Marshall and Valerie

To say these two are in love is a complete understatement. Smitten, enamored, impassioned, captivated, entranced… I don’t quite think any of these words adequately describe the feelings Marshall and Valerie have for each other.

I first met Valerie a few years ago when I did her senior portraits. I gave her some outfit ideas for her session and she did not disappoint. I remember her black jumper with a long train and how fabulous it looked with her black and white mare who she wanted featured in her portraits. She rocked that session. She was game for all of the suggestions and poses I had and was a complete natural in front of my camera. When I saw that she had recently been engaged, I crossed my fingers that her message would find my inbox searching for a wedding photographer.

I may have squealed when I got it.

When she hopped out of Marshall’s big lifted truck in her gorgeous burgundy dress the vision I had for their engagement session really came to life. His smart blueish gray shirt complimented her dress perfectly. But more than that, HE complimented HER perfectly.

Throughout their entire session they were just so comfortable with each other. There was no awkwardness, no hesitation in their movements. I’d recommend a pose and they naturally fell into it. They way he held her was so warm and tender, any outside observer would be fooled into thinking they had been made for each other. The way they looked at each other made it obvious that they were exactly where they were meant to be, there in each other’s arms.

After the session I asked Valerie how she knew Marshall was the one for her. She told me the ease of their relationship was the biggest factor. She told me they always getting along, even when they have their differences. They don’t fight or argue, if they meet a road block they discuss it and work out a solution together. Valerie told me her dogs had a big part in bringing them together in their relationship, especially her older dog Blue who does everything with the couple.

Not long into their relationship they bought a house and combined their family of animals. Five dogs, Five horses, and the two of them live together happily in Benson, North Carolina.

When I asked Valerie for a piece of advice she would give to people looking for the kind of love she found, she said: “Stop looking!!!! And don’t waste your time on the wrong one because you will never find the right one when you’re with the wrong one. And when you find the right one you will know because you will no longer have to question if they are the person you are supposed to be with. You will know when it’s right. And once you do find it do not let anything come before that person.”

I didn’t leave Marshall out of the questioning either. I asked him some of the same questions I asked Valerie, and his responses blew me away.

Marshall says about Valerie:

“I knew she was the one the first time I met her because from the moment I laid eyes on her, she lit up the entire room and had my full and utmost attention. I knew I had to make her mine. It might have been a while after we first met, but I knew if I didn’t try one day, I’d regret it forever.

Little does she know, Val is such a special and important person. It’s hard to find a decent person these days, let alone one to love and spend your life with. And let me tell you, there are more reasons than I could put into words as to why I know she’s the one. Everywhere she goes she brings an energy that just amplifies your every sense. She carries herself in a way that other young women should strive to. She’s tough as nails, but has a soft, golden heart that’ll give you the shirt off her back as long as you felt warmth. She’s humble, kind, and she loves with all her heart. She’s the dream I thought would never come true, but so thankful it did. I look forward to every morning waking up beside her, and every night laying down next to her. Not only do we have true love, but we also have a true friendship.

I believe that a marriage between two people should be full of love, understanding, joy, and an everlasting commitment. And I’ve never once doubted any of that for a second of our time together. She makes me hopeful for the future. Because I know as long as I take every step in life with her by my side, it’ll be a life spent well.

Any one that is still looking for their forever, in my opinion, should wait until they are certain. As I said before, a marriage should also be a friendship. Never settle, and let your heart lead you.

As for when I was about to propose, well, that’s a funny story. I had been looking at engagement rings, and finally found the one I knew was the one. So I bought it, had to get it resized of course. So a couple weeks later they call me, and my phone rings 10000 times a day and I normally answer on speaker, but one day it just happened to be Kay Jewelers calling to say the ring was ready and of course, she was standing right there beside me and heard them say that it was ready! So I’m certain she knew I had bought a ring, just didn’t know when I was going to propose. But Christmas morning, I woke up and knew it was the day to ask. As we walked up to the place where I asked her, I was a nervous wreck, not that she would say no, but nervous in a way in hopes that I wouldn’t pass out! But all in all, I was very excited about asking her. It was a dream come true.”

I am so, so excited that they have chosen me to capture their wedding day. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when his beautiful bride is walking down the aisle towards him. I can’t wait to see two young loves full of hopes and dreams sharing their vows with one another, promising their lives to each other, and becoming one together. These two are meant to be with each other, and I wish them nothing but happiness in their future.

