Selling a Horse? 18 Tips for Better Sale Photos & Videos

Credit: Robin Duncan

By Melanie Huggett

In order to give your horse the best chance at selling in today’s market, you must have a good marketing plan. These days, photo ads and videos are commonly used as a part of marketing a horse to buyers.

The purpose of a photo or video is to give the buyer an idea of the horse’s talent, training, and conformation without seeing the horse in person. Poor quality media or media of the wrong type could cause potential buyers to pass your horse by, even if he might be suitable for them. Likewise, exceptional photos and video will put the spotlight on your horse, making him stand out from the competition.

Regardless of whether you are shooting photos or video, your horse should be thoroughly groomed and well turned out. Groom your horse until his coat is shiny and sleek. Bathe him if necessary. You may also wish to braid or band his mane if appropriate to his discipline. If it’s wintertime, consider clipping your horse to rid him of long hair that will hide his true conformation and movement. Essentially, prepare your horse as you would for a show. Tack should be spotless. The rider or handler should be in clean, proper attire (no sweat pants and sneakers!). Schooling clothes are fine, but must be in good condition.

Focus on Photos

1.    The conformation shot. You will need two types of photos of your sale horse. The first is the conformation shot, which is a photo of a horse, standing sideways, with just a bridle or halter on. The photographer should stand so that he forms a perpendicular “T” with the horse’s shoulder, to avoid distorting the horse’s conformation. The frame should be filled with the horse. Keep in mind the stance required for your horse’s breed. Most will stand square, with one hind foot slightly forward of the other. However, some breeds should stand with their hind legs “parked out.” Check your breed standard before shooting.

horse conformation photoWhen photographing the conformation shot, keep in mind the stance required for your horse's breed. Most will stand square, with one hind foot slightly forward of the other.

2.    The action shot. One thing most buyers want to know is how the horse moves. This is where the action shot comes into play. Typically these are photos of the horse trotting or cantering. Again, the photographer should try and fill the frame with the horse.

3.    Equipment. Digital SLR cameras take the best equine photographs. One major difference between a digital SLR and a “point-and-shoot” camera is that with a digital SLR, what you see when looking through the viewfinder is what your camera sees. A point-and-shoot photo will be different from what you see in the viewfinder; these cameras also have a delay between when you click the button and when the photo actually takes, making them poor options for action shots. A good quality point-and-shoot camera will probably do for conformation shots, but simply doesn’t have the focal length needed for the best photos. Mobile phone cameras are a definite no-no when taking sale photos! If you don’t have access to a digital SLR camera, consider hiring a professional equine photographer who can provide you with a variety of quality conformation and action shots.

4.    Lighting. Never shoot into the sun; the sun should be behind one shoulder of the photographer. Early morning or late afternoon provide the best light for photographing horses. Bright or midday sun creates dark shadows and bright whites that will hide parts of your horse. Similarly, ensure your horse is not standing in the shadow of a tree or building.

5.    On the same level. When shooting a horse, you should be level with the middle of his shoulder. You may need to elevate yourself with a stool or a fence for very tall horses, or kneel on the ground when shooting ponies or Miniature horses.

6.    Use a handler. Having a handler hold and move the horse, and get his attention, is invaluable when taking horse photographs. Make sure your handler is comfortable and experienced around horses.

Video Marketing Plan Advertising Horse IndustryThis photo may be amusing, but it does nothing to compliment the horse and attract a buyer. Make sure the horse’s eyes are open and he is not making any funny faces or awkward movements in your sale photos.

7.    No distractions. Avoid distracting backgrounds or other objects that may draw attention away from your horse. Clutter, fences, or groups of people or horses in the background will detract from your horse. Choose a background such as a field, a row of bushes, or the clean, uniform side of a building. Likewise, avoid distractions in the photo such as a lead rope, or fence post that appears as though it is sprouting from your horse’s head.

8.    Ears up! We all know that horses look best when both ears are facing forwards. Get your handler to attract your horse’s attention by shaking a plastic bag or by using treats.

9.    Avoid awkward moments. Taking a photo at the wrong angle can make your horse’s muzzle look like it’s the size of a watermelon, make his long legs look dwarfish, or his back look miles long. Always try to stay centred and perpendicular to the horse, and make sure you are standing a good distance away. Make sure to choose a photo in which your horse has his eyes open and his mouth closed. While a photo with his tongue hanging out may hit your funny bone, it’s not appropriate for a sale photo. When choosing an action shot, look for a nice, balanced stride, and avoid awkward strides, such as when the horse is on his front leg in the canter.

Video Spotlight

10.     Talent and Training. Videos are a great way to showcase your horse’s talent and training. A horse’s jumping ability, lightning fast reining spins and stops, cow work, or dressage maneuvers are the type of thing best showcased in a sale video rather than a photograph. If videoing a young prospect, consider a video showing the horse in each gait at liberty, lunging, or free jumping. Try to shoot a variety of footage to display your horse’s talents to the fullest.

Video Marketing Plan Advertising Horse IndustryPhoto: Robin Duncan Photography

Videos should focus on a horse’s talent and training. Edit together short clips of the horse doing any advanced movements he knows, traveling in all three gaits, and doing a small jumping course or riding pattern.

11.    Use a tripod. Nothing is worse than a shaky sales video. Using a tripod will allow you to keep the camera steady and stable so the viewer can see your horse clearly. If you don’t have a tripod, then consider resting the camera on a fence post or other solid object.

12.    Location. Try to avoid indoor arenas if possible, as low light makes for poor videos. Outdoors, in a flat area with full light (no shadowed areas) is best.

13.    Ground level. Stay at ground level when shooting a video to give the most accurate portrayal of your horse. It is more difficult to see knee action, leg yields, or the quality of a horse’s lope when shooting from high above in a set of bleachers.

14.    Follow the horse. The camera should follow the horse around the ring and keep the horse in full frame. Don’t be afraid to zoom in or out to keep the horse in a flattering view.

15.    The rider. The rider is a very important part of a sale video. A talented, experienced rider will be able to show off your horse best. If you don’t feel you can ride the horse well enough to show his true potential, then consider hiring someone who can.

Video Marketing Plan Advertising Horse IndustryPhoto: Robin Duncan Photography

When videoing you can show potential buyers a variety of footage, such as your horse at liberty displaying his natural gaits.

16.    Plan ahead. The rider and videographer should plan ahead of time exactly what pattern or course will be ridden. This way the videographer can decide the best place to put the camera, and reduce the chance he will be accidentally run over by the horse as his eyes are glued to the camera. Consider doing a few practice runs until both rider and cameraman are comfortable with the routine.

17.    Edit. Editing the video after you have filmed is a good idea. This allows you to edit out any less than flattering moments and stitch various scenes together. When editing, consider adding extras such as music and some introductory text such as the horse’s name, sire and dam, and your contact information.

18.    Keep it short. Keep your sales video under one minute and stick to just the best footage. Long videos, such as those of the horse cantering around a ring for five minutes straight, are not appealing or constructive to a buyer.

Well planned marketing photos or video that show your horse to his best advantage will attract more suitable buyers and assist you in finding him the right new home. And once he’s sold, they’ll be a keepsake to help you remember your great rides together.

Main article photo: Robin Duncan Photography - For the conformation photo, the horse should be groomed to perfection.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Pacific & Prairie Horse Journal.

Canadian Horse Journal e-newsletter sign-up Equine Express e-newsletter sign-up