Show me the Money!!!
No matter what horse event you’re shooting, whether is Jumpers, Bull Riding, Dressage, Gymkhana or any other type of equestrian photography, there is always a money shot! The “Money Shot” is the one picture every rider competitor wants of themselves and their horse at any given event.
Every event has its own Money Shot (or shots) and the riders are dying for them! As the official show photographer it is your goal to fulfill this desire and make all their dreams come true… and you will, at least some of the time. It is impossible to capture a dynamite, award winning, viral inducing image of every rider, at every event. But you should always try your best at every show!
Before we get into the specifics of money shots for each event, there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, photography is art and art is subjective, so don’t be discouraged if you “followed the formula” to the letter and a rider rejected your Money Shot photos. You could show that same photo to 10 other riders and they may think it’s the best thing since sliced bread! Horse owners are more self conscious about how their horse looks than they are about themselves… seriously! They know every flaw and redeeming quality of their horse, things you will never see or notice. Don’t worry about it, you can’t please all the people, all the time. That said, if you’re getting a lot of the same comments back, like “Dang, I wish my horses knees were higher on that jump!” or “I like that photo, but my horse looks fat.” pay attention and make alterations in your angles or your timing.
When River and I first started shooting Dressage events we had no idea what the Money Shots were. I remember editing that first show and just picking out the photos I thought were attractive and deleting everything else. It was a small private barn event in Durango, Colorado and the barn owner was the organizer. She came to our booth to see her pictures and virtually every photo wasn’t right! Wrong leg placement here, weight to far forward there, etc… She was very polite and knew we were new to dressage, so I asked her what we should be shooting. To our surprise, her answers were very familiar sounding… they were the photos I’d just deleted! I went into the deleted files and showed her the photos we’d culled from the show. Her face lit up and she said “That’s the shot!” Moral of this story, never assume that you know more than the horse owner about what makes a great picture of their horse or event.
Don’t be afraid to ask the riders what they’d like to see in their photos! Let them critique you, they will appreciate that you’re listening to them and you will form a connection with many riders, barn owners and trainers that will pay off in future shows and barn shoots!
A Few Words of Caution…
As the official equestrian show photographer you will be given special access to places on the showgrounds that the general public will not, most notably the show arena. Riders will be focused on their events and are assuming that you are paying attention to what’s going on around you, so… pay attention to what’s going on around you! I have been kicked, stepped on, bitten and nearly run over a few times working horse shows and as a result have learned to grow eyes in the back of my head. Here’s a few tips I learned the hard way;
- Never turn your back on a horse you don’t know.
- Never trust a Shetland pony… no matter how cute he is.
- Always be aware of where your feet are when standing near a horse.
- Never let a rider tie their horse to your tent/booth, no matter how chill they say he is.
- Never get in an enclosed space with riderless stallion.
- Never argue with a dressage rider!(LOL)
Universal Equine Photography Rules
These are the events we’ve had the most extensive experience with. But first, here are a few universal rules to remember no matter what the event your shooting:
- Shooting at a downward angle. NEVER shoot down on horses and riders. This is the one time you are allowed to not listen to the advice of horse owners. For some reason amateur photographers are compelled to want to find high ground and shoot down on horses and riders. This is a bad idea as shooting from above shortens the horses legs and neck, widens their bodies and their riders bodies, making everyone look fat! Not to mention that horses are all about movement. How can you capture that movement when you can’t even see the horses legs! Don’t do it!
- Ears up and forward. There is virtually no event where the horse owner wants to see there horses ears flattened back. You will undoubtedly capture a lot perfect shots with everything lined up just right… everything but the ears! During an event, this is completely out of your control. Show it anyway, just know that the sales for that photo are about 50/50.
- Weight forward. Delete photos where you caught the horse with its weight on the front feet, whether coming down from a jump, or at the end of its gait, at any speed. Photos of a horse with its weight forward make it appear slow and clumsy and your riders will reject it.
- Keep the Wipeouts! This sounds kind of weird and I didn’t do it for the longest time. Whenever I saw someone get into a wipe out on their horse, I felt like I should not just be clicking away on my camera hoping to sell a photo of a riders pain and humiliation. Wrong! In virtually every horse show we’ve ever shot where there was a wreck, the rider has come limping to the booth wanting to buy a picture of it! They are so disappointed if you didn’t get it, so fire away! You may want to use a little common sense here, if the horse or rider was seriously injured, wait for them to ask to see the wipeout before displaying it in the show slide show!
The Money Shot by Event
Below are descriptions and photo examples of the Money Shots for the most common horse events.
