The Wild Hearts photography project highlights the plight of rare wild fell ponies
- Credit: Archant
Rochdale’s Esther Marie Towler is highlighting the risk to our native horses with a stunning photography project
Lancashire photographer Esther Marie Towler has a passion for capturing animals on film and her fine art is inspired by the emotions evoked when observing horses in their most natural state.
Award-winning Esther has turned this passion into a fine art project called “Wild Hearts”, which focuses on Britain’s native breed horses and ponies.
The pictures on these pages are from a recent trip to the south Lakes photographing the semi-wild Fell ponies. She was fascinated by the harmonious way they co-exist with their human neighbours, exhibiting in equal measure an endearing curiosity and a fiercely wild spirit.
‘I am fascinated by the strength and power as well as the vulnerability of these majestic animals,’ says Esther, who hopes that “Wild Hearts” will raise the profile of the Fell ponies as well as other native breeds, some of which are facing possible extinction.
With a strong message of conservation at its heart, the project’s aim is to encourage people to support these vulnerable breeds, either by protecting them in their natural environment or by buying a registered pony – a step which could help save these rare breeds. She has been overwhelmed by the support from horse and art lovers alike.
‘I have received so many messages from people telling me about herds of native breed horses or ponies in their local area as well as from people who own rare breeds and who have offered to have them photographed,’ she says. ‘The support of the horse world and the wider community who live side-by-side with these beautiful animals has been quite overwhelming.’
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Once the project is complete there will be a gallery show and the photographs will be collated into what promises to be a stunning fine art book.
Esther works on her fine art projects alongside her personal commissions. With 20 years experience in her chosen field she specialises in equine and pet photography and travels extensively working with both domestic and wild animals. She is known for her beautiful, natural, emotive style of photography.
Her passion began at an early age when she was given her first camera by her grandfather. She was mesmerised by the idea of capturing moments in time and preserving them on film.
To develop her skills, she went on to study the craft at West Glamorgan University. When a childhood passion for horses was rekindled Esther found she wanted to combine these two great loves in her life.
After training with some of the best photographers in the industry, she set up her own business specialising in domestic animal and equine photography as well as equine fine art photography.
She says: ‘Animals fascinate me – their often human expressions, their curiosity, fearless optimism and their captivating beauty all make my heart leap with joy.’
She works with a wide variety of clients engaging in private equine and pet commissions. Her affinity for animals is evident throughout her work. When engaged in projects with domestic pets or horses and their owners she is committed to capturing the emotional connection between them.
‘As animal lovers and owners, we share a very special bond with our animals, an almost spiritual connection. As an observer of that bond, I find it my greatest privilege to be able to capture that on film. When an owner tells me that my images epitomise the relationship between them and their animal I feel a great sense of fulfilment.’
Esther adores her work, her passion and enthusiasm shines through in all her photography and she thrives on the unique challenges posed by working with animals, whether domestic or wild, in the studio or on location.
‘On a shoot there is always a need for humour, pragmatism and endless patience!’ says Esther. ‘But each animal and commission is unique meaning that every day is a fresh opportunity to capture another special moment. Creating timeless images which reflect the true spirit of the horse and their emotional connection with their human is what drives me.’
Esther works with and supports a number of animal charities - she recently visited Egypt to document the amazing work carried out by the ACE charity who work to protect horses from neglect. She is also involved with charities through which horses help children on the autistic spectrum grow in confidence.
Esther Marie Photography is based in Rochdale, but Esther travels nationally and internationally to carry out her commissions. She is a qualified Licentiate member of the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP), an internationally recognised organisation that sets a benchmark of excellence.
Fell Pony Society
The Fell Pony Society, with The Queen as its patron, is working hard to maintain the breed in the face of its ‘at risk’ status. According to the society, these lovely animals are mostly found in Cumberland and Westmorland, where they probably roamed in pre-historic times.
The Vikings used ponies to plough and pull sledges as well as for riding and pack work and, from the 11th and 12th centuries, ponies were being used for longer distance work carrying fleeces, woollen goods, foodstuff such as cheeses, meat, fish and preserves, as well as local metal ores. They were also used for hunting wolves and for shepherding.
The ponies, known locally as ‘galloways’, were also used for the Cumberland sport of trotting races and modern ponies are renowned for their ground covering trot.
In 1922, the Fell Pony Society was set up in its present form, not to improve them but to keep pure the old breed of pony in the face of cross-breeding to produce farm horses and showy road animals such as the Wilson pony.
Riding for pleasure became more popular in the 1950s, a pursuit that has guaranteed the future of many native breeds.
The number of ponies being registered with the Fell Pony Society has risen steadily, with foal registrations annually exceeding 400 in the first decade of the 21st century.
It is an ideal, all-round family pony suitable for both adults and children. As a hack and general riding pony, the Fell’s fast walk and easy paces make it a pleasant and comfortable ride, and its sure-footedness ensures a safe passage over the roughest country. This is why the Riding for the Disabled movement employs a number as mounts.
Others perform forestry and farm work such as shepherding and carrying tourists on treks. They also transport equipment to help repair walking routes. A few are still used in Scotland carrying stags and grouse panniers down from the moors and some of The Queen’s ponies are used for both riding and driving by the Royal Family.
To find out more go to www.fellponysociety.org.uk