is a lifelong horse owner, and currently owns two Morgan mares – a retired 26-year-old and a five-year-old, with whom she competes at Morgan shows in the New England area.