Hunter/Jumper events are about form as much as height and speed jumping. When shooting Hunter/Jumpers, position yourself in the arena to capture a solid ¾ angle of the horse and rider as they are clearing the jump. Get down low so that you are shooting upward, but far enough back so that you aren’t getting the horses belly.
The Money Shot: The Jump
You should try to capture the horse just after the hind hooves have left the ground. The rear legs should be extended, body launched toward the sky, forelegs tucked in tight. Head up and alert, ears forward, eyes open. Preferably the riders face can be seen and isn’t obstructed by the horses head, neck or mane. If you line up your shot just right, you can get all three jumping positions and the riders will love it!
Jumper events are all about height and time. The same rules generally apply to shooting the Jumper classes as the Hunter/Jumper classes, the biggest difference being the heights jumped. Jumpers will clear anywhere from 1 ½ ft. to 6.7 ft fences which means that in the upper classes, the timing is totally different when jumpers are running their course. Horses will slow before a jump and spring nearly straight up into the air. Because the jumps are so high, the horse will hang be in the air, long enough for you to get 3 solid money shots before they return back to earth.
Money Shot 1 – The Launch, Horse’s hind feet just off the ground, body and hind legs at full extension, forelegs tucked. Rider leaning forward to horse’s neck.
Money Shot 2 – Midway over the Fence. Horse’s forelegs are tucked and about ¼ of its body is over the fence. Rear legs are still extended but well off the ground, body position is angled skyward.
Money Shot 3 – Midway Flight-Horse Hangs in the Air!Horse’s body is horizontal over the fence and crossing over at the full height of the jump. The forelegs are beginning to reach out in anticipation of the landing. The hind legs are pulling in to clear the fence as it passes over. Rider is seated, tucked and low on the horse, offering as little wind resistance as possible.
Money Shot 4 (optional) The landingSee Hunter landing photo above!
This is the moment that the horse is almost down from the height of the jump and the forelegs are extended preparing for the landing. The horse is at a vertical position, back legs above the fence. Some riders, especially Jumpers and Cross Country riders love this image, as long as it’s a continuation of the “Midway flight” when the horse hangs in the air.
In my opinion, dressage is the most difficult of all horse events to shoot. Timing is everything! If I were physically teaching someone how to shoot horse shows, I would start them out in Dressage. Dressage is a very exacting and disciplined sport both for horse and rider. The horse and rider’s perfect form is effortless seeming, and discipline is everything. For the photographer endeavoring to capture that valuable Money Shot, timing is crucial above all else.
Money Shot 1 – The Trot
Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, and hands down with the reins with head up. Horse should have his head up, ears forward, neck rounded downward, and back straight. A three quarter or side angle is what is preferred. The horses position should be light on his feet and all four hooves off the ground forming a V shape in the legs is very desirable. You can also have the leading legs hoove and the opposite trailing legs hoove off the ground. See photo examples!
Money Shot 2 – Canter. Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, hands down with the reins, head up. Horse should be light on its front feet, preferable with one or both hooves in the air. Horses head is up, ears forward, neck rounded downward. ¾ angle shots are most flattering.
Money Shot 3 – Flying Lead Change. This is when the horse is asked to basically skip a step to lead from the right foot to left foot or vice versa. This is sometimes performed with a few steps in between lead changes or consecutively one foot to the other. Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, hands down with the reins, head up. Horse should be light in the front with both front feet and one hind foot off the ground. Head up, ears forward, neck curved or rounded downward. ¾ angle shots are most flattering.
Money Shot 4 – Extended Trot
Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, hands down with the reins, head up.Horse should be light in the front, foreleg at full extension, opposite foot and opposing rear foot should be together. Legs should form an “M”. In upper classes the extended foreleg can be very pronounced. The higher the better!
Money Shot – Riding (Equitation). The best shots are horses at a canter (faster than a trot, slower than a gallop). Weight should always be in the rear and light in the front. In other words the horse’s weight should be on the hind legs with the front feet lightly touching or off the ground entirely. Rider should have a firm comfortable seat, not standing or in the middle of a post, hands down with the reins, heels down in the stirrups. The horses head should be up, alert, ears forward, eyes open.
A combination event including Cross Country, Dressage and Hunter Jumpers.
Money Shots are the same as above for Dressage Events, Hunter/Jumper.
Money Shot 1 – Cross Country Course Jumps. Rider should have a good seat, riding low, focused and looking toward the next obstacle. Horse’s hind feet just off the ground, body and hind legs at full extension, forelegs tucked. Rider leaning forward to horse’s neck.
