Cheshire photographer Sue Westwood-Ruttledge adds glamour to the image of horse and owner
PUBLISHED: 09:21 07 May 2014
Jodhpurs and muddy boots...that's the usual dress code when the horse-lover meets her four-legged friend.
But what if horse and owner really put on the style - wouldn’t they make a pretty picture? That thought crossed the mind of Sue Westwood-Ruttledge as she chatted with friends at stables in Broadheath, Altrincham.
‘I asked one of the girls “How do you fancy putting your prom dress on, we’ll get you a makeover and do a few shots?”, ‘ recalls Sue. ‘I put the images on Facebook and within an hour I’d got three bookings. Then I went up to the stables to ride that weekend and came back with another six bookings.’
Today, Sue is so busy photographing horses and their owners at their glammed-up best that she is selling franchises nationwide for others to do the same.
‘I like fashion, and I like animals, and this is how I’ve come to mix the two,’ she says. ‘I ask the owners to prepare the horse as if they’re going to a horse show, so most will bath a horse, or, if it’s cold weather, give them a good brush. They will spend time trimming the whiskers, trimming the feathers on the feet and the tails and pulling the manes, making sure the horse looks good. Any dirt will show up in a close-up.’
With the horse groomed to perfection, it’s the owner’s turn. Most of Sue’s subjects bring three outfits to the shoot, and many will have a professional make-over especially for the occasion. Some turn up in their Jimmy Choos, though if the pictures are being taken in a field, Sue may persuade them into a pair of ‘cool wellies’ instead.
The business has proved a remarkable success for someone who did not even consider photography as a career until five years ago. Bolton-born Sue began working as a groom at stables in Burscough as a teenager, then went to Denmark for 18 months to work with Danish Warmblood horses. Back in England, she ran two Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Clubs but had to give them up after suffering a back injury in a car accident. Instead she started a construction business specialising in fire, flood and storm damage, and saw it expand rapidly. Bad luck struck again when Sue was hospitalised for a week by what turned out to be carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking boiler.
Taking a cruise in the Caribbean, she was mulling over what to do next with her life, and plumped for photography, taking a 12-month training course.
Sue, aged 41, lives in Sale with her husband Paul and children Josh, aged 16, and Ellie, aged six. Another member of the family is Stollie, the horse she has had since she was 14.
‘Because I’ve been around horses since I was six, I’m used to dealing with all sorts of horses. I’ve never had one yet I couldn’t photograph,’ says Sue. ‘Horses can be very temperamental. They have an attention span. The shoots normally last two hours, and by that time, they’ve had enough.’
Sitting pretty with your horse
It was, says Sue, ‘a lucky shot’. She had asked university student Megan Smith, from Timperley, to pose in her finery for photographs at the stables they both use in Broadheath. Altrincham.
The result was a beautiful shot of Megan kissing the nose of a grey horse against the blue backdrop of an old wooden door. Before she knew it, Sue had a queue of other people wanting to be immortalised looking stylish in the stables.
Megan’s 13-year-old sister Millie, for instance, was captured beside a brown horse, surrounded by darkness.
‘It was taken in a hay barn,’ says Sue. ‘That’s my signature style, which a lot of customers ask for.’
Other photoshoots were in the great outdoors, commissioned as birthday presents, or just a chance to wear an extra-special outfit - perhaps a wedding dress - on horseback.
Several such commissions were inspired by a photo session in which Sue asked Lisa Hale, from Sale, to pose, in a wedding dress, with horse Paddy on Southport beach.
‘I bought the wedding dress off eBay. I knew it was going to get trashed,’ says Sue. ‘I’ve had lots of brides who have requested wedding dress shots since that. Normally, they’ve got married, they have the wedding dress in the wardrobe and it’s a case of “What can we do to wear it again?”.’
For more about Sue Westwood-Ruttledge’s work, see www.horsephotographeruk.co.uk
Sue is also developing a canine photo service: www.dogphotographeruk.com