By Callie Broaddus

And they galloped off into the sunset, to live happily ever after.

Hold your horses…that was the end of the story. We need to start at the beginning—or at least at the beginning of the wedding. Even as a life-long horseback rider, my mind is abuzz with questions each time I see a horse standing next to a set of newlyweds, whether in my newsfeed or on the big screen (remember the opening scene of Runaway Bride?).

Sally Pennington and Martin Brown, photographed in a separate session by Krysta Norman Photo

Sally Pennington and Martin Brown, photographed in a separate session by Krysta Norman Photo

Where did those horses come from? How many times did she have to practice mounting and dismounting in a wedding gown? Have you ever ridden sidesaddle before? Wait a second…isn’t that your polo pony?

Fiancés in horse country don’t need encouragement from fairytales or rom-coms to conclude that an equine element might add elegance and personality to their special day. A winter morning’s drive through Middleburg’s rural landscape is likely to put you in view of a hunt field hot on the scent, a carriage tottering down a gravel road and at least a dozen blanketed bays grazing in
frost-covered paddocks.

With such daily inspiration, many couples find themselves asking not “if” but “how” horses will play a part in their wedding celebration. From a post-wedding-day photo shoot with a favorite horse to a fully mounted ceremony followed by a foxhunt, there is a level of equestrian involvement to
suit every couple.

Devon Zebrovious and George Kuk married on horseback at their Cherry Blossom Farm in November of 2007. Photo by Middleburgphoto.com

Devon Zebrovious and George Kuk married on horseback at their Cherry Blossom Farm in November of 2007. Photo by Middleburgphoto.com

As even the most well-behaved horse carries with it the risk inherent to a 1,400-pound sentient animal, determining the right level of equine involvement for a wedding can be daunting. Luckily, Middleburg is exactly the place you want to be if you have questions of an equine or nuptial nature to explore.

Let us start with the Hindu and Sikh traditional baraat, for example, in which the groom usually approaches the wedding venue riding astride an elaborately decorated white mare, surrounded by his family. Because this tradition is not exclusive to experienced equestrians, it helps to have horse-savvy professionals in attendance to make sure everything runs—or, hopefully, walks—smoothly.

Amy Regeti, of Regeti’s Photography in Warrenton, VA, has extensive experience photographing baraat processions. She consults with clients early when planning a baraat to cover need-to-know information on hiring a horse or carriage company, but her advice is sound for equestrian wedding elements of any culture. “Do your research, read reviews, question the horse’s temperament, how many events it’s been present at and how often it’s socialized. When not on events, what is the horse actively doing?” Regeti continues. Adding a photographer’s wish, “More importantly, I would ask how the handler will present and be dressed. After all, they are in a lot of your images.”

A groom rides in his baraat procession on a white mare, called a Ghodi. Photo by Regeti's Photography

A groom rides in his baraat procession on a white mare, called a Ghodi. Photo by Regeti’s Photography

As co-owner of Carriages of the Capital, Marcia Brody has to consider every one of these details as she readies for a baraat procession or bridal carriage. “We are quintessentially detail-minded and have not had many things go wrong,” says Brody. “I have heard of disastrous consequences when couples have tried to use their own animals, and guests or family members have been injured, or worse.”

While such horror stories abound in the horse world, most risks are easily mitigated. “Use a professional vendor, and craft your vision with a blend of your inspiration and their experience. Make sure they provide safe, trained and immaculately clean animals, and that they carry appropriate liability insurance,” says Brody, who recommends strongly against using your own horse. “Enjoy your day without the shadow of risk, or the responsibility to manage the horse before, during or after the ceremony.”

Some local venues offer horses on site for a more passive approach to an equestrian wedding. At Warrenton’s Black Horse Inn, CEO and owner Lynn Pirozzoli says the venue’s horses are always groomed and at the ready for photo-ops. “They graze peacefully in the front field ready to delight bride, groom and bridal party, or any of the guests. With just a whistle, they gallop to the fence for photos.”

The Black Horse Inn is equally equipped to arrange carriage entrances, to provide a sidesaddle horse for the bride to ride to the ceremony, or even to facilitate the couple’s own horse, acting as a “bed and breakfast for horses,” to decrease the day-of stress.

But even Pirozzoli’s horses can throw a wrench into her plans. “May 5th is a big day for hats, with Gold Cup and the Kentucky Derby,” says Pirozzoli, recalling a particular wedding. “To honor this tradition, the bridesmaids and groomsmen had straw hats on. When the horses came galloping up to the fence for a photo op, the hats were just too tempting. The horses sniffed and nibbled them, and the look on the faces of the
wedding party—PRICELESS!”

Pirozzoli’s advice is simple. “Enjoy the horses and they will enjoy you. They love attention and they will pose for photos that are priceless, with memories that last a lifetime.”

While that may be true of horses at the Black Horse Inn, every horseperson knows at least one horse that simply will not prick its ears, stand up square or even stand still. What if I just described your horse? And what if you desperately want a picture with that horse in your wedding best? Don’t tune out yet; local photographer Krysta Norman may have the solution you are looking for.

Norman’s favorite photo shoots take place in a separate session after the wedding frenzy subsides, when the couple gets the chance to don their wedding attire once more. This time, the couple has no reception to rush to, no weather to contend with. “This way the couple has the freedom to enjoy their time together and really connect with their horse, rather than rushing through it,” says Norman.

“When you incorporate any animal, you have to be adaptable,” says Norman, noting that horses are big animals with big personalities. “More often than not, they are going to want to do their own thing.”

As a safety measure, Norman says, “I only work with couples that have horse experience and/or use their own horses. I find this to be the most important precaution, as they know their horse’s personality, temperament, etc.”

Knowing your horse’s personality and temperament is paramount for those daring couples who choose to ride their own sport horses on their special day.

For their October 2012 wedding in Virginia Beach, Abigail Frye and her husband chose to ride to their ceremony on two of their most “bombproof” polo ponies, Savannah and Bajita. “Horses are what brought us together and are a huge part of our lives,” says Frye, a show jumper who trains with Gavin Moylan Stables out of Upperville, VA.

Noting that both horses behaved perfectly, even with the flower garland around Savannah’s neck, Frye laughs, “I did have a slight wardrobe malfunction! When I dismounted before walking down the aisle, the zipper on my dress came undone! Thankfully, I had help getting it zipped back up quickly before I walked down the aisle!”

Sidesaddle rider and Middleburg local Devon Zebrovious managed to avoid Frye’s wardrobe complications by the simple expedient of not dismounting at all. Zebrovious, who met her husband at a Middleburg Hunt breakfast in 2003, married him four years later just prior to a Middleburg Hunt meet at their farm. “My bridesmaids and I were all sidesaddle, and the men were all in scarlet coats. Everyone who was hunting that day was mounted as well, and non-hunting guests were on foot.”

As a safety measure, non-riding guests were simply warned not to stand behind the horses. “Everything went off perfectly!” Says Zebrovious, “As things can go wrong at the most traditional church wedding, we were a bit concerned by adding in 70-plus horses and an entire pack of hounds, but no one put a foot, hoof or paw wrong.”

From Hunt weddings to polo ponies, from after-wedding photos to fence line photo ops, from baraat processions to romantic carriage rides and a spectrum of creativity between, Middleburg is home to an array of professionals who are specially equipped to equine-ize any wedding. While the opinions here differ on some points, they all agree on two things: Be safe, but definitely do it. ML

For more information about the vendors in this article, you can find them online at:
regetisphotography.net
carriagesofthecapital.com
krystanorman.com
blackhorseinn.com