In this interview, adventuress and professional equine photographer, Miriam shares how she started an equestrian photo safari in India. She tells how it took her nearly 30 years to combine her passions for photography, horses and travel. Furthermore she explains how her love of horses is captured on camera.
Author: Charlotte Kingsman
Question: Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming an equine photographer.
My name is Miriam Melanie Koehler, I’m 35 years old and I live in Germany. I have been in love with horses ever since I was a child and I developed a passion for photography in my teens. Curiously, it actually took 30 years before I combined both passions and became a horse photographer.
I studied communications at university during which I learned a lot about photography. I then worked in public relations, doing some freelance work as a journalist on the side. At that point, horses and photography were still an important part of my life but I had not combined them and it was not a career.
Things changed when I decided to take a break from work. I travelled extensively and worked with horses in various places around the world. That’s when everything started. I did come back to work as a communication manager, however, but continued to do horse photography on the side. Quite quickly I was able to work part-time as a self-employed equine and animal photographer. Now, I love it so much that I can’t understand why it took me so long to get there!
Q: Why is taking photos of horses so meaningful to you?
I remember very clearly the moment that triggered it all. Back then, I was doing training in “Humanship” in New Zealand with Ian and Anke Benson. I was living on a horse farm in a rather isolated rural area with nothing around except for horses. For the first time in my life, my entire day revolved around horses. I would see them the first thing in the morning when I opened the door of my caravan and the last thing I saw in the evening when I went back to the caravan with my torch was the dark shadows of horses grazing in the paddocks.
Since I was also carrying my camera around me, it felt only natural to start taking photos of the horses. What I learned through Human Horsemanship helped me build that special relationship with horses based on trust and respect. This opened a new perspective not only on horses but also on horse photography. It wanted to capture in photos the power, energy, grace and beauty of these animals on the one hand and their bond with humans on the other hand.
Q: What are some of the travels you’ve done for equestrian photography?
I mainly work in Germany where I am based but whenever I can take holidays I go on a new equestrian photography adventure. There is only one issue – and I guess every equestrian adventuress can fully understand it – there are never ever enough holidays!
My passion for photography, horses and travel led me all over Europe as well as Egypt, Turkey, South Africa, India and New Zealand. This allowed me to take pictures of all sorts of breeds from Arabian to Black Forest Cold blood, from Shetland Pony to Shire Horse.
Q: Tell us about the best equestrian travel destinations you’ve been to.
There are so many amazing places, so many stunning breeds and so many incredible equestrian adventures out there. This is my top 3:
3rd place: Cappadocia in Turkey
If you ever look for a fairytale place, a place too incredible to be true, you should go and visit Cappadocia in Central Turkey. Over millions of years, volcanic eruptions and erosion have shaped a unique and surreal landscape. The so-called Fairy Chimneys look like mushrooms, animals, pillars, cones and folds. Every valley in Cappadocia has a different character. I did my first ever horseback riding safari there. It was a one-week riding adventure that I will never ever forget. It overwhelmed me so much that I not only returned for more horseback safaris but also to work there myself as a guide for two months. The best way to explore Cappadocia is definitely on horseback.
2rd place: New Zealand
New Zealand is the most stunning country I know. The countryside is just incredible and diverse. From mountains, glaciers and fjords on the South Island to endless beaches, native forests and volcanic zones on the North Island. It’s not only an incredible scenery for all sorts of movies like Lord of the rings, Chronicles of Narnia, or The Piano but also for horse photography as well as for horseback riding tours. I really want to go back because I feel like I didn’t do enough equestrian photography in New Zealand as I was busy with my training in Human Horsemanship. The only problem is that it’s literally on the other side of the world for me!
1st place: India
It had been my dream to see Marwari horses. During my first trip to India I didn’t only fall in love with Marwari horses but also with the country. It’s incredible, full of contrasts, rich in culture and tradition, with very warm-hearted people and great hospitality. I feel that every time I land in India I leave behind all my life’s hassles. My mind gets overwhelmed with colours, sounds and impressions that are very different from life in Europe. The Marwari horses are a great addition to the experience. It is a very special breed with curved ears which you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
Q: What has equine photography taught you?
