Jim Koford and Rhett – A US Dressage Dream Team

My friend Shirley McQuillan breeds and raises Warmblood horses at her place in Kentucky called “Touchstone Farm.” This is not a huge operation with endless pastures of imported horses, but a modest all-American farm built on Shirley’s love and passion for her horses. Her lifetime of experience with these animals has given her a gift for breeding very talented and sought after dressage and driving horses. Touchstone horses are known for their athleticism, great conformation, sound minds, and good souls.

One of Shirley’s horses, Rhett, is rising to the top of his class in Dressage. He is competing at the highest levels with some of the best horses in the world. He has been named to the US High Performance Team and is an 2012 Olympic hopeful. Most dressage horses at this level are born and bred outside the USA. Rhett was born and bred in Kentucky, which makes it extra special that he is one of best competing today. If you look at his forehead, you will also see that his “star” is in the shape of the state of Texas. 🙂

The fact that he is US born and bred is what led us to use the American Flag as part of our session. We treated the flag with great respect during the session. If you could have been there, you would have felt a change in Rhett’s demeanor when the flag was on his back. There was a quiet reverence that came over all those who were there, helping make this session a success.

I have shared a few photos from this session on my Facebook Business page and personal page, and the comments that has really struck me were those that talked about the obvious bond between Jim and Rhett. My friend Sandra commented: “I’m so impressed. I am equally impressed at how relaxed the horse is. Unusual for a horse trained at that level. Someone is doing something right.” and another commenter, Amanda, wrote: “What I love about this photo is the RELATIONSHIP between this rider and horse! Playful and loving, not just a work relationship!” Yet another named Cathy wrote: “You can see then love between the two…..” There were more comments like this, and I believe it is a testament to both Shirley and Jim Koford. Shirley cares well for her horses, and Jim is not just a trainer/rider, he is a true horse lover.

The first time I watched a video of these two competing, I cried. These two are destined for greatness. And in a lot of ways, I believe they’ve already found it. Here’s a link to a video of them competing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejgz4UAIhfU

I will be doing a fundraiser for this team, selling prints of the first image below. Watch for an announcement soon!

Edited to add: Someone mentioned that we should have clipped Rhett’s whiskers, but there is a reason behind leaving them long (I asked if they could be clipped too). The answer they gave me was that Rhett needs them for “feel”. The trainer Jim worked with in Germany recommends that the whiskers stay natural and that seems to be the norm in Europe.

Photographer’s Notes: This session was done using only available light coming in the doors and windows. The sky was dark with rain, and this setting afforded us beautiful light on a less than ideal day for lighting portraits. I used my 5D mkII and 70-200 2.8 lens (except the ones of just Jim alone, I used my 85L for those). I have some photos in this Sneak Peek album on Facebook that include the camera settings for the photos.


One of my favorite equine images to date. I love his expression, the light, the flag, and all that it stands for with this beautiful, regal horse.











  1. Karin Newstrom

    June 14, 2011

    What a handsome pair with stunning images to match! You are such an inspiration to so many, Shelley!

  2. Janeene

    June 14, 2011


  3. cindy

    June 14, 2011

    Wow!,,Absolutely Beautiful!

  4. Priscilla Lewis

    June 14, 2011

    I have known Jim since he was about 15 or 16 yrs old. He has boarded horses with me a couple of times and he has helped me train my horses. When I saw him at a show in Williamston, NC, he asked if I wanted to meet Rhett and we took him out to hand-walk and graze him. I was struck by the bond between them. It’s extraordinary even for Jim. He’s like the Pied Piper with horses – almost all respond well to him. But there is really something special with Rhett and your photos capture that so beautifully and so well. Thank you for sharing!

  5. ginnykoford

    June 14, 2011

    Hi Shelley, All I can say is that we are blown away by your photos. What a gift you have been blessed with. I must say that I have not seen Jim so cleaned-up in a long time. He and Rhett sure make perfect subjects and am grateful to you for catching their moments and passing them on. I am so filled with emotion tonight and so proud to be Jim’s mom.

    Thank you, thank you ginny koford

  6. Matt Brown

    June 15, 2011

    How very cool. Jim is like a rock star.
    Matt Brown

  7. Betty Cooper

    June 15, 2011

    Beautifully written work to accompany some outstanding photography.

  8. Elaine Anderson

    June 15, 2011

    These are beautiful photos and Jim has always had a special bond with horses, but you can really see through the pictures that he is extremely close to Rhett. You really captured the heart and soul of both Rhett and Jim. Great work.

  9. Susan (Runnermom)

    June 15, 2011

    These are just amazing!!! Thank you for sharing them and for all of the info about the horses! Wow! God has truly blessed you with an eye for beauty.
    Sweet blessings,

  10. Monique Butler

    June 15, 2011

    magnificent photos…what a beautiful set of photos….hope it appers on a magazine I can buy….jim is the son of a VERY good friend of mine and I know she is SO proud of him

  11. Marian Adoranti

    June 17, 2011

    Shelley these photos are stunning. I especially like the ones with interaction between Jim and Rhett. There is such an intimacy about them. You can see the wonderful bond of trust and respect which exists between them.

    Well done!!!!

  12. Monique Butler

    June 19, 2011

    Ginny, I keep looking the photos of Jim with Rhett again and again….As you know my father was from the Saumur school in France and looking at those photos make me think of my father everytime. ( he would have loved to meet Jim I am sure )

  13. Michele Campbell

    June 25, 2011

    From the young neighborhood boy next door of yesteryear to the handsome and talented trainer today, Jim Koford and Rhett are the couple to keep your eyes on in the days and weeks ahead. Godspeed to you both.

  14. Michele Campbell

    June 26, 2011

    Your photos capture the inner beauty and spirit of Jim and Rhett. Simply amazing and soulful.

  15. lauren

    June 29, 2011

    These are simply gorgeous! The lighting is incredible. Amazing its only lit via natural light. love them <3

  16. Wendy Morton

    January 17, 2016


  17. Eva peterson

    June 14, 2016

    How absolutely perfect! Takes my breath away just gazing at them.They are ONE!!!.ESPECIALLY struck by the fact that they are still performing today. What wonderful special tenderness between a man and his beast.

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