The Horse’s Head

Sometimes small details make a world of difference. In today’s guest post, David Arment of tells the story of a favorite photo. 

Perry Miller was in the gallery and he saw the picture of the Amish buggy in the snow. The picture is “black and white” with a fence row down each side of the picture taking your eye to the Amish buggy moving down the dead middle of the road. The world is white. Snow. Faintly you can see some buildings and if you look closely you can see smoke rising from a chimney.

Perry loved the picture.

Perry is Amish and he has a wonderful “eye”. He also owns Heartland Wholesale which manufactures and distributes art work to Amish and Mennonite stores across the country. It is a special niche that his company understands very well. When Perry likes a picture it means something.

Then a few days later Perry was back in the gallery. He looked at the picture and said, “I don’t like that picture anymore”.

The obvious question is – and I asked it – “Why?”

The answer is that he can see (we all can see) the horse’s head.

Amish Buggy in Snow Arment Photo

As you may or may not know in this world of digital photography you can take hundreds of pictures in a matter of a couple of minutes with these DSLR cameras. So I had many shots of this horse and buggy. The one where you COULD see the horse’s head was the one I chose to work on because I liked seeing his head. It was different from many of my other pictures where the only hint that there is a horse pulling the buggy is feet and of course the logical conclusion that your brain draws that there has to be a horse up there… somewhere.

Perry explained that horses pull straight… or are supposed to. If you can see the horse’s head that means he is not pulling straight. He is not directing his energy as intended. He is distracted.

Perry asked me how close I was to the buggy. His question suggested that I was too close and distracted the horse.

I remembered being at 400 mm on the telephoto which would have put me hundreds of yards away given the framing of the picture.

So I Photoshopped out the horse’s head and sent Perry an altered copy so he could be happy.

I guess the point made is…or maybe better said the point remade is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and what we English see is different from what the Amish may see.

You can pick up an Amish photo as a holiday gift at Arment Photo’s Amish Gallery, where you can find the horse’s head photo and many others.

Arment Gallery Facebook Page

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    1. Guy

      Another Amish Hit
      Very Sad to hear

    2. What a great story...

      As a serious amateur photographer I have to say, “What a great story!” (Also a great photo, with or without the horse’s head.)

      I happen to think I’d like the “non-head” version better, because of the conflict between the distracted horse and he concept of contentment. I think I’d find the “non-head” version more serene.

      But perhaps the real point is whether we are writing or photographing, there is some magic in achieving the place where we offer enough to suggest things to the viewer/reader but leave out enough to allow him/her to complete the picture or story.

    3. Trish in Indiana

      for what it's worth . . .

      . . . I like the “head” version better! Asymmetry is always more visually interesting than symmetry.

      Besides, if contentment were dependent on perfection, no one would be content. (There is a sense in which we should not be content this side of heaven. But there is a godly contentment to be found even in Fallen World in which horses don’t always pull straight.)

      1. I kind of like this take. Though I can see the contrast between the idea of contentment and distraction.

        I wonder how many would notice this if it weren’t pointed out. Sounds like Perry didn’t, at least at first. I had seen the photo already (albeit a smaller version), but did not catch it until reading David’s post.

        How about one other interpretation? The horse’s head is pointing towards the building. Maybe contentment is found at home.

    4. Gayle Grabowski

      Knowing nothing of horses, I found this perspective fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

    5. Christy

      I certainly like the photo “with the head”. It appears more natural. Some times a photo can appear too perfect. You are right though beauty is different for everyone.

    6. Mark - Holmes Co.

      My first thought when I saw the picture but had not yet read the words was “What’s wrong?” I figured the horse was acting up. I think it looks unnatural.

      1. OldKat

        Same here

        Seeing the horses head tells me that he is looking at or for SOMETHING. He either sees or hears something that has distracted him. He has taken his eye off of the path ahead; and that very well COULD cause problems. Which, if you think about it, that is almost a biblical narrative; don’t take your eye off the cross.

        Mark, you can probably relate to this better than most of the AA “family”. I have two Percheron cross mares that an Amish guy in South Texas broke to drive for me some years back. Like almost all “English” that own working horses, I don’t have enough work to really keep them busy. So when I do drive them they are often distracted by things that would be routine for them … if I had them in harness everyday.

        The one mare gets skittish and wants to start prancing when she can hear a noise, but because of the blinders (blinkers) she can’t see the source of the noise. I know that you understand that prancing is often the indicator that a runaway is about to take place. I do NOT want that to happen.