Young Black Equestrians: The Passion, Culture and Lifestyle of Black Horsemanship

When I heard about Abriana’s latest endeavors along with the help of her friend Caitlin I couldn’t help but get excited. It’s no secret that the professional horse world is dominated by predominantly white equestrians, with black riders struggling to even appear on show circuits despite there being no lack of talent, passion, and drive. Friends Abriana Johnson and Caitlin Gooch are focusing in on a culture that is uniquely theirs.

Young Black Equestrians: The Podcast  showcases the world of black equestrians. From their facebook page, they describe their mission as: “Horses. They are a passion, a culture and a lifestyle. Young Black Equestrians will discuss the ins and outs of equine culture with an extra dose of melanin. Follow us as we open up the conversation educating and promoting the lifestyle we love.”

On their podcast line up will be a talk about the reason the podcast series was created, an interview with viral equestrian sensation Ashani Hamilton (also known as The Jamaican Jumper), and a discussion about the over sexualization of the cowgirl. They have interviews with many other black equestrians and the podcast is one to put on your subscribe list.

And speaking of education, Caitlin started a program called Saddle Up and Read, which is a literacy program designed to make reading fun by using horses to encourage kids to read. Abriana quickly joined up with Caitlin in this pursuit and the two have been traveling around the state to introduce kids to reading and horses and the program’s popularity is quickly growing. Learn more about Saddle Up and Read (SUAR) here.

Caitlin and I first met on the ECTRA (East Coast Trail Ride Association) trail scene several years ago. I remember people thinking I was her since we were basically the only two black women who wore helmets. Recently, I noticed Caitlin being more active on social media because of her “Saddle Up and Read” literacy program. I approached her with an idea for a podcast and learned we were similar in many ways! We often think that we are alone in our ideas and goals, but true magic can happen when like minded individuals come together and get stuff done!

Their goal is Bring awareness to the minority experience in the horse industry. From riders to trainers to farriers to farmers, it is an experience to be told and an integral part of their history. I wish these two much success with the projects they are taking on. Their attitudes and ability to make things happen will surely be the driving force behind their accomplishments. Be sure to follow their pages, tune into their podcasts, and get ready to watch them shine.

Ryan Wensel

There are some jobs in this world that take passion before all else. Jobs that require incredible amounts of knowledge, strength, and downright grit to get done. Being a farrier is one of those jobs. It is absolute backbreaking work with just enough danger to make me more than appreciative that someone else is the professional.

Ryan has been my farrier for the last two years, ever since we bought my daughter her pony. Kind hearted and quick witted, Ryan is always willing to teach and be taught.

Originally, Ryan grew up on a farm in Springboro Pennsylvania and grew up riding horses. His very first horse was named George who he owned from his childhood days in the early 90’s. George traveled with him to all of his stateside duty stations during his Army days until he passed in North Carolina back in 2005 .

Ryan is an Army veteran, having served from 1998-2005 and his last rank obtained was sergeant. His first military job was as a professional musician with the Army Band field. His primary instrument played was the electric bass/upright bass and secondary instrument was percussion. He was part of the 98th Army Silverwings Band at Ft. Rucker, Alabama from June of 1999 through January of 2001.

He fell in love with and married his wife in October 2000. From there he was put on orders for a hardship duty tour to Camp Red Cloud in South Korea, to be a part of the 2nd Infantry Band from January 2001 to March 2002. He then re-enlisted to reclass into Aviation as a Chinook Helicopter Technician ( Ch-47) in March of 2002 and came to Ft.Bragg, North Carolina in June 2002 to be a part of the Charlie Company 159th Aviation Regiment on Simmons Army Airfield. In August of 2003, he was attached to the 82nd Division All American Band at Ft.Bragg so they could go on tour to Iraq and Afghanistan and perform for the troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In June of 2004 he was sent back to Camp Humphries for another hardship duty tour in South Korea to be in Aviation again.

Ryan was honorably discharged from the Army in October 2005.

Prior to leaving the Army in 2005, he and his wife were always riding horses together. Their strong common bond of horses that they both had led them to giving riding lessons and going to horse shows in our free time, and this led them to establishing a family owned equine business from February of 2004 through October of 2008. With the help of his In-laws and father they offered boarding, training, lessons, sales, onsite horse shows and events and clinics. His wife went to Oklahoma to become certified in equine massage and chiropractic care and he started on his educational journey in to his passion of becoming a farrier around that time.

