A shiny coat. A smooth mane. It's picture day at the "J Five Horse Ranch," a cutting horse operation in Weatherford.
Owner Constance Jaeggi turned a barn into a studio. Here, she puts her fine-art photography skills to work — on a horse. Imagine that, a 1,000-pound animal that easily gets spooked, coaxed into standing for a photograph.
"It's similar to when you're photographing people. You're looking for appealing angles," Jaeggi said. "You're not in control of your subject, like when you're photographing people. So there's definitely an added challenge."
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And, Jaeggi loves a challenge.
"That love for horses makes you to do things, I guess," she said.
She was born in London in 1990 to Swiss parents. After a brief move to Burgundy, France, her family moved to Geneva, Switzerland, when she was 10. She continued her middle school in the French-speaking system, which meant learning a new language. She's actually trilingual: besides French, she speaks English and German, her mother tongue.
A few years later, she started riding horses and discovered the sport of cutting in Bons-en-Chablais, a small French town close to the Swiss border.
Cutting was a little-known discipline in Europe at the time, practiced by a small group of pioneers, and it sparked a desire in her to discover America. The cowboy way of life captivated her. It was so different from her suburban upbringing.
Cutting is a sport developed on the ranch. The horse's job is to separate — or "cut" — individual calves from the herd. In the show arena, horse and rider work as a team to show the judges the animal's athleticism as the horse uses fancy footwork to control the cow.
In the summer of 2007 while in high school, she traveled to a ranch in Parker County near Weatherford, to ride with Chubby Turner, a world champion cutting horse rider and trainer. She and her family had met Turner at a horse sale the year before. She decided that Texas was where she wanted to be.
In 2009, she moved from Geneva to Fort Worth to pursue her dream of being a competitive cutting horse rider and cowgirl. She attended Texas Christian University where she earned a bachelor's degree in December 2013 with a major in marketing and a minor in energy technology and management.
Starting in 2011, she began to realize her dream. She won the 2011 National Cutting Horse Association XTO Energy Super Stakes Classic Non-Pro Championship, the 2014 NCHA Mercuria Non-Pro World Championship, and in 2015, she was inducted into the NCHA Non- Pro Rider Hall of Fame.
"I started riding back home in France. I applied for college at TCU, decided that cutting was what I wanted to do," she said. "So I made the leap and moved over here by myself, went to college and got into the cutting thing."
From her first ride on a cutting horse, Jaeggi knew she'd found her passion and knew she had to be in Weatherford, the cutting horse capital of the world.
"I think I'm one of those people that it's something I always wanted but didn't grow up with," she said. "So, I just love it, but you gain a different appreciation. Like I grew up with the Swiss mountains, and I didn't appreciate the Swiss mountains as much, but I have this love for horses."
Jaeggi won a world championship in 2014 and needed a new challenge. She took up photography with the focus on capturing a horse's individuality. Like in cutting, she believes, perfection comes in partnership.
"And this, this is a partnership," she said. "They have to cooperate in a way, and we're leaving a lot of room for them to express themselves."
Jaeggi's photographs are on display in a new exhibit the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. For her debut exhibition, Aspects of Power, Light and Motion, she has mounted 21 large-format, black-and-white photographs of horses in which she reveals their individual personalities. The exhibition runs through Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in the museum's Anne Marion Gallery.
"I photograph the horses with no halters or means of restraints," Jaeggi said. "It is a soft and natural process. Unrestrained, horses tend to be incredibly cooperative if you know how to talk to and coax them. In many ways, I feel that my process is similar to the one when competing with a horse. I see it as a partnership rather than as a relationship of force. Each horse interacts differently in the studio setting. Some horses are more comfortable than others and thrive from the attention; as a result, their individuality becomes apparent."
Horses gave Jaeggi what she calls her greatest inspiration, a passion so strong it took her from the Swiss mountains to a Texas ranch. And this past summer, she married a Texan, a man originally from Amarillo. He's a lawyer, though, not a rancher.
"I found myself modifying my accent to be more understandable to Texans, I guess, and then over time, I've become Texan," she said. "I definitely feel like I have a place here, like it's meant to be. I feel a lot more Texan than a do European."
Jaeggi believes she was born to be a cowgirl, it just took Texas to connect her to that life.