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Portrait photoshoot of a fleabitten Arabian horse

Ra’ad (meaning thunder in Arabic رعد ) came to us in 2009 when we were living in Jordan. He is from the Spanish Abha Arabian blood line bred by Princess Marieta Salas of Spain ( Bloodlines and pedigrees aside, what matters most to us is what the horse is like, emotionally, mentally and of course physically. In that regards Ra’ad is a splendid Arabian horse, full of character, strength and grace!

Ra'ad, a 19 year old fleabitten Arabian horse

In all the time that we’ve had Ra’ad, I hadn't done a proper portrait photoshoot of him until yesterday, exactly one year to the day when I did a portrait of Karachi, his inseparable female companion (see

Over the last fifteen years I have photographed so many stunning, purebred Arabian horses that on the morning of yesterday’s shoot I felt somewhat hesitant. Did I really want to attempt another horse portrait, even if it were our handsome fleabitten grey Arabian? And would I be able to make a nice photographic portrait?

As with many things in life, you only know if you try. So with a splendid support team of Siets and our lovely, summer volunteer workers Mafe and Kate, we set about the task. It was an overcast morning, quite cool without too many flies. Perfect conditions. With the backdrop in place against the horse shelter, the portable fill-in flash light set to fire and all of us ready, we started the shoot.

Portrait photoshoot of Ra'ad the fleabitten Arabian horse

He was so laid back that we had to lunge him to get him to be more lively

As with all photographic shoots, you do your best and hope that you get some good material to work with. But until you go through and edit the image files you really don’t know. Ra’ad is such a relaxed and friendly horse that it was a bit difficult to get him to display some character and magnificence. The flash light, cameras and commotion didn’t seem to ruffle him at all. In fact he seemed somewhat bored with everything around him, being more interested in apple treats than posing for his portrait. I was concerned that I wasn’t going to get the shots. So the team stepped in to waken him up with a bit of lively lunging in the nearby arena and some noisy props. Ra’ad considerately decided to be a bit more cooperative and alert and posed nicely for some portrait shots!

Ra’ad, in a traditional Bedouin halter

As with Abha Karachi, Ra’ad wasn’t in such good shape when we got him in Jordan in 2009. At the time he was living in the harsh environment of a Jordan Valley farm by the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The heat, humidity and swarms of biting insects were unbearable. As with most of the horses at the farm, Ra’ad’s mane and tail were rubbed, his coat was dull and he had various sores. Yet the lustre in his eyes and some cheekiness in behaviour revealed something special about him that was desperate to come out. He showed that he was a spirited stallion, full of fire at times, yet he also displayed a gentle, trusting nature. When she saw him, Siets fell for him immediately.

Ra’ad, in 2008, at the Jordan Valley farm by the Dead Sea

Thus we got Ra’ad, at the time a grey stallion with a beautiful dark mane, tail and legs. Soon afterwards Abha Karachi joined him at Samantha Saifi’s beautiful stables in Jordan. When the horses were reunited, they whinnied with excitement, recognising in each other a member of their family. That incident alone made me realise what strong bonds these beautiful creatures can form with each other - and how cruel it is for humans to sell them over and over to different ‘owners’. Horses are incredibly sensitive and intelligent animals. Like humans, and all animals, they too need to have a sense of security and bonding with their own kind, and to feel that they belong. Treating them otherwise often results in emotional and physical problems that cannot be remedied with pharmaceutical medications or other invasive treatments.

Karachi & Ra’ad, 2012, at the Saifi stables in Jordan, a few years after we acquired them

In 2012 both Ra’ad and Karachi made the long journey with us from Jordan to our new mountain-high, off-grid farm in the Alpujarra mountains of Andalucia, southern Spain.

Eleven years later, both horses are well and content with their lives. As I wrote a year ago, they are treated with respect and affection, are free to rest in their shelter or roam around various parts of the farm, grazing from hay-nets, slow-feeders and various paddocks. When we ride out for our pleasure and for theirs - they love going out to see a bit of the countryside - they are ridden barefoot and bit-less.

Both professionally as a photographer-artist and personally, horses - especially Arabians - have given me so much. The rewards are beyond measurable. I will always be grateful for these special creatures.

I have been asked many times about doing workshops to photograph horses in the studio-style manner that I used. In the past I mostly declined, as I was still working on my own series of horse portraits. I think I have mostly finished now. So if anybody reading this is interested in a comprehensive workshop on how to produce such work, let me know.

Photographing Arabian horses changed the course of my journey as a photographer. Something, somewhere along the line may change the course of your photographic journey.

Thank you Ra’ad for posing so beautifully, and thank you Team Ra’ad for helping to make it work!

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