During that same time-frame he and his wife had the opportunity to work and associate with multiple different equestrian professionals and farms in the Southern Pines and Pinehurst area and further their own horsemanship skills. From 2009 to 2016 he and his wife had three other farms together that they lived on. Ryan worked on Ft. Bragg in government contracted security from September of 2008 through November of 2011 until he decided to go back to college to receive two applied science degrees in Aviation Systems Technology and Aviation Electronics Technology. He graduated in June of 2014 with intentions of working in the Aviation field again but life ironically pulled him in a different direction.

Ryan was offered a job to work for a friend who owned his own company as a sub contractor from June of 2014 until February of 2019, and he learned many lessons about running his own business from his boss. From the time he started learning and practicing the fundamental skills of being a farrier from 2005- 2019, it was always just a passion of his that he initially learned and enjoyed doing to help others if need arose.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2019 that he started having thoughts of becoming a full time farrier. He felt like this was truly the natural progression of where his life and direction was heading; everything just started to fall in place.

He met Martin Kenny in August of 2019 and with his fantastic mentorship, Martin has transformed Ryan from being just a part time weekend farrier with fundamental skills into a more competent, organized, systematic farrier that is more than capable to deal with many issues.

For many people, 2020 was a very difficult year but Ryan feels very blessed as it was a very successful, big year for him stepping in to being a full-time farrier. He has had many opportunities that he feels very fortunate to have received. All the years of being in the horse world finally felt to Ryan like things were falling in to place. With the continued guidance of his Mentor he’s moving in the right direction as he focuses on learning from his experience, knowledge, and techniques.

This past year he has been working diligently on a horse with an aggressive keratoma in her right hind that led to the resection of the entire front of her hoof all the way down to the bone. His skill and the owner’s dedication to her rehab were no doubt the major reasons why the mare is still here today.

I feel very fortunate to have Ryan as my farrier. His patience, skill, and ingenuity always shine through even on the toughest of cases.

Charreadas: The Culture, The Tradition, and The Art Form

Charreadas are events filled to the brim with tradition. From the clothing the Charros wear to the tack the horses carry, each item is a piece of living history. I have been fortunate enough to not only witness but photograph a few of these events and each time I attend I learn a little more about the history.

Horses are ridden in a traditional saddle with a horn with a very large circumference compared to most horned saddles. These saddles are simply called “Charro Saddles.” The purpose of the large horn is to provide more leverage when dallying a horse or a cow. Often times you can see grooves burned into the horn of the saddle caused my the friction of a tight rope spinning quickly against it as a caught horse draws the rope out of the Charros hand. Horses don a one eared bridle with a ported bit, and traditionally are finished bridle horses. The reins used are very thin pieces of rope which attaches to the bit by a fragile chain. Charros wear tight fitting clothing to prevent it from being snagged during their daring rides. There is no leeway on tack or clothing worn- all of it must be in the traditional charro style.

There are ten events that take place during the Charreada, and take place in a keyhole shaped arena called a Lienzo. Nine of the events are for the men, and one event is held by the women. This is a team sport, in which each team originally represented individual haciendas, or large estates. Individuals do not compete in Charreadas. These events, which are always preformed in the same order, are:

  1. Cala de Caballo, or test of the horse, where the horse and rider’s abilities are shown off. The horse comes running into the round part of the Lienzo and is supposed to slide to a stop. The longer and smoother the slide, the more points are awarded. Other portions of this event are high speed spins, a precision 180 degree spin wherein the horse is supposed to pivot on its back legs and make the turn in one movement, and backing. All of it should be done on a loose rein and with minimal effort from the rider.

  2. Piales en Lienzo is where a horse is caught by it’s back legs and a rope is dallied around the saddle horn tighter and tighter until the caught horse slows to a stop and quits kicking. Each Charro competing gets three opportunities, and the total distance it takes each horse to stop contributes to the number of points received. During this event you will often see smoke coming off of the horn of the saddle from the amount of force exerted on it by the caught horse.

  3. Colas en el Lienzo, or Coleadero (Quite literally Tail in the Lienzo) is an event where a cow is let out at the back side of the long end of the Lienzo, and a horse and rider team race to catch the cow, grab its tail, and flip it the other direction. The Charro that does this in the shortest distance, with the best technique, and has a bull that rolls well will typically be the winner of the event.

