How to have a horsey wedding

The NZ Horse & Pony guide to including your love of horses - or even your own horse - in your wedding, by Helen Firth

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

Horses are the love of your life, right? So it’s only natural that if you are planning on getting hitched to the other love of your life, you’ll want to include your horse in the big day itself. You could go the whole hog and have your horse carry you and your betrothed down the aisle and stand beside you at the ceremony – but that isn’t the easiest feat to pull off, even with the quietest of mounts!

Luckily, there are lots of other ways to feature your equine passion at your wedding, whether it’s just for the photo shoot itself, or by subtle touches at the reception.

Photographers Peter and Rosemary Morris from Photoshoot in West Auckland adore working with horses and have captured several horsey weddings. They say planning a wedding with horses is not all that different from doing anything else with horses – you need to have a well-thought-out plan, but must be prepared to change that plan at any stage if problems arise.

“Try to keep things simple. Don’t be too ambitious and plan to a level you are confident and familiar with, not beyond,” advises Peter. “There is a lot to consider, actually; more than most people realise. We’ve had a few horse weddings where the horses were eventually dropped from the day due to the extra logistics involved.”

One of the prime considerations is transport. Most brides have enough trouble getting themselves to the wedding on time, says Peter. You’ll need to call in some favours, and have somebody to prepare and transport your horse, which of course includes loading which sometimes is a challenge on its own. “Try and get your best and most trusted horsey friends involved to help sort transport, grooming and tacking up,” says Peter.

Another key point is the bombproof-ness of your horse. How will he or she react to a large, rustling dress and windblown veil, a crowd of people who may be nervous around horses, and a different handler? Then there are things like the music, clapping and flapping decorations to consider, along with the added tension and emotion the big day brings.

“Will your horse be at the ceremony, or will you arrive on the horse and have it taken away afterwards? Do you plan to have your horse take part in the whole day, including the arrival, ceremony and photos? Are you riding bareback or in a saddle? Can you actually ride your horse in a dress?” queries Peter. “There really is a lot more to prepare and organise once you commit to having your horse as part of your wedding day.”

(Image: Jennifer MacNeill Photography)
(Image: Jennifer MacNeill Photography)

Finishing touches

Have your florist wire some up some extra flowers to match your bouquet, which can be woven into your horse’s mane or tail. Alternatively, a romantic wreath of flowers is a gorgeous way to dress up your precious equine.

Of course, if you can manage it, horses make a great addition to your wedding photos and this is the easiest and most fun part of the day, says Peter. “The bride is relaxed, the crowd disperses and what you get in the photos is just a split second, so, even if all is not going well, you should still expect to get one or two amazing shots to last a lifetime. This is where ‘horsey’ photographers can help out, knowing how to get the horse’s attention and even helping to lead and pose the horse or assist with mounting and dismounting if necessary.”

Peter’s top tips

  • Run through the entire day in your mind and think about how you want the day to unfold. Try to anticipate any pitfalls, so you can address these before they become a problem.
  • Always have a Plan B. Have the ceremony at or close to a stable, where you are guaranteed shelter or at least a venue for the photos after the ceremony, if nothing else. Arrange this with a friend, local club or racetrack.
  • Consider wind! The beach can become unsettling for horses very quickly, so bear this in mind when making wedding plans.
  • If it’s a beach wedding, be sure to check access and tides. High tide may limit access and only give you soft, dry sand to work with. Low tide and wet, hard sand offers the beauty of reflections in photos. If part of your day involves walking tracks and streams, have someone check the day before to make sure they are accessible and not flooded or muddy.
  • Most importantly: keep the focus on yourself and make your wedding memorable for all the right reasons.
Hannah Best had a photoshoot with her beloved mare Zactac Graceful two days after her actual wedding (Image: Nelson Wedding Photography)
Hannah Best had a photoshoot with her beloved mare Zactac Graceful two days after her actual wedding (Image: Nelson Wedding Photography)

Memories to keep

When NZ dressage rider Hannah Best (nee Appleton) married her husband Hamish in 2013, she thought long and hard about how her beloved Grand Prix mare Zactac Graceful could be part of the special day. In the end, she decided not to have Grace at her actual wedding, because knowing Grace was safe and well-looked after at home by a trustworthy friend meant Hannah could relax and enjoy the wedding.

Hannah and Hamish were married on a Saturday at Hamish’s family farm just outside Wellington, and flew home to Nelson the next day. Two days after the wedding, Hannah had a special photoshoot with Grace at Rabbit Island beach in Nelson with Daron and Chrissie from Nelson Wedding Photographers.

“Rabbit Island is one of my favourite places and Mum and I spent many weekends there when I was younger, getting my horses and ponies fit.”

Hannah’s wedding dress was custom-made by Matina Liana and encrusted with Swarovski crystals and diamantes on the scalloped, sweetheart bodice. She had matching sparkly Jimmy Choos. When she selected her dress, Hannah said it wasn’t just about selecting one that suited her body-shape – she also had to be able to ride easily in it!