Money Shot 2 – Halfway to Midway over the Fence. Horse’s forelegs are tucked and about ¼ of its body is over the fence. Rear legs are still extended but well off the ground, body position is angled skyward.
Money Shot 3 – Cross Country Course Water HazardRider should have a firm seat and appear in control.Horse should appear light on in the front with as much flying water and mud as you can capture! NOTE; You can break the horse “light on the front” rule if the horse is jumping down into a water hazard. Cross Country is like dirt bike riding with horses… the muddier the better!
Money Shot 4 – Cross Country RunningRider should have a good seat, riding low, focused and looking toward the next obstacle. Horse should be light in the front or all four feet off the ground. Shooting the horse as it’s rounding a corner will give you a really nice angle.
Cross Country is a timed event involving jumps, ledge jumps into water hazards, water crossings and bridges. Courses can be quite large, so it is best to place yourself somewhere where you can get shots of a variety of obstacles from one position.
Money Shot 1 – Cross Country Course JumpsRider should have a good seat, riding low, focused and looking toward the next obstacle.Horse’s hind feet just off the ground, body and hind legs at full extension, forelegs tucked. Rider leaning forward to horse’s neck.
Money Shot 2 – Halfway to Midway over the FenceHorse’s forelegs are tucked and about ¼ of its body is over the fence. Rear legs are still extended but well off the ground, body position is angled skyward.
Money Shot 3 – Cross Country Course Water Hazard (See Eventing description above)
Money Shot 4 – Cross Country Running (See Eventing description above)
Cowboy Mounted Shooting
This is a timed event course similar to barrel racing, but with the addition of black powder filled guns (no bullets) fired at balloon targets on posts/poles. The goal is to pop all balloon targets in the fastest time possible! This is a very fast paced event!
Money Shot 1 – Shooting. Rider should have gun drawn, a streak of orange sparks shooting out of the gun barrel. The balloon can be in the shot or not. Ideally, the balloon is in mid-explosion.Horse will be at a run or canter, light in the front or all 4 off the ground. Horses rounding course corners, ¾ or side view shots all work for this event.
Money Shot 2 – Post or Pole turns. Rider will be focused and leaning hard into the turn around the post or pole, gun drawn.
Horse will be low and leaning hard. As usual, horse should be captured light in the front unless the footing (dirt) is deep, then getting a shot of the horse shoulder deep in the dirt is really cool!
Barrel Racing & Pole Bending
A timed event wherein a horse and rider must complete a pattern around a set number of barrels or poles. Horse will be deep in the footing up to its shoulder in some cases. The horse will be heavy in the front in these instances, but the flying dirt and action overrides the light in the front rule on this one. You can also catch the horse just as it launches out of the turn, front feet in the air, looking as though he is bursting from the ground. Also a very cool shot that riders love!
Money Shot 1 – Turning the Barrel or Pole. Rider will have a firm seat and will be leaning hard into the turn. Sometimes the footing in the arena will be very soft and the horse will dig in so deep that the rider’s inside leg will appear to be buried in the dirt… Super Cool! Use a fast shutter speed and get every airborne particle of dirt!
Money Shot 2 – Running. Rider should have a good seat, riding low, focused and looking toward the next Barrel or Pole. Horse should be light in the front or all four feet off the ground. Side and ¾ views are best.
Money Shot 4- Pole Bending. Similar to Barrel racing, the riders run a tight course of poles, going around each one and on the last pole, circling it and going back up the pose course as fast as possible! A fun timed event. Vertical shots can work well here of the horse & rider rounding each pole. As always, light in the front for the horse, dirt flying is great and the rider should be leaning forward, always have a firm seat and appear to be incontrol of her mount.
A fun activity that can include any number of events from other show genres including, barrel racing, pole bending, light cross country, low jumping and obstacle courses. Gymkhana are often 4H Club events are generally for kids, but sometimes have “for adult” competitions.
Money Shot 2 – Barrel Racing, See Barrel Racing Money See above shot description.
Money Shot 3 – Jumping, See Jumping Money Shot description.
Money Shot 4 – Cross Country/Obstacle Course, See Cross Country Money Shot description.
Take a stick of dynamite, wrap a rare steak around it, get on his back, and light the fuse. Pure insanity!
Money Shot – The wilder the better. Anything showing how dangerous and downright foolhardy this sport is.
Another sport in which you attempt to ride an animal that wants to kill you… on purpose. Money Shot – See “Bull Riding”
An event performed solo or with a partner in which you try to rope a speeding calf for the fastest time. Solo calf roping is head roping only. Team Roping involves one competitor roping the head and his/her teammate roping the hind foot.