  4. Jineteo de Toro or bull riding, is pretty much what you would expect, the only differences from the American sport being the size of the bull and the use of two hands. In this event, the Charro is to ride the bull until it stops bucking, remove the flank rope dismount, and land upright in true gentleman’s fashion. After dismounting the Charro must then remove the girth rope from off of the bull to prepare it for the next event.

  5. Terna en el Ruedo is a traditional form of Team Roping. The goal for this event is for three Charros to rope a bull, the first roping his head, the next roping his back feet. The bull is then laid down, and the final Charro is to jump in and remove the ropes from the bull. The Charros are given six minutes to complete the task, where style and precision are the determining factor for points awarded.

  6. Jineteo de Yegua is riding a horse, traditionally a mare, bareback. Unlike American bronc riding, two hands may be used and the goal is to ride the mare until she stops bucking. The legs of the rider should remain horizontal to the ground, points are given for style.

  7. Manganas a Pie is an event where a Charro on foot preforms a series of rope tricks including jumping in and out of his loop before roping a wild mare being chased around the Lienzo by three mounted riders. The goal is to rope the horse by it’s front legs causing the horse to fall and roll. For extra points, the Charro can bring the horse down by wrapping his rope around his own neck, this is called  tirón del ahorcado. The Charro has three attempts to bring the mare to the ground, and points are awarded for all three attempts. You will not see the mare brought to the ground in the United States however as the practice has been outlawed here.

  8. Manganas a Caballo is the next event, where a mounted rider preforms similarly to the manganas a Pie. Points are awarded for trick roping, style, and bringing the horse to the ground successfully, and the rider similarly has three attempts to do so. In the United States however you will not see the mares brought to the ground as it is an illegal practice in this country.

  9. El Paso de la Muerte, or the pass of death, is an event where a rider sits atop his horse bareback and attempts to jump from his horse to the back of a wild mare all while being chased around the ring by three other riders. The wild horse is then to be ridden until she stops bucking, with the mane being the only thing available for the Charro to grab hold of. Occasionally this event is preformed with the rider facing backwards on his horse for an extra show of skill.

  10. Escaramuza meaning skirmish in english, is an event that was added to modern day Charreadas in 1992 in which women preform exacting riding displays while dressed in traditional Adelita garb. The women ride side saddle and show off their riding abilities against other teams of women. Often times this event is held between the tailing and bull riding.

If you ever get the chance to attend a Charreada, I say go for it. Bring some pocket money for the food, your dancing boots for the music, and your camera for a picture or two to help tell tale of this unforgettable event. You just never know what might happen, so pick a team, whistle and cheer, and have yourself an absolutely fantastic time witnessing living history.

Digital Photography Etiquette

So you’ve had your session, been to the horse show, and have purchased your digital images. What exactly can you do with them now? Let me help clear up a few things about the age of digital photography that some people just may not know.

Digital Media
You’ve recently attended a horse show and have been to the Official Photographer’s website. You see some stunning images of yourself and your horse, and you’d like to buy some to share with your friends. You see two options for digital media:

-Web Use/Web Sized
-Full Resolution with Print Release

Well, which do you need to purchase, and what does each of them do?

Web Use
An image listed for “web use” means just that- it is exclusively for use on the web, usually on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. It is NOT for printing, and is typically uploaded at a low resolution to cause any printing to turn out a poor quality.

Print Release
An image listed as “Full resolution with print release” Means that you have permission to print that image as many times as you would like, so long as the image is for personal use and not monetary gain. IE- You can’t print that beautiful headshot of your horse on a coffee mug and sell them to your friends, or turn a picture of you riding your horse into a t-shirt that you sell. You CAN however print the picture on a coffee mug for yourself, or a t-shirt for yourself. You can make canvases, photographic prints, blankets, etc. and most of the time what you can and cannot do is outlined in the print release you receive with your images.

No print release? NO PRINTING. Printing images that you do not have permission to print can come with hefty fines if you are caught. It’s just not worth it.

And while we are on the subject of digital media, lets talk about theft. *GASP* THEFT? Yes. Screenshotting, downloading, or copying an image that you do not have permission to screenshot, download, or copy IS THEFT. That’s the bottom line. It is no different than walking into a store and taking a shirt because you liked it.

