“Everything is a sequence; you learn from one thing and put it into the next project,” says Elisabeth Haug, a local Icelandic Horse enthusiast, equestrian, breeder, trainer and, now, horse and nature photographer. “Photography is all about learning to see things from a different point of view. It’s a language of emotion, and motion is emotion,” continued Elisabeth as she described her forte, and favorite type of photography – animal action photography. “People respond best to pictures which display emotion.”
Homeland of Denmark
How did she develop the feel for anticipating the next steps or action of animals? It all began with her first sequence: childhood in Denmark where she rode Warmbloods in Dressage and Jumping. Eventually she was introduced to the Icelandic horse as its popularity exploded in Europe. “The upkeep was cheap, they were rugged, versatile, fun horses with great personalities. The Europeans just loved the breed!” exclaimed Elisabeth.
Her enthusiasm for the breed grew with her then-husband as they imported and bred Icelandic horses as a business in Denmark, selling their ponies all over Europe. Their success fueled their dream of bringing the business to America. After traveling to many US locations they bought a ranch in Paso Robles and began building their dream.
Building the Dream of Breeding Icelandic Horses in Paso Robles
“Thirty-six Icelandic horses, plus eight Standardbred horses landed at LAX on Thanksgiving Day in 1978,” Elisabeth began telling the story. “They were all on a DC6 airplane. The day was symbolic but, no one wanted do much on that Thanksgiving Day, so there wasn’t much help around for all those horses.”
Icelandic Horses Make First Home in Cow Horse Country
These were the first Icelandic horses to call a location in the Western United States home. They were brought up to Paso Robles, and plopped right into the middle of cow horse country. “The idea of these Icelandic horses didn’t go over very well,” said a disappointed Elisabeth. “The cowboys were really into their Quarter Horses for herding cattle.” Icelandic horses in their native home did the same thing these Quarter Horses were doing. Herding horses and sheep is a primary function back in the home-land. “And sheep are much harder to herd than cattle!” exclaimed Elisabeth.
Even though the horses could do the ranch work and other things it was tough getting interest in these horses started. Yet, Elisabeth remained undaunted and was the primary driver behind the Icelandic horse movement, telling everyone she could of the joys of the Icelandic horse – even appearing in the Rose Parade seven times! People just needed to develop a taste for their way of going and their usefulness.
Since Elisabeth was pioneering the Icelandic horse breed here on the West Coast she didn’t have like-minded and purposed people to engage with. This drove her to explore and appreciate other breeds and their owners. She recognizes now how that knowledge comes in handy when shooting photos of other breeds.
Eventually Elisabeth moved the herd to a 1,000 acre ranch she leased in Santa Ynez Valley just off the East side of the 101. The Icelandic horses had the full run of the place. The geldings, brood mares and foals were left to roam the hillsides. Her last sequence with the horses involved cutting down the herd size and retiring from breeding and selling the horses. Elisabeth then moved to San Diego where her children settled so she could be involved with her grandchildren.
Back to the Central Coast
However, the Central Coast kept calling her back, so she has since relocated in Cambria where she began developing her photography skills.
“I was always interested in photography but was not so good at it before digital because I was always worrying about having to develop the film for my mistakes,” explained Elisabeth. “Now I take millions of pictures. You need target practice. If you don’t have practice on the shutter you miss moments.”
Capturing Animals in Action
“My special love is action photography,” describes Elisabeth. “The photographer has to feel the movement and anticipate the next movement because there is a delay with the gear and the photographer’s reaction. One must predict the movement.”
Elisabeth attributes her ability to predict movement to the years spent both watching horses go and feeling the motion through riding. “As a rider, you always have that movement knowledge in your body. As the photographer I ride the horse in my mind. That’s how I get the action shot.” She also knows what order the legs move in both gaited horses and non-gaited horses, so she can predict the next move.
“Photography is a language of emotion and action photography captures motion which is emotion,” Elisabeth continues to describe her love of photography. “A photograph allows a person to see something from a point of view they wouldn’t see otherwise.”
Combining a Love of Icelandic Horses and Photography
Spending years sharing the joy and excitement of the Icelandic Horse launched her into capturing that love in photography. “I want to share the same joy and excitement I have for the Icelandic Horse by capturing what I see and sharing it with others, bringing them joy,” explains Elisabeth.
Elisabeth has been on several treks and comes home with truly beautiful photographs. Iceland can only be accessed by vehicle around the perimeter. The only access to the interior is via horse trek. The island is relatively small so changes in scenery come often. There are also many thermal energy spots which contrasts with the cold tundra landscape, thus the land is literally known as fire and ice. This contributes to beautiful and unique light changes providing for dramatic photos.
Horses are an integral part of life in Iceland. Per capita, Iceland has the highest population of horses of any country in the world. Consequently, Horse Trekking adventures in Iceland are now the number one industry. You can get a glimpse into this adventure through Elisabeth’s book Eldhestar: fun, wide vision and adventure.
Elisabeth is Available to Capture You and Your Horse in Action
Her love of the Icelandic horses combined with her knowledge of riding and photography results in photos which capture magic moments. Photography is her latest life sequence where Elisabeth describes her focus best, “I look for what the client wants then translate that into the pictures they want to display. It’s a form of communication; an important timing of emotions.” You can contact Elisabeth to book a personal photo shoot or workshop through her website, SLOCoastFun.com.
All photos courtesy of Elizabeth Haug. You can see more of her photos in our article on Horse’s Noses.