If you’re anything like me, grooming time with your horse doubles as prime bonding time. In addition to helping keep my horse healthy and shiny, grooming sessions provide some much-needed stress release after a long day of adulting. If I’m too busy to ride, a grooming session gives me a dose of horsey bliss and gives Herbie the attention he craves.
Is there anything better than watching the sun go down, listening to your favorite Taylor Swift song on Spotify and seeing loose horse hairs cyclone up and down all around you while your horse is crunching away on his favorite cookie? I didn’t think so.
All that to say, you already know that a grooming session is important for your horse on the daily – but I’m here to tell you that when it comes time for your portrait session, it’s even more critical!
There are a lot of things I can Photoshop out of a portrait, but a dirty, dusty horse with mud-caked legs isn’t one of them. And while I can occasionally add artificial shine with a few clicks of the mouse, it’s never going to be the same as the natural gloss of a healthy horse’s well-groomed coat on camera.
That’s why I’ve put together this guide of top grooming tips that are especially handy for portrait sessions.
1. MAKE A GROOMING GAME PLAN
My top tip for grooming your horse to look his best for portraits is this: prepare as if you’re attending the most important show of your breed or discipline. Depending on what you do with your horse, that might include adding a fake tail, blacking hooves, braiding hair, trimming whiskers and more. But if these tasks aren’t part of your discipline, they’re not going to feel right for these portraits, either. Take time to decide how you’d like your horse to look for his or her session before you embark on a grooming game plan. (Stuck? Check out these examples of some great looks to help you make up your mind.)
2. CURRY LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT
In my journalism days, I once edited a grooming article included one of my favorite quotes of all time from a horse trainer: “I live and die by the curry comb!”
Her curry comb devotion cracked me up, but there’s truth to her words. Seriously, nothing brings a luscious shine to your horse’s coat like a good currying. I keep a rubber curry in my grooming tote and use it year-round on Herbie. There are also little soft ones that work great for your horse’s face and ticklish areas.
3. MAKE TIME FOR BATHS
If the weather allows, bathe your horse the day before your shoot. If you plan to clip, clip a day or two before the shoot as well. During bath time, use whitening shampoos on areas with chrome to help get all those socks, stockings and patches super white. This is especially important for light-colored horses!
4. BRAIDS, BANDS & BRIDLEPATHS, OH MY!
To band or not to band? That’s up to you! Bands help polish a look—or tame a lopsided mane—but they’re not required. A photo shoot isn’t the best time to try banding for the first time, so don’t sweat it if you’re unfamiliar. If your horse is more hunter-type or you’re riding English, braids really polish up the look, but again, they’re totally optional.
If you’re a fake tail pro, go ahead and add it for your session. Just like in a show, this extra hair helps fill out the tail and balances out your horse’s entire look. It’ll look just as beautiful on camera as in the pen!
Long manes look dreamy with cascading waves. For the best look, braid loosely the night before and remove them a few hours before. Spritzing some water can help remove overly kinky manes.
Don’t forget the bridlepath and stray hairs! Trimmed ears look great if your horse will tolerate it. Cleaning these areas up before a session takes your horse’s appearance from good to glorious. I recommend tending to these details a few days in advance of your session to help keep the day of the shoot stress- and hair-free for you both.
5. TOUCH UP THOSE TOES
If possible, well-trimmed hooves always look sharp—but clean, mud-free hooves are most important. If you’d use hoof polish to prep for a show, you can also apply it before your session. Once you’ve changed into your portrait clothes, just be mindful of the polish and stay clear of your horse’s feet so that you don’t accidentally transfer that polish to yourself.
6. FACE TO FACE
If you use oil or face glow for the show pen, you’re welcome to use it for your session, too – just do so sparingly! I love face-snuggle shots, so consider opting for baby oil instead or skipping the face glow altogether so you don’t stain your clothes or yourself. ShowSheen or similar products are great to add overall sheen, but avoid spritzing your horse’s saddle area if you plan on riding for your session.
On the day of the shoot, I recommend packing a small grooming tote with some essentials that we can carry with us to our shoot destination. They’re perfect for last-minute touch-ups and can help keep your horse looking his best once we’re out and about!
o Fly spray
o Clean, soft towels for quick touch-ups, such as wiping noses
o Baby wipes
o A soft brush for last-minute grooming adjustments
o Comb or mane and tail brush for loose manes
READY, SET, GLOW!
After all that grooming talk, I’m feeling inspired – and I hope you are, too! Ready to book a session with me? Here’s how!