Saturday, December 14, 2013

Photographing Your Model Made Simple

One thing that I notice with a lot of model horse ads (eBay, MHSP, etc.) is that people don't seem to understand how to take a flattering picture. In fact, some of them are downright BAD pictures!

Not mine though, they look good, but I couldn't very well take a random screenshot
and point out other people's flaws without their permission!

And what makes things worse is if you're showing off a custom. That model may have changes that if someone sees it in anything but the honest light of what it actually looks like, then someone may think that IT is done wrong. It's hard to give an reliable and honest assessment on a custom with a bad picture. This is where accuracy is VERY important! If you don't show it as it really is, someone may tell you to fix something that is actually just fine.

A good photo for critique due to how accurate the model is, though the background is a tad cluttered.

About the Model:

This post is to help explain how to take a basic but honest picture of your model to present it at its best for sale or critique. I've chosen to use a Lady Phase model because she is standing mostly square and looking straight ahead (so no distortion from foreshortening because of a turned head) and is a very common model that almost everyone is familiar with so they may know her true dimensions. This particular model *is* a body, so she has a chipped ear and some smudges here and there, but she serves the purpose.

About the Cameras:

I take pictures with a Digital SLR, a Canon Rebel XT EOS... an older camera, but very serviceable and produces good quality due to the SLR, or Single Lens Reflex, which works more like the human eye than on a regular "point and shoot" camera. You don't need an SLR camera to take good or accurate photos, though it does help and make things easier. A "Point and Shoot" camera usually works just as well these days with the advances in technology.

I also will be showing pictures taken with my cell phone's camera which happens to be a Nokia Lumina, which has one of the better cell phone cameras out there, but it's similar to any other cell phone, smart phone or otherwise, because of the restrictions cell phones have, which is no room for proper lenses because they need to be so thin. Many tend to create a wide-angle "fish-eye" effect, especially when taking photos up close.

The main issues with taking bad pictures is:

  • Bad Angles
  • Cell Phone Camera Distortion
  • Dark Photos 
  • Distracting Backgrounds 
  • Blurry Photos 
  • Dirty Models 

You can get a good picture no matter what kind of camera you have, even a cell phone! I cover that later, let's first look at how to take a proper photo of a live horse itself. The general rule of thumb is to aim for just behind their heart or center of gravity.

Real horse photo I took of a sweet old mare named Blue Viking
(go to to learn more about her and other retired "ladies" of the Thoroughbred industry)

The black dot indicates where I aimed when taking the photo of a live horse, close to the middle of the barrel.
If you're tall or the horse is short, you may need to crouch or bend over slightly to be level with the dot.

Because we are taking pictures of models, it's best to get down to their level. Taking pictures from above makes your horse look like it has really short legs.

Is it part Corgi?

The red dot indicates where you should aim with your camera, kind of in the middle of the barrel.
The black dot indicates the center of gravity on a horse which is not a bad spot to aim for either.

One needs to be careful to not only get low enough, but to stay centered towards the middle of the barrel as well. If you take the picture too closely inline with the shoulder, the head and front end look too big.

It's a subtle difference, but enough it *could* be a problem. 

On the other hand, if you get too close to being straight across from the haunch/butt, you will make the front end look small and the hind end too big. Some breeds, like Drafts and some Quarter Horses, actually prefer this angle to enhance the "assets" they like to show off for their breed. For our purposes though, we want to be as true to the actual proportions as possible, especially if it's a custom.

Makes the head look smaller and refined and the buttocks look big and round...
now who wouldn't want THAT?

Getting distance is a GOOD thing. Even if you don't have a fancy camera, you can get good pictures by pulling back a bit, and zooming in if you have the option, or cropping the photo later. This is ESPECIALLY important if all you have to take pictures with is the camera on your phone, where distortion is a BIG problem, BUT it can be done! Be careful, most of the zoom options on phone cameras is DIGITAL zoom, which means all they're doing is zooming in on the original image so the image looks pixelated or grainy. When buying a real camera, always opt for OPTICAL zoom. This actually uses lenses to act like a telescope to actually make the image appear closer. This is your best option for getting the most true photos.

Example of just a BAD cell phone picture.
Taken from above, things are out of proportion (look how tiny those feet are!)