        So I bought a set of “open” headstalls from an Amish harness maker in Missouri, but I am somewhat unsure if I really want to go that way or not. It MAY cause her to calm down when she hears a noise and is able to identify the source.

        On the other hand, it MAY cause her to find many other things to be distracted about. Which, if you think about it … lol

    7. Mark - Holmes Co.

      The open blinds are rarely seen on a buggy horse for a good reason. Very few horses can be driven with them without becoming spooked by something. We could always recognize one man’s rig in our area because his horse was the only one without blinds. Soon after this guy married, we noticed he switched to blinds and he said he did not want to take any chances with his new wife. 🙂 He was in his late 40’s when he married. I guess after waiting that long, he wanted to make sure she didn’t come a sad end behind his horse. We used to have a horse that we sometimes drove with a detachable blind that would fasten to the top of the blinds with velcro and allow that horse to only see the ground right in front of him. We usually only used it when driving through town or other “scary” places because he was so easily spooked, but he did grow out of it as he got older.
      You might give thought to using a calming paste or powder. It’s not a drug, or I should say you can buy such things that are not drugs, but it will calm the horse down. Some are made to feed daily, others just before driving or say hauling in a trailer. Check out Jeffers Catalog on-line. I don’t like the idea of feeding that regularly, but the paste they use for certain situations might help you avoid a runaway. That’s always a good thing to avoid!

      1. OldKat

        Thanks Mark

        You know I have actually used that stuff before, but for a different reason. When they were young they uesd to fight the farrier, so I used the paste on them both. Worked like a charm.

        Now that they are adults they are as calm as they can be when their hooves are being done. In fact, I genrally trim their hooves myself & only use a farrier if I am going to have them out on the raod for any period of time. (You see I am 3/4 German myself & I don’t like to spend $$$ that I don’t have to!)

        I really NEVER even considered using anything to calm them when driving on the road, but I sure will give it a try. Interestingly, the young Amish fellow that broke them and farmed with them for about 4 or 5 months broke them with open headstalls, but then switched them to headstalls with blinders right before I picked them up. Not sure why he did it that way, but I did notice that he doesn’t drive his own horses with open headstalls.

    8. Can see both ways...

      As somewhat of a camera jockey myself, I actually like it both ways. When I first saw the picture above, I thought “How cool” (no pun intended). I’m afraid that I don’t have the practical experience that the Amish man did in order to have his objection — but with his experience, I imagine the original shot would not ‘feel’ right to me either.

      But just on aesthetics alone, while I like the original I think I would like the without-head shot better. In my eye, the head-to-buggy ratio is large enough to stop the implied movement of the buggy toward the horizon. In other words, the point of attention (from implied movement and interest) is at the buggy in the original; arguably the POA is somewhere past the buggy and off into the distance with the altered version. It takes on a point-in-time instead of a proceeding-through-time frame of reference.

      Just my $.02.

    9. Carol


      Surprised that PETA or USUS hasn’t come out in protest of blinders for horses.

    10. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I don’t know which group has, but it has happened. It was then pointed out that causing your horse to be frightened is hardly kind and a frightened horse often ends up hurting itself.

    11. keith lee

      The Horse's Head

      I like it. A picture says a 1000 words. The horse could have been distracted. I think the horse could have been struggling to pull the load in the deep snow and was uncomfortable with its breast strap, moving its Head to try and find ease and comfort. None the less, it tells of real life; life not being picture perfect.

    12. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      My father actually liked a good joke or play on words, on a certain American version of a collectables television series I remember he laughed at a painting being “better this way than that of a southern view of a north bound buffalo”

      In a round about way, this is what this picture is, a southern view of a north bound horse and buggy (or whatever direction their traveling in, its rather arbitrary)

      Sorry, I’m going rather naughty here, but it’s a lovely picture and actually inspires me to be positive about winter.

    13. Jerry

      I like the photo with the head. It’s a beautiful scene and the horse’s head just adds character.

      As the year comes to an end and I reflect about my Amish interactions of 2014, I want to run through my pics and send Eric my top five. Perhaps in mid-Jan., when he gets back, he can post some of our best memories of 2014. It will be tough to find the top five but I hope everyone can enjoy them as much as I cherish my experiences.
      Just a thought.
      Merry Christmas everyone.

      1. I’d certainly enjoy that Jerry, a nice idea. Feel free to send them over to me.