How to Take a Video of Your Sport Horse Prospect

by Chris Uhlinger

This is even more difficult than taking a good still picture! However, with perseverance, time (and help!) you can produce a good tape. This article is intended to describe the basic goals of such a video, and to give you some tips on the production of the tape. These ideas will help you with sales tapes, tapes of stallions presented as sport horses, and tapes sent out to those who might help you evaluate your horse’s sport horse potential.

Above: This is a video of Rob Byers long lining an American Saddlebred sport horse prospect.  Rob is a trainer of World Grand Champion American Saddlebred show horses, who has a foundation in dressage work.  This filly is being presented in a manner which translates beautifully to the sport horse buyer–simple lines, allowing her to stretch down, and lift her back.  This filly found a home in the sport horse world just days after the video was posted online.  The filly shows three lovely gaits–and is a super dressage prospect.

THE EQUIPMENT/THE PEOPLE/THE ENVIRONMENT: Any standard video camera will do an adequate job. Although not absolutely necessary, a tripod can improve the quality of the tape (reducing “jiggles”), and decrease fatigue of the (possibly bored) camera-person. Taping will almost certainly take at least two people, someone to run the camera, and one person to manage the horse. The person who manages the horse should be fit enough to jog the horse in hand – repeatedly. The person who lunges the horse should know how. The rider (if any) should be someone familiar with the horse and talented enough to demonstrate the animal’s good qualities.

Pick a good day. If its dark or raining, the tape may be too dark for good viewing. If its windy, turn off the sound. Pick a good environment. Although people are looking at your horse, not your farm, a pretty, clutter free background helps them focus on the horse. Its best to do the taping in a level ring or other confined area. Given the low-light abilities of most video cameras, you can do an acceptable tape in an indoor. In the absence of a ring, use a level driveway for the in-hand work and a level field for the lunging/under saddle work.

Try to limit your commentary on the tape. Identify the horse, then stop chatting. Remember, most cameras have audio! Be careful what you say when taping (“oh look, he didn’t buck that time.”).

TAKING THE TAPE Practice with the video camera BEFORE you get involved in making an entire tape presentation. Horses (and their handlers) get impatient, so try to work out which buttons to push before your actors take the stage. Take some practice tape of moving horses to get an idea of how to frame them, and how to follow the motion of the animal moving around a ring at different speeds. Run some tape and look at it. Are you a jiggler? Too much zooming? Try not to get your audience sea sick! When taping the horse in motion, get a reasonable sized image of the horse in the video view finder screen and stay put. It is better to pick one “midsized” image than to constantly zoom in and out (and in and out, and in and out?..). Try to pan smoothly while following the horse’s movement – this is where the tripod can come in handy.

THE HORSE: The horse should be reasonably clean. There is no doubt that a horse presented with good turn out LOOKS better on first impression; on the other hand fancy braid jobs and boots can’t hide conformation or gait deficits (although this doesn’t keep people from trying?).

If at all possible, practice the routine you intend to tape before the camera is running. Get your horse accustomed to being asked to “stand up and stand still” prior to the taping session. If you are going to trot your horse down the lane, its best the horse encounters the monsters that live there BEFORE the camera is on. Don’t try to tape AND teach your horse to lunge simultaneously.

WHAT DO PEOPLE WANT TO SEE?

There are basically two – or maybe three-main goals here 1) showing the horse’s conformation 2) showing the horse’s “way of going” and possibly 3) showing the horse’s level of training as a sport horse.

Conformation: The pose used to do this is described in the companion article, “How to take a Conformation Shot of Your Horse” . The short version is “stand them up square and don’t stretch them” (now go read the other article) The technique with the video is similar to that used with a still camera. Stand the horse up, and position the camera at right angles to the horse. Don’t tip the camera (tipping introduces distortion). Don’t point the camera down at the legs; get down on the level of the legs to take these views. Don’t point the camera up at the head – this will result in very odd head shots.

View the horse from the side, and then from the front and back. If the horse moves around during this process; don’t worry about it, as long as he returns to a stationary squared up position. Remember that the main issue here is the horse’s structure; you don’t need to burn too much tape showing off a pretty head or tail.