This is what happens when you get TOO close to your subject with a phone camera.
The backdrop somehow is smaller and can't cover up as much as it needs to,
and the model appears to have a slightly large head and longer neck than it should.
Even the barrel seems smaller and the tail seems shorter!
Minor differences, but enough it doesn't accurately portray your model.
Compare to the GOOD photo taken with a phone camera. See the difference?
This picture is much more true in the horse's actual proportions
while the former gets them ALL out of whack!

And then compare the previous good photo from the phone camera to this one, the good photo taken with a digital SLR (almost pro-grade camera). The digital SLR is the most true, but you can see by comparing it to the smartly-taken phone camera shot that there isn't much difference when it comes to the proportions.
Just proves you don't need an awesome camera to take good pictures.

This is the original phone camera picture where I got the good shot from. I had to pull back, and didn't use zoom. Instead, I gave myself some distance so it could take a truer picture, and the cropped it later with photo-editing software.

The only problem with creating distance and cropping is that you may get more pixels or grain showing. Hopefully you have enough megapixels in your camera so that it's not very noticeable (both my Digital SLR and my cell phone has around or over 8 megapixels). It's kind of a balance of getting close enough so the pixels/grain won't be bad, but you won't distort the picture by being TOO close. If you have optical zoom, it makes the problem so much easier to deal with, as it zooms in AND stays true!

REALLY bad cell phone picture that almost looks like a fun-house mirror!
That head is almost HALF the size of the body!
A GOOD 3/4 view CAN be done that is accurate! Once again,
putting some distance between you and your subject is key.
That's what I did here with the Digital SLR camera, and then I zoomed in.
Also, notice I got down to the correct level as well.

Watch your lighting. Using flash is helpful but sometimes it can create unwanted glare or wash out a model. Pulling back also helps with "reducing" the flash so it doesn't create too much glare or lose detail due to washing out. If you want to avoid flash, the best idea is to get more lights. Find floor or desk lamps and point them at your picture-taking area. Some people use photo tents to diffuse the light so it's not so harsh and creates hard shadows, but I have found that I get along fine without one, but if you can, certainly give it a try!

My personal photo-taking set-up.
Just a piece of blue poster board (less than a dollar from Wal-Mart or whatever office/art supply store)
that I lean up against the wall and secure with tape at the bottom.
I have a shop light above, the room's lights, and two floor lamps, one on either side.
Good clean, white florescent light is best, and it's hard to really over-do lighting.

Much too dark, this is just with my overhead lighting with no floor lamps and no flash...
although I may have discovered how Breyer took photos of their models in the 70's...
Now, if you find your best lighting happens to be in an less than photogenic area (like the bathroom or kitchen) use a backdrop. Don't just place it in front of a bunch of clutter and distracting stuff. Even finding a couple of towels and draping them over something like a box or chair is helpful.

Everyone's seen this shot in ads... the top of the stove, in front of a microwave, on top of the toilet...

Simple background. Not perfect, but much less distracting. This is just towels on a chair.

And finally, you'd be surprised how much these get through... dirty models or blurry pictures. With dirty models, unless it's a body, you should always at least brush off the worst of the dust and preferablly brush it ALL off! Rinse the model with water in the sink if you need to! Otherwise it's hard to tell if there's any flaws which may be important for someone who wishes to use it as a collector's piece or to show it. Even being dusty may make some people uneasy about wanting it as a body, because they don't know if that dust is *stuck* on there (which can be hard to get out of crevices and may cause problems later if they plan to paint it) or just hasn't been brushed off.

Is that paint flecks? Are any of those white dots rubs?
Hard to tell when it's so dirty!

You wanna just blow some air on it, don't you?

And the number one WORST thing you can do for ANY picture you have of a model you want to share or sell is blur. A blurry picture ruins detail and the model can't be seen. It's very frustrating because the human eye WANTS it to be in focus but it can't. Make sure your picture is in focus, and if you upload and it's STILL not, go back and take another picture until you get it right. Don't ever upload a blurry picture. Some parts can be blurry, like the background, but if you're focusing on a certain part, like the head, make sure that part is as clear as you can get it.


So all in all, taking a good picture is not difficult, just takes some education and tricks of the trade. Don't skimp on lighting, feel free to take multiple pictures in case one doesn't take, and don't be afraid to edit with cropping and light/color balance to capture the true look of the model. You'll find a model will sell a lot better with a good picture than a bad one, and as an artist, your work will look a lot better and people won't think it's all screwed up with limbs and necks too long or heads too big.