“But it has their logo on it! It’s free advertising for them!” Is a line I hear quite often. Lets go back to the shirt scenario:

You walk into a store like Tractor Supply Company looking for feed for your chickens. While you’re there, you run across a ball cap with the Tractor Supply Company logo on it. You think to yourself, “you know, I’ve been needing a new ballcap. Tractor supply will appreciate me taking this and advertising their store for them!”

See the problem? With Images, there is NO DIFFERENCE between screen capturing an image or if you walked into a store and stole an article of clothing. If you take a picture without paying, it is stealing, and you can be forced to pay thousands of dollars in restitution if you are caught stealing images. Many photographers will let people off easy if they promise to take the image down and not do it again- but not all of them are like this. This is the photographer’s literal bread and butter, and by taking images you are taking food out of the mouths of their children. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

What if you want to use the digital image on your website to market your business, lesson program, or training barn?

That requires a different release entirely. That would fall under a commercial release, as you are using that image to advertise your business to make money. If you plan on buying a web only digital, or even a full resolution digital with a print release, be sure you ask your photographer if there are any additional releases they require to use the image for your website. Some will tell you no, some will tell you yes, but give credit, and some will outright require a release.

Submitting Images
You’ve done what you’re supposed to and have purchased your digital images. You see a company running a contest for a free saddle pad, and to enter you need to submit a picture of you riding your horse. Did you know you need your photographer’s permission to submit that image? The same is required if your photographer took pictures of your horse wearing a custom made halter, and the company that designed the halter wants to use the image for advertising their halters. They would need to contact your photographer to obtain permission directly from them. You do not have the authority to grant permission for any entity to use a picture you did not take, so always get in contact with your photographer if this situation arises!

Basic Etiquette
So you’ve chosen to buy the web release image just for showing off to your friends and family on Facebook. Many photographers will put a small logo on their web only digitals, but sometimes they don’t. When that logo is on the image be sure to not crop it out!

While it’s not required, simply tagging your photographer when you post one of their photos goes a long way in helping out their business and getting them the visibility they depend on to make more sales and get in front of more clients. Some photographers even run referral programs where each lead you get them gets you credit towards a session! Not sure if your photographer offers this program? Just ask!

Printed Photographs
Now, lets talk about Printed Photographs. This includes everything from traditional pictures to photo albums to canvases. What can you do with those? Well, pretty much the same as your web sized digitals. You can display them in your home, give them to friends and family, or even give them as gifts. What you cannot do is reproduce those prints in ANY manner. You cannot make more prints, you can not scan them and display them digitally, you can not sell them or submit them to publications or contests. Again, doing all of those things requires permission from your photographer. This is why some people find the value in buying a higher priced Digital that includes a Print Release, as you can typically print as many copies of the digital image you would like, as long as they are for a personal use only as listed above.

Copyright Ownership
The last point I’m going to bring up is really the most important one, and that is Copyright Ownership. In the United States, the person who TAKES the photograph, OWNS the photograph, even if you have paid the photographer to take the images. Unless they turn over actual copyright to you, you only have USE of the images, not OWNERSHIP.

Why is this important??

Because the owner of the photograph can quite literally do anything they choose with the photograph. Posting, editing, altering, sharing, selling, submitting to magazines, etc. If you aren’t comfortable with your images being shared publicly by the photographer, be sure to have that conversation BEFORE you book the photographer as some will have a requirement that your photos are allowed to be used in their portfolio and marketing. All photographers should have you sign a model release which will outline exactly what the photographer can and can not do with the images they have taken of you. If there is something in the release that you aren’t comfortable with, tell your photographer as they may be willing to amend it. If they won’t, and you aren’t ok with how your pictures will be used, you are within your rights to move on to a different photographer.

Not sure? Ask!
The bottom line is if you aren’t sure, ASK! Your photographer should have absolutely no issue educating you on the do’s and don’ts and would much prefer you ask permission than beg for forgiveness, especially when that forgiveness can come at a hefty price tag. Photographers aren’t monsters, and they certainly aren’t the enemy. They are just a small business owner like so many others trying to make a comfortable living and pay their taxes and insurance. Just like many other small business owners, photographers have a lot of overhead to pay for such as wear and tear on equipment (those camera shutters don’t last forever!), insurance, business licensing fees, web hosting fees, gallery hosting fees, editing program subscriptions, continuing education and workshops, wear and tear on vehicles, and the list goes on and on.