Mainly patience! You can’t give verbal instructions to a horse like you can to a human model. You can’t force it to stand or to run in a certain way. Of course, you can interact with the horse and there are lots of tricks to get their attention to make them look in a certain direction and so on. But at the end of the day, you always have to see what the horse gives you. That means a lot of waiting, a lot of patience and then also a quick reaction to catch the right moment.
It is also very important to be confident and clear about what you want. You’re working with an animal that is much stronger, much faster than you but also much more sensitive. If it can feel the fear of humans around, it might be scared or even hurt someone. That’s why it’s so important to do everything with confidence – even if it’s failing with confidence! It’s also a great life lesson.
Q: Can you share with us your three favourite equestrian photographs and the stories behind them?
1st Photograph: Opening the World of Marwaris
This picture is called “Opening the world of Marwaris”. I took it during my first solo shooting trip to India and it is still one of my favourites. It’s a homage to the Marwari horses and at the same time, a big thank you to my hosts who introduced me to their Marwaris. They literally opened the world of Marwaris to me. I’m happy when I, too, can open the world of Marwaris to other people with my pictures or with my photo workshops.
2nd Photograph: Bond between Horse and Human
It’s always great to take pictures of horses with their humans and to capture their relationship. But from time to time there are these very special shoots where you can feel how deep the relationship between the horse and the human is and how much they trust, respect and love each other. This pic is from one of these shoots. We went to an alley full of cherry trees. It was a public park with quite a lot of people around, walking with their dogs, cycling or just having a stroll – basically a situation where a horse can easily become nervous. But the bond between those two was so strong that the horse didn’t care at all about the situation. They even lied down next to each other.
3rd Photograph: Gentle Giant
For me, horses are strong and dynamic like waves. If they wanted to, they could overpower us like a wave in the ocean pushing us to the ground. It is a blessing that they are willing to give us their trust and to respect us as their partners. They are gentle giants. This picture represents this for me perfectly. This strong Shire Horse is standing its ground in the waves.
Q: Finally, tell us about the Rajasthan photography / horse safari workshop you’ve been conducting.
I travelled to Rajasthan several times and worked as a photographer for Mandawa Safaris. During one of the trips, we came up with the idea of offering a workshop together. I loved the idea of sharing my fascination for the Marwari horses and India with other photographers and photography, horse and travel enthusiasts. My goal is to let them get immersed into the world of Marwaris.
During the “Mandawa Photo Safari” we offer unique photo shooting opportunities of Marwari horses (these are a great addition to every photo portfolio!) from shooting in the castle of Mandawa to sunrise shooting in the dunes.
Much More Than Just a Photo Workshop
However, the concept is much more than just a photo workshop. We also want to give the participants an understanding of the breed and its story. The Mandawa Family has been breeding Marwaris for more than 200 years. These horses carried their ancestors through the semi-desert of Rajasthan where they faced enemies in war without any fear. Today their Marwaris carry guests from all over the world during riding safaris. Two hundred years of history in keeping horses – that’s a treasure chest full of stories, traditions and knowledge. That’s why we combined the workshop with sightseeing and cultural experiences. We are just finalizing the plans for the third workshop in 2020. We will also add a theory course to introduce participants – professionals and amateurs – to horse photography. It does not matter if you are a passionate or professional photographer – anyone who wants to join is welcome. You just need a certain enthusiasm for photography; otherwise, you won’t be crazy enough to get up for a sunrise shoot at five in the morning. And you should also be aware that travelling to incredible India means being ready for the unexpected!
Look out on Miriam’s websites and social media for updates about the upcoming “Mandawa Photo Safari” in 2020!
To find more valuable information about “incredible India”, have a look at out India and Marwari sections. And if you are already convinced, that you have to see India with your own eyes, you should have a look at our resources pages: “Horse Riding in Every Country” is a catalog of more than 400 riding stables and tours in over 180 countries and includes some nice destinations in India as well!