A good picture to be proud of... happy shooting!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Prodigal Children Return

I recently welcomed home two former customs of mine that I somehow managed to finagle out of the grip of their current owners for much less than their original cost. It's not often I can keep a custom, I usually need to sell whatever I make due to my less than ideal financial status (I'm dead broke about 99% of the time and that is no joke) and even rarer still to find and be able to purchase back a past piece. I have one or two that never left, and one that I bought back for a song.

First off, Prowler the Unicorn is home. And he is NEVER leaving again. It was a very heart wrenching situation (not to mention and fairly embarrassing snafu that happened during his sale but thankfully was sorted out). I've had this model since I was in high school and worked hard on him over the course of nearly a decade.

Original concept sketch I drew in Pre-Alegbra class when they were talking about,
like, fractions or something, who knows...

The initial hack and chop and bringing him together from a Hidaglo/Silver and a Sucession.

I never should have tried to sell him but you know me, I can't afford to keep anything I make. Thankfully when he was offered to me, I barely had enough spare cash to get him. (Thank you Breyerfest Raffle Model...) I really shouldn't have, logically I shouldn't have spared the money as I was sure to need it later (and it turns out, I did...) but sometimes, you need to say screw it to logic and find a way. This model taught me more about anatomy and sculpting than most of my customs combined. Many parts of him are 100% original... both shoulders, right haunch, tail, neck, chest (most of which I then covered by hair... derps).

I'm so sorry baby, I'll never let you go again!

Second, the original "Velocity" somehow made it back into my hands. "Velocity Rapture" was a Lonesome Glory I customized to a racking Saddlebred stallion back when I first started customizing "drastics." He was essentially my first "big" project and one that I was incredibly proud of when I created him. I kinda knew then and DEFINITELY know now he had his flaws, but he was special to me.

Original "Velocity Rapture" Painted chestnut. Didn't show well or sell so I thought perhaps it was his paintjob...
Yeah, painting him a "gold champagne" didn't help things either...
Eventually I stripped him and chopped him up some more in an effort to fix him and eventually just plain gave up, selling him down the river to whoever wanted to give him a shot.

As he looked when I sold him.
About a year ago, I tried again and created "Velocity" a vast improvement to my original idea. As you can see, my skill and growth as an artist did MUCH better justice and I also learned a lot more about Saddlebreds and what a proper, true rack should look like.

Much more lively, isn't she?

I was browsing on MH$P one night, checking out customized models (which I do from time to time to see what other folks are up to) and I found him... advertised as a "Racking Horse/Tennessee Walker" with a mane and tail that wasn't mine and stacked pads strapped on his feet, I still would recognize him anywhere: that lumpy shoulder that follows no anatomy whatsoever, a patch void of definition on the neck where I dremeled away his original mane, the landing hind foot that was not attached when I sent him off but now was in such a way I NEVER would have done. It had to be him... lo and behold, it was. But my heart sank as I saw the icon at the top of the page:


I sent off an email anyway, begging that the seller contact me if the sale didn't go through or to give my email to the new owner. She assured me she would and I heard nothing for a couple weeks. Then, out of the blue: "The buyer never paid, do you still want him?"A week later, he was back in my possession (and apparently became a "her" at some point...) It seems he found his way to a customizer of about "equal-to-me-then-skill"... the paint was laid on thick, air bubbles weren't filled in, spaghetti legs were just as I left them, etc. Someday, I plan on "fixing" him (i.e. full and total resculpt armature). Until then he rests as a testament to my skill of years past.

I'm done buying for a while, I just can't afford to do so, but when it's one as special as these two... sometimes, you got to find a way. It's so rare I get attached to ANY model, but when I do... well, love and logic mix about as well and oil and water.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Generation Gap and The Youth in Our Hobby

Start 'em young! (And adorable!)

The thing about a hobby arising from a toy company is that, shockingly, there are children in it. I think most people forget this, even to the point that they forget that they once played with their Breyers on Christmas morning or displayed them proudly on desks, shelves or beds when their biggest worry was getting a cootie shot.