In Conclusion
So support your local hard working photographer. Buy those pictures. Tag their page. Recommend them to your friends. Share their posts. Every little bit helps! We love seeing images we have taken for you shared and displayed proudly on your Facebook walls and Instagram feeds. When you make them your profile picture we still get excited each time it happens. You are our biggest fans and our best support network, so we want to see you happy with your photos- and see you sharing them the right way. Share on and show the world the images you love!

Equine Photography Clinic

By now it’s no secret that photography and horses are two of my great passions in life, but another lesser known passion of mine is teaching others. On April 11th, 2021 I will be teaching an Equine Photography Clinic for those interested in taking their equine photography to the next level. Sound like something you might be interested in? Well, read on to learn more.

Get ready for an immersive day of learning on how to better use your camera to produce images you are proud to show off. Master new techniques and practice them in real world situations on a working cattle ranch in Elm City, North Carolina where we will have access to beautiful pastures, a huge arena, and the perfect barn- all of which we will utilize to create beautiful portraits. Limited to ten participants, my goal is to have you walking away with the confidence needed to photograph horses and their riders in just about any lighting situation.

In this course I will be teaching the fundamentals of photography to give you a solid foundation on which to build your skill set. We will implement those skills in three different scenarios throughout the course of the day to drive home what was taught:

Horse and People Portraits
Black Background Portraits
Horses in Motion

By keeping the class size small I will be able to devote plenty of individual hands on instruction to each participant to help guide you through the settings on your camera to achieve beautiful, well composed and properly exposed images. While this class is designed with a complete beginner in mind, I am certain that even those photographers with a little more experience will benefit from the instruction.

Worried about the type of camera you have? Don’t be. As long as your camera has the ability to control the settings it will work perfectly. Just remember that at one time each camera that was produced was once the latest and greatest piece of technology and is still capable of creating images that will delight. There are plenty of photographers out there who are still working with 15 year old camera bodies and publishing their work in magazines. If you wonder if your camera will fit the bill, or want guidance on purchasing a camera, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via my contact form!

The clinic doesn’t end when the day is done, however. When you register for the course you will also be invited to join the Equine Photography Clinic VIP group on Facebook where you will be able share your work with the other participants, receive help with basic editing, learn tricks to optimize your images for social media uploading, and have guidance with setting up your own online gallery website.

While I would like for all participants to have access to at least basic editing programs, it will not be required to attend as we are going to do as much work as we possibly can in camera! If you are so inclined to get some editing software (which I highly recommend) Adobe has a great package for photographers that only costs $9.99 a month! You can learn more about Adobe’s great programs which post professionals use at the following link:

The cost for this day long clinic is only $275 and will include a hot lunch and learning materials to take home with you to look over whenever you may need them. All you will need to bring is your camera with batteries and memory cards, a chair, and a willingness to learn. A $50 non-refundable retainer is required to hold your spot, with the remaining $225 due no later than April 1st.

I am so excited about this clinic and the opportunities it will provide for participants. I always have people ask if I gave lessons on photography, and this just seemed like the perfect way to help as many people as I can at once. I’m looking forward to seeing you all there on April 11th!

Click The following link to register for the Equine Photography Clinic!

Facebook Equine Photography Clinic VIP group can be found here, but admission to the group only comes with registration to the clinic!

Meet George

I get it, I do. Mules aren’t for everyone. With a reputation for being stubborn and ornery I can see where people get the notion that mules aren’t for them.

As for me? It’s love.

From their big old ears to their mealy donkey noses, there’s not a whole lot about a mule that I don’t like. I love the sound they make when they bray, I love the way their tails swish when they think, I adore their innate sense of self preservation that makes them a sturdy and dependable trail mount. I love that riding a mule is an absolute partnership of constant reassurances and trust. Treat them right and they’ll never do you wrong. Treat them wrong, well, good luck to you.

The first mule I ever rode was named Big John. A stout handsome brown gelding with kind eyes and a gentle way about him. Having never ridden one before I was a little apprehensive getting on, but that feeling quickly went away when I swung my leg over the saddle. He was easy going and responsive with the smoothest trot I had ever ridden. He never took a wrong step nor did he offer up any kind of resistance to any aids given. In the span of ten minutes I was hooked.

It had been quite a few years since I had had an equine of my own. We had purchased my daughter the sweetest little shetland pony for her 4th birthday, but I was still without a mount and the desire to have a ride again was consuming me.

