A few months ago on a rainy spring day I was noodling around on the internet and stumbled upon a picture of a purebred miniature horse called a Falabella. I noodled around a bit more and found a family who raises them right here in Illinois, an hour's drive from where I live. I sent a quick email and two weeks later, I was shaking hands with Carol Swinford. Carol and her husband Gary gave me a tour of their beautiful ranch, told me their story and allowed me to photograph their minis.
The Swinfords are both "retired" but in reality, they spend 24/7 running their horse farm. Falabellas may be small but caring for them is a full-time job.
It was a beautiful golden morning - neither too hot nor too humid - and I happily photographed their minis for a good two hours. The late spring is always a fun time to photograph horses since, especially at ranches like Shades of Blue, that breed their stock, there will be lots of foals. The Swinfords had four little cuties running around, plus several stallions and a host of brood mares.
The 8-week-old colt in the lead image was a hoot to photograph. He wasn't just sweetly snuggling up to that mare, he was interested. She was going into season for the first time and, despite his tender age, he was 100% stallion. The mare was very patient with him as he tried and tried to figure things out. Alas, the little rogue was unsuccessful.
The Swinford's black Falabella stallion Buddy was also eager to breed. Carol let him out of his paddock so that I could shoot him running along the length of the driveway but he launched himself towards his mares, and ripped the lead right out of her hands. He might be tiny be he's a glossy little powerhouse, isn't he?
You can see all of my favorite images from my Falabella miniature horse shoot at Shades of Blue Ranch here.
Here's a few tips on photographing miniature horses.
- Miniature horses are, well, small so if you plan on standing up during your shoot, forget about it. Be prepared to bend, squat, kneel and sit so that you're low enough to capture facial expressions and mannerisms.
- Include reference items like doors and fences to show your viewer how tiny these horses are. The brood mares have a big-bellied pony look to them but the stallions certainly didn't and without a reference, you might not realize Buddy is just knee-high to a grasshopper.
- The foals especially were very friendly and everytime I kneeled down to catch a sweet moment, they would amble towards me. First, be patient. Second, spend some time in their paddock or enclosure till they start to lose interest in you. Carol took a call while I was shooting and as she talked on the phone, the minis lost interest in me. I was able to catch a few sweet moments.
- Even if you're shooting in "good" early morning or late day light, watch the shadows. Miniature horses are so small that fences, shrubbery, outbuildings and even other horses can create awkward shadows. Sometimes you can position yourself to take advantage of a shadow pattern but often you need to position yourself in a way to minimize the shadows and wait for the horses to move into your target zone.
- Above all else, have fun while you shoot. Horses are magical creatures to begin with and miniature horses have even more of a fairytale quality to them.