I have noticed lately a certain amount of friction between the youth making themselves heard in the hobby and the older, more well-traveled and seasoned hobbyists. It's a subject that goes through phases, but I think it's one that needs to be addressed.

Let me just say that neither the younger or older folks here are completely innocent. The kids are learning (and forgetting) how to be socially acceptable and learn correct etiquette while the adults build preconceived notions and lose patience.

Example #1:

14 year old Madison wants to buy a model from 36 year old Miranda. Madison writes Miranda the following email:
hi, i wud like 2 buy ur model. will you take $30. i can do time pays of $5 a week.

Miranda writes back the following email:
Hello. I'm sorry, but this model is worth much more than that. It is a Breyerfest special run with only 1000 made and I can't take any less than $100. I'm sorry, but thank you for your interest.

Madison writes back:
how bot $40

You think I'm exaggerating... however this is a similar conversation I have seen before in response to a model I was trying to sell a while ago. But it's not just the kids who cause problems...

Example #2: Using Madison and Miranda again, Madison asks someone for help with some live showing tips.
hey can ne1 tell me wut breed i shud use for my Smart N' Shiney?

Miranda, who wants to help, responds:
I think that will only do well as a Quarter Horse. He's too type-y for much else.

Madison, who knows that the Quarter Horse classes are generally very large, asks again
ne thing else?

Miranda, annoyed that she didn't take her advice for something so obvious, snaps.

Uh, I don't think so, it's pretty much just a Quarter Horse. It's pretty obvious, he can't be much of anything else. Please stop asking already, it's getting annoying! 

Basically, it can get very frustrating. And the internet in general makes things a little bit harder since we don't have 1-on-1 eye contact and voice tone to help express ourselves. Also, most kids are trusted to navigate the internet on their own, while most adults have been on it since it first began. There are certain ways people need to conduct themselves online that either everyone forgets about or just plain doesn't know.

I'm going to address both the youth and the adults in the hobby to try an help the understand how each feels and to also give some good tips to make sure you present yourself as a responsible, encouraging, helpful person who earns respect!

My message to the Youth of the Hobby:

There are some points that is very important to practice to make sure that you create a non-drama environment wherever you go online. Just remember: you are young and don't know everything. You know a lot already, and you may know some stuff the adults don't, but there is a lot you don't yet understand. BUT! You are also the future of our hobby! We want you to like what you do and where you go to interact with fellow hobbyists. They can totally be your friends!

Some of these people who answer your questions have had YEARS (perhaps even DECADES!) of experience both in the hobby or even with real horses. Most know what they are talking about so it is good to respect their authority and LISTEN to what they have to say. Even if you don't like what they're saying. It is NOTHING personal, it's just the truth or correct answer. They want to help, don't insult their good deed by treating them poorly.

That said, do not pester people. Questions are good, it's how you learn, but don't ask a million questions, especially to just one person or all at once. Perhaps if you have multiple questions, try to ask them in the same post instead of several individual posts, taking up a lot of space. If you have several questions about a subject, try to ask a larger group of people to get multiple opinions rather than bugging one person. Try not to ask the same question over and over.

If you are learning to paint or sculpt, this is especially important. Be open to constructive criticism  No one hates you. No one hates what you are doing. They WANT to help you. Yes, it may mean what you are doing is not considered very good by live show quality standards, but NO ONE started off being perfect. Listen to what they have to say and follow their directions. It will help you become really, REALLY good! This is something I learned as a kid in the hobby. At first, I would get defensive every time someone told me something was not right with a custom and I would constantly let my pride take over and try to explain it away and then not fix it. DON'T DO THIS. Swallow your pride, LISTEN and act on what people tell you. They know more than you and really just want to help you be awesome! If it makes you angry, take a step back, take a deep breath, and maybe wait a couple hours before responding so you can think about what they said. If you respond because you're angry or hurt at what someone said, you could look like you don't care, which makes them not want to help you.

Please use proper grammar when typing online. You have an entire keyboard in front of you, YOU ARE NOT TEXTING ON YOUR PHONE. And even if you are using your phone, please try to use whole words and proper punctuation (use those commas and periods!) It makes you look educated and mature. My 14-year-old nephew does this and it drives everyone crazy when they try to read his Facebook status. No one can understand what he is saying! If no one can understand what you're saying, or think you are dumb, they are less likely to want to talk to you.

