Mini-Sessions at Black Dog Stables with guest blogger, Sarah Susa
I’m so excited to be a guest on Elm Hollow Photography’s blog! Hilary and I have been friends since we were single-digit barn-rats, and spent our childhoods playing with horses together. Now, we’re basically grown-up barn-rats with farms of our own, and I can’t be happier watching my friend live out her dreams of being an ultimate horsewoman and extraordinarily gifted photographer.
In 2017, my own dream of farm ownership came true when my husband and I bought Black Dog Stables in Gibsonia, and over the past almost-two-years, we’ve been bringing the abandoned, dilapidated property back to life.
I get to pass on my love of horses to my North Hills neighbors in my own backyard by teaching riding lessons and offering summer camps here at the farm, and last fall, we decided to offer my students (and their families) a chance to get their photos taken with their favorite lesson horse.
You’ll notice there’s one particular pony who shows up in 90% of our photos: Gypsy. She’s a barn favorite, for sure, and the most patient, kind, and forgiving teacher for beginning riders. Gypsy came from a local horse rescue and fell into our laps, and she has a forever home at Black Dog Stables. It wasn’t a surprise that the majority of our kiddos wanted their picture with this sweet girl. And it helps that she’s super photogenic!
Despite it being early October, and in the 70s the week before, the day of our shoot was COLD – the high was just 50 degrees. I worried about the kids being too cold to cooperate, but Hilary is such a professional – she has some killer tricks up her sleeve for catching the attention of the horses, and she’s so kind and sweet with the kids that they opened up to her almost immediately.
Some of the older kids – and the ones more comfortable in front of the camera – were up for different poses with the horses, and Hilary knows exactly where to place both humans and horses for the best shots. And the little kiddos who were more interested in playing in the dirt? Hilary was so good that the kids were holding a pony and smiling before they even knew what was going on!
Hilary offers a lot of flexibility with packages, and there was something for everyone who came to our place. Some of our riders took photos alone, others with their siblings who also ride, and even a few families jumped into the frame!
A cousin of one of my riding students was in need of senior photos, so Hilary – always up for anything – made use of some of the other locations around the farm for a senior photo shoot!
Lacey found out about the farm last year at a Summer Camp at the Stable. She has been taking lessons ever since and loves the horses!
“Sis” (formally, Elizabeth) has two big brothers, which we think has made her one of the toughest cookies here at the barn. You’ll never hear Sis complain, and when she’s learning a new skill in her lessons, she works so hard until she masters it, and absolutely never gives up. This attitude is making her a seriously talented little rider!
Scarlet and Violet are sisters who have been riding with us since the start of our program. These two love visiting the horses and learning to ride. Initially, Scarlet was going to be the only one taking lessons, but after week #1, Violet wanted to ride just like her big sister, so she gets on for the last few minutes of every lesson and wants to do everything her sister does! Violet wasn’t sure about being in the spotlight, but Hilary captured Scarlet’s love for Gypsy so beautifully.
Emma loves animals! She started riding when she was five and now can just about do it all! When she comes to the barn, she makes sure to say “hi” to all of the critters!
Oliva dreams of becoming an Olympic rider one day! Her favorite horse is Gypsy!
Samantha has also been a lesson student since the beginning as well, and is as a big sister of two little brothers, has no problem keeping our ponies in line. We love Sam’s outfit and how her ribbon matches her dress and the leaves on the tree behind her!
Phoebe is another of our youngest riders. Her grandmother has a horse farm, but as any parent who has tried to teach a skill to their own child knows, it’s always easier to get someone else to teach your own kid! At only four years old, Phoebe is posting like a professional and will be ready for her grandma’s horses soon!
Vivienne and Lily are two sisters that now ride together! Vivienne is always eager for her lessons. She’s athletic and tough! Lily started to watch big sister’s lessons and decided she wanted in on the action and began riding, too!
Cadence and Cayla are another sister duo who ride with us. These two are proud owners of their own (invisible) horses (named Spirit and Horse-Ring) and bring these two fine four-legged friends to our barn with them every week. Their invisible horses wait patiently in stalls while Cadence and Cayla ride our very visible equines. We love having such horse-crazy kids here with us!
Lily and Ellie are twin sisters who are best buddies but also very different young ladies. Lily is our rider, a girl after Hilary and my own hearts, who instead of getting new clothes for the school year requested a trip to Dover for new riding clothes instead. Ellie, not a rider herself, is Lily’s biggest cheerleader, and loves hanging around the barn to groom the horses, play with the kittens, and tell her sister that she’s doing a great job. We love having these two around the farm!
Evyn is another little lesson student. She loves to help take care of the horses, and when she’s not working on her posting trot, she’s the red-light-green-light champion of the barn!
Hannah was one of the farm’s lesson students, and has grown up so much since she started riding. She’s one of the most thoughtful young ladies, always bringing snacks for the horses (or Sarah!) or toys for the kittens to play with.
Lizzie and Anna are lucky enough to live down the road from the barn, and ride their bikes down the road often to help take care of the horses. Many days I’ve texted their mom to ask if they can stay longer to help me clean “just one more stall!” We see barn-hand jobs in their future for these hard working girls!
Lucy and Norah are another sister, horse crazy duo! Big sister Lucy has been riding at the stable since the beginning and Norah decided to start riding, too! Lucy is a great listener at her lessons and has become such a good little rider! Norah began riding this summer because she thought it looked cool!
We had a few people come to fill spots for the sessions! We enjoyed spending the time with you and we are super glad you enjoyed your photos!!
We had such a fun day with Hilary, and her photos were the gift that kept on giving. Many of these pictures ended up on Christmas or New Year’s cards, or were framed for gifts for the holidays and given to doting grandparents!
I can’t more highly recommend inviting Hilary to your stable – you’ll have a great day, but more importantly, you’ll love your photos for years to come!