Money Shot 1- The RundownRider will be focused on the calf and have a good seat as he winds up for the lasso throw. Horse will be at a flat out run, light in the front. Shot can include the calf or not. Side or ¾ view is best.
Money Shot 2 – The Halo. Rider will have thrown the lasso and the lasso loop is hanging in midair above the calf’s head. Horse will be at a flat out run, light in the front. Shot can include the calf or not. Side or ¾ view is best.
Money Shot 3- Got ‘Em. Rider will have roped the calf, and the riders end of the rope is wrapped around the saddle horn. Horse is in full sliding stop, weight heavy on the rear, rope taught. This should show horse/rider and calf.
A rodeo event in which a rider chases down a mid-sized steer on horseback, and at a full run dismounts the horse and dives onto the steer, grabbing it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground. Timed event.
Money Shot 1 – Running. Rider will be focused on the steer and have a good seat as he prepares for the dismount.Horse will be at a flat out run, light in the front. Shot should include steer. Side or ¾ view is best.
Money Shot 2 – The Dismount. Rider will be leaving the horse, but not quite on the steer. Horse still be keeping pace with the steer, light in the front.
Money Shot 3 – Rider will be fully engaged with the steer, heels in the air or in the dirt in an effort to slow the steer down. Horse may or may not be in the shot.
A timed event wherein 2 riders attempt to sort 10 numbered calves into a pen in numerical order. This is a really fun event with a lot of unpredictable action, and relies heavily on teamwork.
Money Shot – Photos where horse and rider are squared off with a calf. Calf is trying to get past the horse to avoid being pushed into the other pen…he tries to stay with the herd. Horse is quickly cutting the calf off, agilely anticipating the calf’s intent and moving laterally to cut him off.
Cattle Sorting & Cutting
This can be a locals fun weekend event or an organized show with sponsers and pro Cutting horses. Though most of the shows we photographed were more of the casual variety, Cutting shows can be high end and very hard to land (like Reining). The money shots for the smaller shows were good clean interactions with cutting horse, rider and calf. Fun shots of the calf getting chased or “cut” by horse and rider were always winners with the riders.
We didn’t shoot this show much as it was pretty locked up in Arizona! We did get one show by default of a no show photographer. We did well and wished we could have shot more of these! The money shot as we know it, is the action as the horse slides through the soft thick footing with the rider ever so light on the reins! The more spraying dirt the better!
Breed shows can happen both on the ground and mounted. The purpose of a breed show is to show your horse’s style, confirmation and gait. The mounted portion of the show is called Equitation.
Depending on the type of breed being shown you may want to accentuate different attributes of a particular breed. Refer to our article on Breed Specific Photos (coming soon!). There are also “All Breed” shows that include purebred and mixed bred horses.
In many breed shows the handler is not the owner of the horse. They are showing the horse and the owner may have several horses in the show. The handler will probably come to your booth to see the photos first, and send the owner over to buy them if they like what they see.
Money Shot 1 – On the ground entrance or circle
Handler is jogging out with the horse, lead rope in hand. Handler (like the horse) is light in the front, meaning their forward foot is off the ground.
Horse is trotting out easily not crowding the handler and keeping the handlers pace. Horse should be light in the front, head up, ears forward.
Money Shot 2 – Confirmation
Handler is holding the lead rope, facing the horse and standing approximately 6 feet away from the horse.
Horse is standing straight, hind feet slightly back, back straight, head up ears up. Shot is fine with or without handler.
Money Shot 3 – Equitation
Trot – Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, hands down with the reins, head up. Horse should be light on its feet with all four either off the ground entirely or the forward most foot off the ground, trailing hind foot off the ground and opposing front and hind feet lightly touching the ground and creating a V in the legs. Head up, ears forward, neck rounded downward, back straight. ¾ or side angle shots are preferred. (similar to dressage)
Canter – Rider should be fully seated, back straight, heels down, hands down with the reins, head up. Horse should be light on its front feet, preferable with one or both in the air. Head up, ears forward, neck curved downward. ¾ angle shots are most flattering.
There are many other horse events out there, each with their own preferences on what they like to see in their photos. Whenever you’re shooting an event new to you, don’t be afraid to let the riders help guide you to creating the best and most saleable Money Shots! It’s a good idea to start with a low level show (beginners) and get your shots dialed in before going after bigger, higher leveled shows where you may be photographing pro riders with high expectations of your photography! Make sure to have fun and enjoy any event you are shooting! It will come through in spades in the beautiful images you will create! Good luck!