When bargaining (asking to come lower on a price or figuring a trade), please try to be reasonable. Learn how to properly haggle. You can ask for a lower price, but never less than half of what an item is worth. You CAN ask "what is the best price you can do for me?" Whatever they say is what they can do and that's it. Don't try to push it. That is a sure way to annoy someone.

Do not try to manipulate change people's minds with sob stories. You don't get special treatment because you are a kid who REALLY wants something, had a bad day at school, your brothers broke your stuff, or your mom is sick in the hospital. Adults deal with these personal problems and don't let it effect professional situations. Please do the same. These personal problems have nothing to do with the person who is selling to you or giving you advice. Nor is it any reason to treat people like crap.

Just because you are online, doesn't mean you are invisible. If you've heard anything about cyber bullying, it is the same thing. But being in the hobby means you have a name in this hobby that requires a GOOD reputation! Be nice and reasonable to everyone you talk to and deal with, and everyone should be nice to you! People who have a bad reputation tend to get "blacklisted" meaning NO ONE will want to work with them! If you want to buy or sell to anyone, be polite and humble where you need to be. Reputation means a lot!

If trying to complete a transaction (buying or trading) with someone, please offer that one of your parents approve and help with the transaction, especially if a seller asks. Some people just plain don't trust kids because they don't have experience or are less than trustworthy. If you agree to something, DO IT! Pay what you said you will when you said you will. Try NOT to forget about deals and trades because it will make you look really bad and will upset the person you are dealing with. You wouldn't want them to forget about YOU! These people are giving you a chance to prove yourself, don't let them down!

Finally... learn all that you can! Feel free to learn on your own by seeking good books and researching online. Yes, you can totally ask people questions, but the most valuable tool you can do for yourself is to develop your own eye for breeds, genders, anatomy, conformation and bio-mechanics. Try to notice differences and features. Memorize what colors certain breeds can be. That way you aren't always asking the same questions.

My message to the Adults of the Hobby:

We all start somewhere. Some of us started in this hobby as kids. I myself entered the hobby when I was 14, was a regular on a couple message boards during my teenage years and also maintained a 100% positive eBay account. Not everyone did though and there sure are plenty of kids out there who don't hold themselves accountable, BUT remember... Everyone starts somewhere.

First off, remember that the Model Horse Hobby originated from Breyer TOY horses. For kids.And it only makes sense that Breyer as a company aims at least some or most of their product line at the 12-and-under age set. There's two main reasons for this: Breyer is a toy company first, collectible company second. And getting the kids hooked early on the brand early means that they create brand loyalty (in the form of memories and taste) and they'll be more likely to move on into the collectiblity side once they've outgrown actually playing with their Breyers.

Because of this, there comes a time when these children become teens and their parents allow them to spend time on the internet by themselves. At that point, they start to look up what interests them. Ergo: kids in the hobby. They find our message boards, Facebook groups, and even model horse shows near them and they go and throw themselves headfirst. They may not know about most unspoken rules and etiquette that we spent decades establishing. That is why if a kid commits a faux pas, to gently correct them and explain why. Be polite and reasonable. Do not rise to anger, no matter how rude.

If you find out a kid is trying to buy or trade for a model, ask that their mother or father contact you so they know about the transaction and can help if needed. This helps protect you as much as it does the kid. Kids do tend to forget things, or may even feel they can just ignore something and it will go away. Having a parent involved will help teach the kid a lesson if they don't follow through with their end of the deal.

If a kid presents a custom and asks how they did, they may just be asking for approval. If they hear anything other than "Wow, amazing!" they may get angry and very defensive. Try to point out any flaws gently and nicely. ALWAYS add in something positive about the piece. Remind them you just want to help them improve because the piece has so much potential. As I mentioned in the Youth section, I was very bad about being defensive as a kid and can still be. That's why encouraging them to take their time to think about what you suggest will help.

Always be diplomatic and empathizing. I'm not saying parenting is generally bad these days. Honestly, it's probably been as bad as its always been. But kids are FULL of emotion. Keep that in mind when explaining anything to them and use a lot of tact and appeal to their interest. Sometimes, reasonable explanation doesn't work. But it sure can go a long way to many kids. After playing an online video game for 6 years, I've seen it all. And sadly, most of those people were probably full grown adults who used the anonymity of the internet to act as much like a jerk as possible. Some kids think the same way. Just try to stay patient and reasonable. You are the adult, act like it!