Then one day a friend posted a big bay gelding mule for sale and I just knew he was the one. His mane hadn’t been roached in quite some time and the picture of him was a bit unflattering if I’m being honest, but I could just tell from looking at his face that he was a kind old soul. I showed him to my friend that owned John, and she thought we should go check him out.

It was instantaneous love. I have always been a timid rider with some nerves to keep at bay, and being out of commission for a few years after having my daughter didn’t help that. When I sat in that saddle though I could just feel how rock steady he was. He was big boned and took up all of my leg, and was smooth as could be. His ears were crooked, his eyes were soft, and he went home with us that day.

We’ve spent this year developing our relationship and feeling each other out. Both of us have our own quirks, but he has been instrumental in helping me regain my confidence. He’s middle of the herd and just an easy going, “nothing gets me bothered” type of gelding. His ground manners are immaculate. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, and is just as gentle as he can be around my children.

We got to attend a ladies only ranch academy this year where we learned how to work cows. Tracking, boxing, cutting, and roping were on the agenda. He adores having a job to do and thought pushing those cows around was the best thing ever. While he’s not the biggest fan of ropes, being able to rope off of him is a goal I have set for us this year so we can hopefully compete in some Ranch Trail classes. I hope to take him to a few open shows this coming year and test our abilities against some of our peers to see how he does head to head with horses. If you happen to see us at a show don’t hesitate to come say “Hi” to him, he loves all of the attention he gets. You’ll probably hear us before you see us though as he frequently announces his presence to anyone within ear shot- which for a mule is a pretty good distance.

I hope one day everyone will learn to love and appreciate mules the way that I do, and will have the opportunity to experience what great personalities they really have. If you see a mule out at a show stop and talk to their owners and ask about them, but be careful, because once you get hooked on a good mule you’ll hardly want anything else in your life!

Abriana: Autumn Goddess

Where to even start with this session, other than FIRE.

This stunning woman and I have been planning this session for literally months. We have gone back and forth about outfits, hair styles, horse training, lighting, weather, hay fields and hurricanes. We scheduled and rescheduled, got heat waved out and hurricaned out and finally, FINALLY had an opening that would work. The weather was just right. The gnats were nowhere to be found (I’ll talk about THOSE in another post) and the Wooly Mammoth coat on Maestro hadn’t yet made it’s appearance.

It was as if Mother Nature had kept telling us, “wait just a little longer, I promise it will be worth it.”

Abriana chose to style her session by wearing a beautiful mustard yellow chiffon dress with a slit in it seemingly made for horseback riding. She designed and made her own floral crown, with touches of orange maple leaves and sprigs of greenery to match the season, along with beautiful daisies and sunflowers to match her dress. She had also been working with Maestro, her Tennessee Walking Horse, to ensure that he would be able to handle a dress billowing around him in the wind. With her faithful Dutch Shepherd companion at her side, we started her session right in her backyard in Wendell, North Carolina.

Abriana and I met through our farrier and a mutual love for naturally gaited Tennessee Walkers, their shod counterparts oftentimes being surrounded by controversy. Using Maestro in her shoot was a given, and was the perfect opportunity to showcase the natural beauty of this wonderful breed. She has worked diligently in his training since obtaining him as a young foal and her work was evident during our photoshoot. He showed off and parked out and behaved beautifully, and Abriana was full of fierceness and elegance. The warm glow of the sunset backlit them beautifully and reflected light off of a nearby pond.

This session, for me, is truly what dreams are made of.


Baby T and the Cavvietta Queen

As soon as I heard that Gracie was expecting a baby I just knew that I needed to take her maternity pictures. When I suggested the idea to her, she was a little hesitant. As busy as she is all the time working a full time job and helping to run her cattle operation at Cavvietta Quarter Horse and Cattle Co. with her husband and parents, who wouldn’t be? When would she find the time in that packed schedule caring for cows, horses, dogs, and students alike? When I showed up with the stunning red gown she is seen wearing I think a bit of that hesitation melted away. I am so thankful that she trusted me to bring my vision to life.

“Gracie is a first generation cowgirl who has been riding since she was three. She ran barrels in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association with the NCSU rodeo team that she helped start, then went on to find a love of mounted shooting, ranch sorting, and ranch roping. She has a passion for teaching lessons and practicing traditional vaquero horsemanship with her husband, Pedro. Gracie fell in love with Pedro’s horse at a rodeo.”