Way of Going: If your horse is trained to lead, trot in hand, and lunge (or be ridden), things are pretty simple. In hand, let the horse move “naturally.” Don’t choke up on the shank (unless you are getting run over?), but let the horse stretch forward and move in a relaxed manner. I like to see some “in-hand” footage of the horse walking toward me, away from me and from the side. Then the same procedure for trotting in hand. Then tape of the horse walking, trotting, and cantering on the lunge line (or under saddle) to finish up. Don’t use side reins if lunging; the idea is to show how the horse moves all by himself. If the horse is being ridden, don’t use training equipment (such as tie downs or German martingales) that suggest the horse is being cranked into certain position, or is uncontrollable without the gear. Don’t let the rider over ride the horse. Again, the idea is to just show how the horse “wants” to travel. Whether lunging or being ridden, the horse does not need to go round and round and round and round – a minute or two in each direction at each gait is quite enough. It IS quite important to show all three gaits: if you don’t, people will assume the worst about the “missing” gait.

If your horse can not be shown in this way (too young, too untrained, etc), then you have to get creative. Do what you can in hand, even if this is just footage of someone leading the horse. Find a reasonably sized ring. You can usually get pretty good footage of the walk by moving the horse around free in the ring. Just be sure you get some footage of the horse doing the gait at right angles to you (i.e., not moving toward you or away from you). For the trot, have someone GENTLY encourage an increase in gait. The idea is to get footage of a relaxed, forward gait.

Showing the horse’s canter while at liberty can be difficult, as most of them either or trot fast and only offer snatches of canter OR kick into YAHOO gear and gallop,. Keep moving the horse around the ring and try for at least 3 or 4 strides of a true canter. Remember, footage of horses screaming around (however much elevation or fire they show) is not really that helpful in the evaluation of gaits in a sport horse. The sport horse enthusiast wants to see the gaits they are going (hopefully!) to ride. The sport horse folks are not looking for extreme animation, just full forward motion. Over stimulating the horse to make it look “alert” may really back off someone interested in a sport horse.

Level of Training: Get out there and do whatever the horse does and get it on tape! If this is a dressage horse, ride a short test. If a trail horse prospect, stroll through the woods. If the horse is meant to cart children around, lets see him doing that! The more you show of the horse doing its job, the better. One caveat, though. If the horse is likely to have a career change (say three gaited horse to sport horse?) think carefully about showing tape of him in show horse mode. Most sport horse folks don’t have much of an ability to evaluate saddle seat riding, and may misinterpret what they are seeing.

Other Footage: There may be good reason to show tape of other activities if you think it will help show the horse to its best advantage. I received one charming sales tape that showed all the usual conformation/movement/riding segments and finished with the horse self loading into the trailer! I’ve seen some other nice footage of horses demonstrating their quiet, loving or laid back attitude. On a sales tape, you may even get “special requests” – I had a lady who wanted to see the horse being shod because her prior horse had been very difficult for the farrier and she didn’t want that problem again

THOSE OOPS MOMENTS: Unless you are really selling an expensive horse to a very persnickety type, most people are pretty lenient about little mistakes (like when the camera gets dropped, or the horse walks up and bumps the lens with his nose), as long as the tape ALSO includes good, evaluatable footage of the horse. If there are REAL “oops” moments (the horse is really naughty, or someone has an “out of saddle” experience) this sequences should be cut or taped over (you can send these out takes to me, I collect bloopers).

WHAT TO AVOID: I have quite a collection of tapes I couldn’t quite believe. I have footage of a lady grooming a horse ( for a long, long time). I’ve had footage made by someone who set the camera on a tripod and rode the horse herself – which was not a bad idea, but you could only SEE the horse at the top and the bottom of the ring, and there were long segments in which no horse appeared (as he trotted down the long sides?). I have a tape in which the horse bit its handler during the jog (OK, this was Taz , and I bought him, but that’s another story). I have lots of entertaining (but ultimately not-useful) tapes of young horses galloping far, far away. I have some footage of a very nice dressage prospect trotting through hock deep mud with (this is a true story) the pigs. Don’t send tape of the horse grazing in a field. Don’t send tapes of the herd running together and expect the viewer to pick the right horse out of the “pack.” I have several tapes that should have been labeled “my husband didn’t want to do this in the first place,” with audio of the ensuing arguments.

Taking this footage takes time. If things aren’t going well, there is always another day. Go back and try again.

ARE WE DONE YET? Go home and view the tape. Is it a reasonable representation of your horse? Can the seller/evaluator see his conformation and his way of going? Is there something you forgot to do, or could do better? If the tape is good, immediately make at least 3 copies. Although people promise to return tapes, often they don’t, and the last thing you want to do is go through all of this AGAIN!

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