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  • Erin Schwartzkopf

The American Quarter Horse

Updated: Mar 6

How one breed made me a better photographer.

I am sure it is not hard to imagine that I was that horse crazy little girl. I loved them all. Every breed. I knew the rare breeds and the foundation breeding stock individuals for several more common breeds. I never had a horse or the chance to ride or learn to ride until I was 18, but I soaked up every thing I possibly could that was horse. I even ordered catalogs from places I never had reason to buy from. I drooled over the pages of the Miller's catalog and had the centerfolds from Horse Illustrated taped on my walls.


Yep. I was that stereotypical little girl.


I was always really drawn to one breed, though, the American Quarter Horse. That stocky, versatile thing of beauty that is the epitome of American Cowboy was always in my heart. Such a symbol of the west and up for any challenge. Racing (where they got their breed name), cowboying, trail riding, show jumping...they just did it all and looked good doing it. My childhood goals were to grow up to raise Quarter Horses and have a few Irish Setters. I ended up with it partly right!


I read everything horse as a child. Rented every horse book I the school library. Every single book in all versions of the Black Stallion series...the Black Beauty books, Pharlap, National Velvet, Born to Race...I had subscriptions to Horse Illustrated, Horse and Rider, Western Horseman. I read every article and soaked it all in, even if I didn't have a horse or even access to a horse. While many of the books were about other breeds, the magazine articles that used the Quarter Horse in the photos that accompanied them were the ones I read first. I flipped through the entire magazine quickly, scanned to see what I wanted to read first, and I set to it.


But, Erin, how does any of this have to do with you becoming a better photographer?


I am glad you asked. You see...many of those articles focused on training your horse and I just ate that info up. Those articles were from world renowned trainers and gave me incredible insight into behavior. Nothing can substitute seeing behavior in person, but I had read so much that by the time I was able to spend time in the presence of horses, I had a good idea of what to watch for. That gave me a head start so that when I saw the behavior, I recognized it very quickly.


Being able to see that behavior allows me to prepare for a moment about to happen in groups of horses as well as be able to adjust and use things the horse is interested in to pose and get great portraits. That is one of the things that sets animal photography apart from other niches. Animal photographers not only need to master their equipment, understand lighting and composition, but also be able to read the body language of the animal they are photographing...even if those animals are wild. That ability is what makes the difference between a lucky snapshot and a perfectly timed work of art.


Quarter Horses are a staple of the American West and I love living smack dab in the middle of them. My photography journey has allowed me to photograph some gorgeous examples of the breed as well as some amazing moments and continue to hone my skills reading body language. Not to mention the friends that those horses and this photography gig have led me to.

I now own my very own Quarter Horse and have for quite a few years. His pasture mates are a Paint gelding named Rio and a grade gelding named Mickey that is either QH or breeding stock Paint. I go for the super short variety and still need a bucket to get on! I like to play at cows, sometimes...but I am not very good. I have friends that let me pretend I am cowboying, but I really am pretty much the world's worst hired man ever. I am usually good for some laughs and always good for a story, so there is a benefit in it for them, too! I try hard, but I learned pretty late in life. I appreciate the patience of those who invite me along and I treasure the chances to escape to the mountains, out of cell phone reach, with my Little Lump of Brown Sugar named Rey...sometimes he goes by Reyzr Beam. Sometimes the names are more colorful. ;)



What about you? Do you have a favorite breed of horse? How did it come to be your favorite breed? Has that breed taken you places or introduced you to things you never would have experienced otherwise. Tell me in the comments!



If you have been following this blog for a bit, you may have noticed the Blog Circle...we are a group of professional pet photographers that share weekly blogs and link to them to make it easier for you to enjoy their stories, tips, thoughts, and more. Head over to read

Terri Of Terri J Photography in Toronto shares 7 fun facts about Corgis and why she likes them so much. When you are done reading her great post for the week, go on to the next one that she links to. When you find your way back here, you know you have made the full circle!

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