Give the kids a chance. Yes, some people immediately dismiss a kid when they see them asking an "obvious" question or asking to buy something. Just answer any questions they have, be firm in your sales policies and explain them well but don't be afraid to point them to other resources. NEVER tell them to "just go google" it. That is not why they asked a question.

Like it or not, we NEED kids in this hobby so there will be hobbyists in the future! With older hobbyists retiring, leaving, or even dying (this hobby HAS been around since the 1960's...), in order to keep the hobby alive, we need the bright young minds and fresh perspective the younger crowd gives us. I can't imagine what would have happened if I had been pushed away as I'e seen some kids. I do my best to be patient and to explain things, to the point where I actually enjoy it! But I do have my limits. That is why I wrote this blog article. Hopefully people of all ages will look it over and understand!

Adding in something here that was brought to my attention: Do NOT take advantage of kids. This means don't offer them less on a deal, troll them, or otherwise do something despicable that you think you can get away with because they're gullible. I have accidentally overheard deals at Breyerfest of people trading for a kid's Surprise model (CC Shuffle for instance) with someone else that obviously isn't worth as much (though they may have been bought from Breyer for the same price, CC Shuffle had the obvious after-market collectibility value and sold up to triple what the original price was) These kids will learn sooner or later what you have done (they have memories...) and feel very bitter... or worse, thinks that how things work in our hobby and follow example. Also, seriously? You just cheated a CHILD. How low can you get??? They genuinely love their models, they aren't doing it for the dollar signs.

In short, treat them with the same respect that you would an adult and you may be surprised that's exactly how they respond. There are many well-behaved, intelligent, and mature kids out there (some more mature than some adults I know!) and they deserve to be treated well and civilly.

The Last Word

What it all comes down to however, is that this hobby is aimed to help everyone INCLUDING youth under 18, I feel we can benefit from the message: Treat everyone with respect and be open to learning, and I'm sure we can all get along and create some AMAZING friendships and share an education we can be proud of. After all, this hobby keeps us young as we share the common bond of a love for horses that has been with us since before we can remember. This hobby is entirely accessible to anyone of any age and that's one reason I love it so much.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Why There Aren't Crazy Horses

This post isn't on topic with anything to do with model horses, but it is one of those things that I find most model horse people just don't quite get since we hardly ever get a chance to actually interact and observe real horse behavior (though there are plenty of experienced horsemen who have their minds made up about certain breeds). Also, it has been on my mind lately, what with getting kicked by a "nutty Thoroughbred" and watching all the "insane, out-of-control Saddlebreds" at the Kentucky State Fair.

Very, VERY rarely, is any horse truly crazy. Now a whole book could be written about this (and indeed, there are some) but I hope to highlight a few reasons to give some perspective...

Is this a race or a rodeo? Yeehaw!

Most horses that most people ride are for pleasure. They are not highly competitive, high energy animals. They are usually even-tempered critters with chill attitudes that do the same thing every day, day in and day out. Perhaps the reason they are so chill is because... they do the same thing day in and day out, and it's usually nothing that strenuous. Whether it's the poor trail horse that's been taught to ignore whatever the wannabe cowboy on his back is daydreaming about or your lesson horse you school on once a week, these animals are NOTHING like creatures you see gracing the ring, barreling down the racetrack, or hopping over logs the size of your car.

THOSE are prime athletes. Born and bred for a specific type of work, proven themselves talented for such activities, and prepped and primed to be the best they can be at it, from their food right down to their shoes. They may be "quirky," certain behaviors overlooked for the sake of performance and winning. You won't see them in any leadline classes with a bouncing toddler in pigtails on their back.

Unless you're Mr. Muscleman, champion Standardbred trotter
who's sweeter than molasses on a sugar cane in a bowl of caramel sauce.
(photo from
Or Snowman, an old plow horse who would win a championship jumping competition
and then give the kids a pony ride...