Hannah’s wedding was two weeks after Horse of the Year, so Grace was at peak fitness. She’d had a fortnight off, and Hannah suspected she would be feeling rather good and wondering what the wedding dress was all about. However, she didn’t put a foot wrong and wasn’t fazed by Hannah’s dress hanging by her side and over her hindquarters.

“The great thing about Grace is she knows when to be a superstar and she will never let me down when it really counts,” says Hannah. “We started taking photos at about three in the afternoon as we wanted to make the most of the fading light. We had the most amazing three hours together – she knew it was all about her and she loved it! We galloped through the waves with sea water going everywhere and my veil flying along behind. She showed off her party trick of extended trot and let me lie all over her, and we were lucky to have an amazing sunset.

“These are photos I will treasure forever. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do something like this, to go for it. The photos I got that day are worth more than Grace’s weight in gold. When the day is over, the wedding flowers have died and the cake has been eaten, the photos are what you have to remind you of your special day.”

Cherie Barnett says including her horses in her wedding made the day perfect 9Image: www.photoshoot.co.nz)
Cherie Barnett says including her horses in her wedding made the day perfect (Image: www.photoshoot.co.nz)

Horses are part of the family

When Cherie Barnett got married at Karekare Beach, northwest of Auckland, she wanted her two mares to be her bridesmaids, the realisation of her childhood dream. Although this didn’t quite happen (and Cherie’s bridesmaid was a human one), she did have a lengthy photoshoot on Karekare Beach with her horses, husband and her young daughter, Ruby. “I wanted to spend some special time with the horses.”

Cherie (38) had two mares at the time, one of whom is her former Pre-Novice eventer, Sally, who she has owned for 18 years. Sally is very strong-minded and inclined to rear, so perhaps wasn’t the perfect candidate for a wedding photo shoot, but Cherie had practised beforehand with a sack, and Sally behaved perfectly on the day. She used Peter and Rosemary Morris from Photoshoot, who she has known for a long time and trusted to get it right. “It’s quite a big ask for the photographers to include horses in your wedding.”

The wedding dress was made by Cherie with help from her mother-in-law, and she had the ingenious idea of making a second dress just to wear in the riding photos. “We made a cheaper, lighter version, as I figured by the time I walked down the beach and my horse had trodden and slobbered all over it, it wouldn’t be in very good shape for the ceremony!”

“My horses are part of my family, so it was perfect and I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she says. “Horses make beautiful things even more beautiful – what’s more lovely than a gorgeous photo of a horse?”

Katie and Jackson Laurie's wedding celebrated their combined love of horses (Image: Diana Dobson/The Black Balloon)
Katie and Jackson Laurie’s wedding celebrated their combined love of horses (Image: Diana Dobson/The Black Balloon)

Preparation is key

Well-known Gisborne equestrian photographer Diana Dobson has seen it all when it comes to horsey weddings, including horses who’ve nibbled at bouquets and trodden on dresses.

Diana was the photographer of choice for top show jumper Katie Laurie, who naturally had a horse in her wedding photos. Katie’s husband, Jackson, also had his horse there on the day, but being a rodeo rider, his tack was quite different, says Diana.

Each assignment has been unique. “I had one couple who just wanted horses in the background, even though they were both pretty scared of them,” she recalls. “Another couple wanted the groom’s mare and foal in the photos – I loved that one. I’ve also had full Clydie teams.

“I have had one horse stand on the dress and there has also been the odd bit of green slime that has found its way on to a gorgeous dress!”

For all Diana’s more challenging equine wedding moments, she just loves having horses in the photos because they are such a special part of a rider’s life and she believes they belong in the memories of a wedding day. “Just having them as part of the wedding party is neat. It adds a cool dynamic to the photos.”

Things to be avoided include panicky people, kids who don’t listen and become dangerous, and hot horses, says Diana.

“Oh, and you need something to make sure the horse’s ears are pricked forward. Take care that the horse is well-placed and standing correctly. It is just like having another person in the party – you have to make sure they are looking at you.”

10 ideas for an equestrian-themed wedding

cakeEven if you don’t want to have your own precious pony present, there are plenty of ways your love of horses can find its way into the details – from place cards to the venue and event design.

  1. Have your wedding in a barn or at an equestrian event complex
  2. Use haybales for outdoor seating
  3. A horse topiary or equine ice sculpture makes a stunning centrepiece
  4. Accessorise with leather – cowboy boots and a leather belt will give your wedding dress a Western edge
  5. Use subtle horse stationery for the invitations and wedding programme
  6. What fairytale wedding would be complete without the bride arriving in a horse-drawn carriage?
  7. Have your bridesmaids lead your flower girls in on ponies
  8. Adorn your wedding cake with horses
  9. Use horse-head book-ends or horse figurines as table number holders
  10. Rosettes to grace the backs of chairs, horse-shoe name-cards and trophies filled with flowers make gorgeous table decorations

hires cover*This article first appeared in the September 2015 issue of NZ Horse & Pony magazine