Our latest cover girl had to pose in an unconventional studio, plus deal with her restless foal.
Story and photos by Ross Hecox
It was one of the most unlikely locations for a Western Horseman photo shoot—a old, narrow garage with tools, dim light and a concrete floor.
I traveled to a small ranch north of Merced, California, to meet Dustin Kaiser and get photos for my May 2016 article, “Buckaroos & Cowpunchers,” which contrasts the trappings of cowboys in the West against those in the Southwest.
I think Dustin thought I was crazy when I suggested we set up the photo of him, his mare and his authentic buckaroo gear in the garage. All around us were pretty trees, open spaces and green grass for a nice photo. But I wanted all the photos in this story—whether shot in California or West Texas—to have the same lighting and backdrop.
So Dustin, his girlfriend, April, her son, Colton, and I began moving machinery and sweeping the floor of the garage. We strung a taut rope and hung the canvas from my bedroll to create a backdrop. While I set up my camera and plugged in my flash, Dustin saddled up his bay mare, Holly, and April kept track of the mare’s foal.
That’s right. We even brought the little colt into the garage so Momma wouldn’t get too worried. I climbed up on a ladder with my camera, and Dustin posed for some photos and simply held his mare for other shots. April and Colton had the difficult job of getting the mare to perk her ears and also keeping the foal out of the shot. The colt sniffed around in the garage, wandered behind the backdrop, nursed his mother—I guess he didn’t realize that he was disrupting an important photo shoot.
Meanwhile, Dustin was trying not to wince from pain. He had broken his leg a few months earlier, recently got out of a walking boot, and this was the first time he’d pulled on his cowboy boots. He never said anything, but at one point when photographing his spurs I could see his entire right leg shaking in pain. I worked to finish our shoot as quickly as possible so Dustin could get back in his barn shoes.
Despite the distractions, pain, and Holly’s anxiety over her foal, we happened to get several nice photos, including a head shot that showed off Dustin’s two-rein rig. That photo wound up on the cover of the May 2016 issue.
I certainly couldn’t have done it without a gritty buckaroo, his helpful girlfriend and her son, nice gear and a good-looking mare.
I probably could have done okay without the foal.