One thing I notice people LOVE about horses in general is all those awesome pictures of them running in an open, grassy field, snorting with nostrils flaring, showing off, mane flying, muscles rippling, shiny coats, eyes wide and glistening... Oh they just can't buy enough of THOSE posters! We all had them as a kid, plastered on the walls and perhaps in our lockers at school. It is the pure, unadulterated spirit of the horse that we all fall in love with! A mighty stallion rearing tall and proud or galloping into the wind, invoking images left to us by books by Marguerite Henry and Walter Fraley.

Just add wings or horn for instant Dream Horse!
(photo by Tim Flach)

Now, because certain horses have been *made* for this kind of competition, when shown or put in a  situation that is not where people expect them to act like, well, horses, and are instead are actually supposed to be tamed and under our domination, is when people start to label them crazy. I mean, how dare a horse actually act like, well... the horse that we have pictures of on our walls? It's fun to look at, but when you have to DEAL with it....

Horses like Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and Saddlebreds for instance, tend to get bad raps. They are related breeds (Arabians begat Thoroughbreds, which begat Saddlebreds) and all have something in common: The X-Factor.

Eclipse, Famous Thoroughbred and ancestor of both the modern Thoroughbred AND Saddlebred

Now, the X-Factor really has nothing to do with how their brains work, but it does mean they have these big hearts. Hearts made for pumping, that help them increase their stamina, that can let them expend a lot of energy for more than just a few seconds at a time. Because these horses can absolutely keep the "Look at me, I'm of FIRE!" look going, people begin to wonder... is this horse's head with ME? Can I control it? Or is that wild eye mean he's truly gone nuts?

This is what scares people. Everyone wants to ride something that will listen to them 100%. We put a lot of trust into a horse to keep us safe while we surf on their back. We ideally would like to work as one entity, minds melded, absolute obedience and submission to our aids so that there is no way this wild animals with a whole 'nother brain of his very own will betray us and leave use broken and bloody in the dirt.

To do this, some think they need to "break" the spirit of the horse in order to gain this dominance (anyone who's read Smokey the Cowhorse knows this technique), forgetting there is another way (and every "natural horseman" trainer in the world is going to say it with me):


How often will a horse follow YOU?

There is a way to work with a horse, still use our aids and tools, but not kill that exact drive that makes us love them for what they are.

Now, I'm not saying that usually this is completely natural, but you'll notice jockeys ride in such a way as to stay out of the horse's way and let him do what he does best. RUN!

If it weren't for those stirrups, they'd be barely touching them...

Oh yes, there's still bridles and bits and shoes and whips and other things that help the jockey guide the horse, but the unmitigated spirit is allowed to shine through. There are some who aren't kind about it, there's cheating in every sport, but I can guarantee you, that horse loves their job. When he doesn't, he lets them know, and the smart people see it and retire him. The sport on a whole, however, doesn't make for very long relationships between horse and rider... but when they do, they're always a force to be reckoned with.

Thoroughbreds tend to be a "One Person" horse... they have their person who they love and loves them. They get each other. When combined, they can do a lot together. This is why Off the Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs) do SO well in their follow-up careers. They find their person. Their person knows how to get the most out of them by understanding their quirks and tendencies (most of which picked up on the track), and together, they form a SOLID bond.

Nothing like a girl and her pony <3

Another breed that gets called "Crazy" without even meeting them is the American Saddlebred. Their high stepping and alert expressions, flaring and snorting nostrils all give the impression the horse is barely under control, wild and spirited.

First off, let me explain that Saddlebreds are built for saddleseat... or rather, Saddleseat is built for THEM. They are born with long, upright necks, laidback shoulders, an natural, free, open, high-stepping moment. This yearling here for instance has never had a single piece of tack on before. And yet, look at what he does:

Can't get any more natural than that.

It's plain to see that the high headset of saddleseat will be easy for him, and as natural as asking any warmblood to go into a dressage frame. When a breed is made for this kind of action naturally, asking them to do it under saddle is easy and fun for them! The goal of Saddleseat is to ride the horse doing what he would do naturally having fun out in his pasture: head up, blowing, tail flagging, showing off that they're hot stuff!

What about those wild and crazy eyes? The snorting! Obviously these horses are terrified, right? Uh... no.

Oh yes, what a dangerous creature, you can tell those children are absolutely terrifying "Silks"...

Believe it or not, those eye whites you see is similar to the sclera you see on Appaloosas... but instead were selectively bred for the shape and style you see here: more up toward the top: up over the whole eye, and can be seen even when the horse is relaxed. When actually working, they look very pronounced because, well, he's looking at his surroundings and not half asleep like Silks up there.

