Behind the Scenes of our Draft Horse Cover Shoot

Photographs by Aliza Eliazarov

A gray Percheron draft horse

Say hello—again!—to photographer Aliza Eliazarov, who's taking over Modern Farmer's Instagram account until Friday, in honor of Draft Horse Week. Stop by and have a look!

Eliazarov, a Brooklyn-based photographer, shot our Winter 2015/2016 front cover and images for the accompanying story about draft horses. On Instagram this week, she’s taking us on a behind-the-scenes look at the three photo shoots required to produce the photos that landed on our pages.

After photographing our Fall 2015  and  Summer 2015 covers and stories featuring alpacas and ducks, respectively, Eliazarov points out that her assignments for Modern Farmer have involved a succession of larger and larger animals. This time, she was a bit nervous about working with giant-sized equines in a studio situation. 

“They’re huge!” she laughs. “I’ve never had to try to set up an on-site studio for an animal that big before. It was really hard to get backdrops that were tall enough for these animals that were 18 to 20 hands high and 2,000 pounds.”

With a lot of a hard work and a little luck, she made it work. But that was just the set-up. Next came trying to convince these big boys and girls to stay put long enough to have their portraits taken. Since horses tend to spook easily, she had a lot of assistance from their owners, who budding models trusted enough to get them to stick around.

“I’m not a horse girl. It took me a little while to feel comfortable,” Eliazarov says. “I sometimes needed the horses to not have bridles or anything else on. They were getting startled and they’re 2,000 pounds. I’m squatting on the ground in front of them. But by the end of the shoot I felt a lot more comfortable with them, and I really began to understand the behavior of the animal and how they work and how I can best work around them.”

The shoots took place this past October in three locations around western Massachusetts, and included more than 20 draft horses. We began at the Draft Animal-Power Field Days in Cummington. This four-day event is put on by the Draft Animal-Power Network and brings together farmers from around the region who use draft animals. Eliazarov says being at the event was a great experience since she got to see the animals at work.

“That was so amazing to get to see such a great group of farmers come together and to get to see how they’re implementing draft animals in their farming practice,” she says.

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A pair of black Percherons in harness.

Roy Nilson, a farmer in Ashfield, Massachusetts, hosted our second shoot. Nilson owns American Creams, the only draft horse developed in the United States that still exists. These off-white beauties are considered critical by the Livestock Conservancy due to their small numbers.

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Roy Nilson with one of his American Creams.

Finally, we landed at the Blue Star Equiculture, a draft horse rescue and sanctuary in Palmer, Massachusetts, run by Pamela Rickenbach, a former horse carriage driver in Philadelphia. Some of the horses were rescued from horrible conditions, while others are retired New York City carriage horses. Eliazarov calls it “a magical place” that helped her gain a deeper understanding of horses and their historical importance. She says this was where she met her “spirit horse,” a Clydesdale named Luna, who stole the photographer’s heart.

“I felt this crazy connection with her. She was very sweet and very quiet. She’s kind of a loner. She’s really sweet with humans and gives little kisses. That was the clincher for me. Since that shoot I think about her. I think about Luna,” says Eliazarov.

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Pamela Rickenbach from Blue Star Equiculture with Luna the Clydesdale.

Behind the Scenes of our Draft Horse Cover Shoot