When Bethany Pastorial first arrived on a Wellington, Florida, property for a regular photoshoot, it wasn’t the picturesque palm trees or the elegant dressage horses that first caught her eye. She noticed an opportunity—in the form of a small hacking hill—and it was one she couldn’t pass up.
“I had always had this image in my mind of a horse and a rider in a really nice piaffe as a silhouette,” said Pastorial. “But you do have to have certain technical elements to be able to execute certain photographs.”
These technical elements proved difficult to overcome until March 12. Silhouette images require the photographer to be at a lower elevation than their subject, according to Pastorial, but upper-level dressage athletes tend to train on flat surfaces. Plus there’s a time-sensitive aspect to capturing a silhouette image, and not every Grand Prix horse is capable of coming out of his stall first thing in the morning to piaffe on a hill.
The path on the hacking hill faced directly east into the sun, so Pastorial needed a team prepared to go up the hill, turn 90 degrees, so as to be perpendicular to the sun, and piaffe directly out of a halt across the approximately 1-meter-wide pathway. Luckily for Pastorial, Suphajit “Patty” Vuntanadit and Wall Street JV, a 16-year-old Hanoverian (Wie Weltmeyer—Scarlett 182, Starway), were up to the task.
“I knew the overall picture would look really great because Wall Street definitely trusts Patty, and Patty is a very courageous rider. They were a great combination to be able to be in that small space and pull off what is a pretty high-level movement,” said Pastorial.
Vuntanadit said she did feel challenged by the tight space.
“It doesn’t look it, but it was so tough in that photo,” said Vuntanadit, 22. “That hill is really intimidating. I was so scared of falling off it. So I was like, ‘Bethany, please, if he does it for even, like, five steps, is that enough? And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s definitely enough. Don’t worry,’ so we just went with it.”
Although “Wally” and Vuntanadit have only been partnered for a little over a year, the pair became the first team to win an international dressage competition for Thailand in the Intermediaire 1 freestyle at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival 5 CDI1* in Wellington, held Feb. 8-12.
“We call him ‘the Princess’ because he’s a bit of a diva, to be honest,” said Vuntanadit. “How he goes depends on his mood. If he’s happy, he’s amazing, and he’s very cooperative. But he has his days where he’s like, ‘I’m not really in the mood for this,’ and he definitely shows you. Everyone who sees him can tell immediately how he’s feeling from his face and his body language.”
Vuntanadit has been coached by several trainers—including Tommie Visser, Isabell Werth and Robert Dover—but most of her day-to-day help comes from her sister and fellow international dressage competitor, Suphakamol “Pam” Vuntanadit.
The Vuntanadit sisters initially connected with Pastorial when they participated in her Equestrians of Color Project. As a collection of visual essays and blog posts, the project—led by Pastorial, Erica Hills and Anna Smolens—aims to amplify diverse voices and experiences in equestrian spaces.
“I myself am Asian-American, so it was something really important to my heart,” said Pastorial, “because I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, where I didn’t have anybody that looked like me riding. So it was something that I wanted to make for the current generation.”
Pastorial first saw the property for her silhouette photo during a shoot with Pam for the Equestrians of Color Project. Much like that project, the silhouette image was conceived and produced out of passion rather than financial interest.
“It was personal,” said Pastorial. “The shot wasn’t part of a paid or a commissioned shoot; it was something I wanted to create.”
Before becoming an equine photographer in 2017, Pastorial was a publications manager for the Department of Defense. She credits her creative philosophy to her background in literature.
“I think that’s why I am so interested in the storytelling aspect of things over the technical side,” said Pastorial. “I certainly have learned and have self-taught in the technical side of things, but I’m most interested in storytelling, the emotion behind each image that comes from a natural desire to seek out what is the story behind everything. There has to be something deeper to create impactful images.”
Pastorial’s commitment to her vision shone through in the final product, according to Patty.
“When I saw the photo, I was blown away,” said Patty. “Because it was like the perfect moment, the lighting was perfect, everything was perfect.”