I've always been a lover of photography. Even before I picked up my first DSLR camera—and way before I began shooting professionally for APHA and my own small business—I was snapping artsy shots with my tiny point-and-shoot while roaming the fields of my childhood home. The advent of the smartphone has made this easier; my phone's gallery is notably absent of selfies and embarassingly overflowing with every possible angle of Herbie imagineable.
I believe in printing photos, too, so my room's walls are scattered with prints of magazine covers, shows with Herbie, headshots and more.
But there are a few photos missing from my walls (both real and Facebook)—and those are the ones I regret most.
The photos I regret are missing because they're ones that never got taken: portraits of me with my very first horse, Major.
Instead, my memories of Major are condensed to a handful of photos. One from about age 12—as I cling to my reins and Major lopes through the sloppy ground—and another from age 16 or so—where Major and I dash fearlessly through the arena, flag in hand. I cling to these small, grainy memories. I can still remember the fear and pride, respectively, in each photo. And while they're incredible reminders of an amazing horse, they don't do our relationship justice.
My closest portrait keepsake captures the pinnacle of our accomplishments: a third-place finish at the state fair. I was exhausted, and the photo shows me rocking a heavy case of helmet hair and a dirt-stained button up. It was a proud moment, sure, but not our most photogenic.
Major passed away a few years ago at nearly 30 years of age; he was reunited with his original owners in 2009, though I managed to see his grumpy face a few times since then.
Equine portrait photography wasn't quite as common as it is now, but I wish it had been. I wish I'd have taken the time to preserve my relationship with Major throughout the years. Early portraits would be brimming with pre-teen awkwardness and (sorry, Major) some pretty hideous mane jobs, later images would show a blossoming rider and the ever-grumpy gelding who shaped her skills. Major wasn't one for cuddling, and his ears would probably have been perpetually back throughout the session—until the pepperments came out—but those images of him would be priceless.
I'll never get to have those images.
My relationship with Major will never be preserved in beautiful portraits, but it's my mission to make sure that doesn't happen to others. Every relationship with every horse—from schoolmaster to trail boss to prospect deluxe—deserves to be celebrated, to be photographed, to be remembered...and not just in blurry phone photos and selfies. They deserve to be captured as art, where they'll hang in your home now and in the future. Trust me, when the decades have passed and your partner's long gone, you'll pull out that box of memories and momentos, dust off your prints and be glad to have the kinds of photos that I regret most.