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Making a Video
for Fun or Profit

By Jackie Smith
Raynyday Morgans and Poetry in Motion Video


Attention to Detail Will Yield Good Video Results

This article was written to help you have good video at your fingertips when you need to make that stallion promotional video, sell a horse or just to have tape to review your training progress or capture your dressage tests. There are many cameras and many formats out there now, so a lot of the information will be quite general.


Camera: Set on the highest quality speed (SP in VHS cameras) – no extended play to save money. It will not reproduce well, and if you need to make copies you may have the color dropping in and out, or rainbow bars across the image.

Tape: Again, no saving money here. No grabbing the tape of The Young and the Restless as you run out the door for a shoot. If possible, it should be a fresh tape cassette of the very best quality you can find. This is to be your video history library, a very important thing. And more and more important, as the years go by and you realize that this is the documentation of your breeding program, or your show career, or your training abilities.

Tripod: This is a drag, I know. Just yesterday I went out back and shot some footage of our newest foals romping in the pasture. I got some really good footage for a change, and took it in to watch it. All I could think about as I watched is how much better it would be if I could have held the camera still (and I had thought I was). I have found, through much testing on the job, that the best tripod to have is a monopod that converts to a small tripod. I still need to have a big bulky one too for my show shoots – the camera needs to be set up all day and be stable. But for all around limited use, the monopod is great! Lightweight and very portable.

Extra Lighting: In the event you have to shoot footage in a dark place, such as a stall or arena, I prefer to illuminate the subject with lights separate from the camera, if possible. The lights that come on the camera are hot, stark and cannot run for a long time. When I tape the birth of a foal, for instance, I have halogen lights that sit on shelves outside the stall, and ordinary mechanic’s “trouble lights” that hang on the screen of the stall front. Most video cameras have excellent low-light efficiency, so you really don't need a lot of extra light.

Help: I try to have as much help as possible on “shoot day.” I find one of the BEST times to videotape is if we have visitors come to the farm. I try to arrange it that my duties are to videotape and stand with the visitors. On those days we really go all out – baths (we have a water shortage), clippers, “sparkle spray” etc. So what a GREAT time to tape. If I stand with the visitors I get a front row display, plus the camera records all the favorable comments from the spectators.

Location: This should be scouted out ahead of time. If you are taping at the farm, consider what will be in the background of the finished video. You could spare the ten minutes it would take to put that manure spreader out of sight, and it will make SUCH a difference. If you are going to tape a horse in a ring or indoor arena, do NOT stand in the middle and tape the horse going around you. It will make you dizzy when watching the tape, and you have no reference points to judge the speed, etc. A point near the end of the long sides, or in the middle of a long side is fine. If you are taping at a show, go to the arena ahead of time. Note where the people are sitting, what direction the horses are facing in the line up, where the awards are given, and if there are any obstacles involved with the location you choose. I do not set up at the ends of the arena if possible, it gives one such a limited view of the horse from the side. If you are taping a dressage test, in general I try to stand directly across from the reader. If the rider would rather see lateral work, serpentine loops, extensions from the front etc., of course I would stand to one side of A or C.

The Dreaded Manual Focus Button: If your videos are to improve to near-professional quality, you are going to have to learn to use “manual focus” for almost all your videotaping. It is scarey, I know – but once you tackle and understand it, you will seldom return to automatic focus. If you stay in auto focus for all your taping, things that come into the camera’s line of vision between you and your subject (i.e. arena posts, other horses, people walking in front of the camera) will cause the focus to blur as the camera tries to focus on the nearer object.

Here’s a tip that will always have you in focus, and is easy, easy, easy! Stand where you plan to be set up during the shoot. Press the manual focus button. Look through the viewfinder, and zoom all the way (as close as the camera will zoom) on the farthest point that you will be taping. For instance, if I were standing at one end of an arena I would zoom on the opposite end, and use the focus ring on the camera to bring that field of vision into clear good focus. Now, everything that happens in that arena between you and that point will be in focus – no more adjusting needed! And if someone walks by or a horse passes, your camera will not care! Now, if you are going to zoom in for an extreme close-up, you will have to adjust the focus again after you zoom, but this is simple with some practice, and still doesn’t look as bad as when the camera blurs out due to auto focus interference.

Preparation: The horse will look the best in a video if you take the same care with the preparation as if you were going to a show. Fly spray is a MUST if the bugs are bad.

More tips: If you are going to talk while the camera is running, remember to wait a minute first. The microphone doesn’t start up right away, and the first part of your sentence will be cut off if you speak right as you press the record button.

Try NOT to walk with the camera; it’s very distracting, and perhaps will make the viewer dizzy. The handler should bring the horse to the camera. Try not to fuss with the horse too much on foot placement; it takes time, and makes the horse have an unpleasant expression sometimes. Keep the horse walking forward, and stop and pause and look occasionally. The horse will look interested and pleasant – much more appealing.

If the horse is at liberty, do not chase him with whips; this also gives unpleasant feel to footage. At our farm, a handler (usually my husband) puts a blanket over his head and upper body, and walks slowly towards the horse, flapping a little if necessary. This usually makes the horse lift up, look alert and perhaps even blow a little, tail over back, and almost always they trot. Our horses know this game now, and it’s one of their favorites. It does not work with our “junior” stallion. Invariably he trots over and looks under the blanket, no matter how hard my husband flaps. But that makes a good video in itself, and tells the viewer volumes about his disposition.

Close ups give the viewer an insight to the horse’s personality, and should be used liberally. A Morgan wears a lot of his soul on his face, and this is a great way to let the client see who she is looking at.

Take video of everything and everyone! That filly you aren’t ever going to sell now might be the star of your sales list by fall, and she will be all woolly and yak-like then. It would have been a great idea if you had taped her when you were showing customers or friends examples of your breeding program, and she was all slick and gorgeous, looking like a keeper!

There is so much information to give you about videotaping, but I think I have covered the highlights. If anyone has any questions they can write or email me and I will answer what I can. If you follow these guidelines, you should have a good sampling of your horses’ abilities and conformation to make a sales or farm promotional you can be proud of!

The author is a professional videographer and video editor who volunteered her time and talents for the Morgan Dressage Association's special AMHA Convention videotape. This article first appeared in the Spring 2000 Morgan Dressage Association News, MDA's quarterly newsletter. You can reach Jackie by calling (937) 885-4905 or by e-mailing:


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