Gracie and husband Pedro were married in 2017 in a beautiful ceremony. Together, they host many events a their working cattle ranch, such as both a Boys and Girls Ranch Academy, roping and cow sorting clinics, Ranch Rodeo events, open horse shows, weddings, boarding, private lessons, specialized clinics, 4-H meetings, Cowboy Church,  and more. If it’s western and you can dream it, they probably do it at Cavvietta!

The two of them are beyond excited to welcome their new ranch hand into the family, and with the love and support they have already been shown there’s no doubt that this baby is going to be raised by a village with nothing but her best interests in mind. 


Preparing for Your Session

So you’ve researched and chosen your photographer, paid your booking fee, picked a date- Now what? Well now it’s time to prepare for your session, of course! I’m going to offer you some tips and tricks to ensure you get the most out of your photo session.

Freshen up your groundwork
There’s nothing more frustrating for a horse owner wanting beautiful portraits of their animals than a horse that just Wont. Stand. Still. Work on that whoa, watch some YouTube videos of halter horse training, practice just standing still. You (and your photographer!!) will have a much better time during your session.

Clean your tack
If you are planning on having your horse tacked up for your photoshoot, make sure that leather is supple and conditioned, the silver is polished and shining, and all of that dust is gone. Be sure everything fits properly before your shoot so you can save time and stress the day of.

Choose your outfits
Think of the style you are going for with your session. Western show clothes photograph very well if you are going for a more polished look. Make sure everything is clean and pressed and your hat is properly shaped. English attire without a helmet always looks beautiful and classic. If you are going for a more relaxed look, choose a button down shirt that compliments your horse and a nice pair of jeans. Be sure your boots are cleaned and polished if they are the polishing type. Be sure to wear clothes that flatter your body type and try those clothes on before your session. If you are uncomfortable in them just standing around your room I can promise you that you will be very self-conscious wearing them during your session.

Declutter your barn
Put away those winter blankets hanging on your stall fronts, sweep your aisleways, dust off those cobwebs. If you are having your session around your barn you want it to look it’s best and a pile of old feed bags is just going to take away from the overall look of your images. Don’t leave it up to your photographer to photoshop things out!

Groom your horse
This should be a given, but go ahead and groom that horse. Give him a bath and be liberal with the show sheen. Pull his mane if that is your style so he has a fresh look. Make sure you clean out his ears, condition his mane and tail, and if its possible leave them wrapped until just before your shoot so he looks neat and tidy. Polish those hooves, and have cornstarch available for any white patches to make them really pop! Groom your horse as if you are getting him ready for a world level show.

Groom yourself
Us horse people are guilty of putting all of our time and effort into our horses while saving very little energy for ourselves! It’s not a bad idea to invest in professional hair and makeup- but make sure you have it done AFTER you get your horse ready. Try out different hair styles before your session to see what you are going to like best. Try neutral colors of makeup to freshen up your look, and keep your favorite powder and hairspray at the ready during your photoshoot for quick touchups.

Recruit a friend
Getting ready for an equine photoshoot is often times like getting ready for a horse show. Having a friend available to help with the dirtier parts of getting ready will help keep you and your horse looking your best. Ask if they would be willing to stay for the duration of the session to help keep the horses attention, get ears up, reposition them, etc. They can help with tack and outfit changes and if your session involves multiple horses you can never have enough hands to get them into position!

Communicate with your photographer
If you have specific shots in mind that you want to take, go ahead and write them down! A shot list can help the day run more smoothly and give your photographer an idea for the type of session you are after. Make sure you discuss with your photographer beforehand about the style you are after. Are there certain attributes of your horse you want to capture? Things you want to avoid? Discuss these things both before your session and the day of to ensure all of your photography needs and wants are met!

Know what you’re doing with your images
What is your plan with your images? Are they business headshots? Pictures for a stallion card? Images you want to display in your home? Are they going to be used in a magazine or other publication? Make sure you let your photographer know ahead of time what you plan on doing with your images so that they can be sure you have the correct type of release to go along with those images. Ask your photographer the difference between a personal print release and a copyright release so you can be well educated about how you can and can not use your images.

Have Fun!
Remember that your session is supposed to be a fun event. The more relaxed you are the more natural your smiles will look in your photographs. These tips I have offered you above will hopefully help make your session go smoothly and efficiently and will ensure the images captured are the best they could possibly be! Have some other ideas about getting ready for an equine portrait session? Let me know in the comments below so we can add them to the list!