By Jess Clawson, Ph.D.
Good photography tells a story, and Bethany P Photography is committed to showcasing the bonds between humans and horses in a beautiful way. Bethany Pastorial’s passion for horses shines in her art. We sat down with her for a conversation about how her love of horses converts into dramatic visuals.
Tell us a little bit about your background in horses. Where did you get your start and what kind of riding do you do?
I grew up in the suburbs of Nashville, but I was pressed to the window every time we passed a horse farm. When I was six, my parents put me in riding lessons. When I was 10 they figured out it was not “just a phase.” I started as a junior showing Arabians in hunt seat and saddle seat. I learned to ride on that stereotypical old grey mare named Murray. I eventually graduated to an Anglo-Arabian named Sassafras. My parents called him “Freaky Fraz” after he flipped over on me at a show but I never lost the love for that gelding. In college I rode on my IHSA western team while working part time for a cutting horse trainer. I absolutely loved showing cutting horses and at one point broke into the top 50 nationally in the $2,000 limited rider division. After graduating college, I went back to Arabians and bought my first horse. Riptide is my heart horse – the ultimate diva gelding – and at age 20 he’s still managing to make fancy dressage moves. I also have a thoroughbred named Morris who I adopted from the off track thoroughbred aftercare program, After the Races.
What got you started in equestrian photography?
I never really connected my love of horses with my love of photography until 2014 when my horse, Riptide, showed signs of laminitis. While I was terrified he would not recover, I also regretted that all I had to remember our relationship by was a bunch of cell phone pictures and goofy selfies – nothing that really represented our love story. That was heartbreaking for me, but it also motivated me to dive into equine photography. I wanted to find the truth of each rider’s relationship with their horse. I know what it’s like to suddenly realize I may be left with nothing if something devastating were to happen, and, while I’m immensely blessed Riptide recovered, I never want anyone to feel that way about their heart horse. That relationship is worth remembering and cherishing.
What is the best thing about your job?
The moment clients see their images for the first time. More often than not it’s so moving–and I totally understand why. We love these animals so much and put so much of ourselves into them. It’s incredible to have something that accurately represents that bond. So when a client tears up at the perfect image or says “that is so us!” I get the biggest thrill. I’m so humbled when someone decides I’m the right person to capture their relationship with their horse because as a horse lover myself I 100% understand the emotions that come with it. I get emotional just talking about it.
What else would you like our readers to know about you?
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for off track thoroughbreds which is why I work every month with After the Races, a non profit after care program in Elkton, MD. Photography has the power to aid programs like ATR – we all know the impact a good conformation photo has – so I photograph their adoptable herd to help each horse start life with their best hoof forward. I think the breed is so versatile and believe in the work ATR is doing to promote the usefulness of thoroughbreds in their second career. I believe in it so much that I even took one home!
I’m truly thankful I get to meet so many dedicated people and capture so many beautiful stories in a world I’ve loved since I was six. I never dreamed I would be able to make a living with horses but apparently dreams do come true. Honestly, words can never express how much I love these animals and the life I get to share with them from behind my camera.
Do you have a favorite kind of photo shoot to work on?
Absolutely! While I love the creative aspect of Equine Art Sessions (the traditional black background portraits), it’s the Bond Sessions with a horse and rider pair that are where my heart truly lies. Earlier this year I had a client bring me out to capture her and her gelding – a home bred she grew up with over 20 years. He’s been this ever present part of her life while she graduated from high school, went to college, got married, had kids, and became an adult – all while loving this beautiful grey gelding. That is my favorite session to capture: the bonds that go way beyond horse and owner and fall more into the category of best friend and family.
What advice would you give to budding equine photographers?
The best advice I could give another budding equine photographer is to figure out what you love about horses and why you fell in love with them in the first place. It’s sometimes hard to stand out in a truly inspiring world of artists. But figuring out what gets you excited, what made you press your face to the window every time you passed a horse farm, will keep you motivated and help you find your own unique voice. For me it was the love between a person and their heart horse, but for others it may be the beauty of a horse’s movement. Once you’ve narrowed that down you’ll never lack for inspiration.
Learn more about Bethany and book her for your next shoot –
About the Author: Jess is a professional historian and educator who lives in northwestern Virginia. They completed their undergraduate degree in English at William & Mary, and did their masters and doctoral work at the University of Florida. Jess is an event rider with a passion for thoroughbreds, and has extensive experience in community organizing around queer identities, racial marginalization, and labor.
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