When these horses get in the ring, they know their purpose: SHOW. OFF!

Photo by Doug Shiflet

Remember that big heart, stamina, energizing thing I mentioned earlier? Here's where it comes into play. That wild free spirit of a horse you dream of as a kid is suddenly under a rider who is doing what they can to stay out of the horse's way so they can do what they were bred to do. That's why the saddleseat rider sits farther back: to keep the weight off the front end so the horse can step up and do his thing. But, they are in control (and often with that curb reined slacked). So often people think that these horses are out of control and bouncing around the arena at top speed wherever they wish. Not true.

Yes, the bigger arena the better because that gives them more time to gain some speed to really show what they can do. To do it in anything smaller would be like asking an Olympic swimmer to do laps in a bathtub. But it also gives them room to manage themselves around other entrants in the class (anyone who's ridden in any arena with another rider or two knows just how easy it is to suddenly think that you're sharing an elevator.) Their horses may look like they're moving big and crazy fancy, but it's no different than a western pleasure class as far as traffic problems.

But seriously, if you think they're out of control, then obviously this child is terrified...

Gets me every time, he can't even see over the ears but still so serious! SQUEEE!
Photo by Doug Shiftlet (taken by Rachel Kelly)

As is this one:

"Dancer" doesn't appear having a problem standing still for her little girl.
Photo by Doug Shiflet

Basically, you can't condemn a whole breed based on what you see. You'll also notice that this breed, as a whole, does tend to have a very regal and alert look, even the kid-safe ones. Now consider the ones that need to really perform and churn those legs to win the overall Grand Champion titles... well yeah, they're going to look scary to ride! Trust me, it's not. yes, it is obvious that not just anyone can ride these horses, but neither can just anyone ride a Grand Pix Jumper (Snowman excluded) or Dressage horse. No one gets to the top by accident: they are piloted by some of the very best riders in the nation who have some serious experience. Much like a jockey or event rider. And I've NEVER seen horses that LOVE going to do their jobs as much as a Saddlebred. They get very excited! Not scared. Not angry. HAPPY excited! I get to play now! Everyone look how pretty I am!

This year's 5-Gaited World Grand Champion.
Howard Schatzberg Photography

So next time you think a horse is nuts, just look at some of these "crazy" horses my friends have:

Obviously this Arabian is a ticking time bomb for his first-time rider (and I mean first time EVER.)
Although Jared may be a tad TOO relaxed... LOL

And this Thoroughbred is out of control! I mean look, she has no reins!! (Despite the act he's going in a nice easy canter, still in a decent frame, supporting well with his back and listening with both ears to make sure she's well taken care of.)
Ya know, part of me tells me the rider is crazier than the horse...
Moments later... yeah, it's definitely the rider (photobombing in the back on her "wild steed")

Keep in mind, btw, that this rider is highly skilled and has a long lasting trust and relationship with her horse.
She doesn't always goof around like this.

Yep, Thoroughbreds are really full of it....

Cuddles, that is!

Now anyone can compile a bunch of photos of horses looking sweet and innocent. But I won't deny that some of these horses do have "quirks." They are ANIMALS. And prey animals at that. They have a fight or flight instinct. If they can't run away, they will do what they need to do to get away. It's nature, and one has to respect it. But so long as you treat these animals with respect and confidence, they will actually seek to be your friend, to include you into their herd. These "crazy" breeds, for whatever reason, tend to love people... to the point where they may worry for you. All those romantic stories of becoming actual friends with a horse... it happens. It may not be exact, but there are certain people that just *get it*.

And I won't deny it takes a certain kind of person to love them back. Maybe not the skydiving and bungee jumping set (though I swear most of my friends that have done those things ride Arabians and Thoroughbreds...) but generally people who are willing to take some risks and have adventures. And I mean stuff that may be as "exciting" as leaving the arena on occasion to go on a trail ride to maybe jumping that log bareback. And you know what? These are the kind of horses that would love to join them.

Off the Track Thoroughbred "Tigger" is willing to jump off small cliffs for his girl!

Remember the X-Factor? Big hearts just mean big love. Gushy, I know, but sometimes, it just fits.