By Shya Beth
Samantha Dawn’s story could be summed up in a few words: When one door closes, another opens. She’s always lived with that mindset, no matter the situation—through heart-wrenching times and unbelievably happy moments, horses, art and music have sustained her through it all. Using her pain and hardship as her motivation has allowed her to find solace behind the camera, calling forth the horse’s majestic beauty while healing her wounds and heartbreak.
“My story is kind of all over the place,” Samantha admitted. She was born in Missouri in 1991, and loving horses as long as she could remember, playing “horse” is something Samantha did that most horse-crazy kids can relate to. She never thought horses or photography would turn into a career. Growing up in a musical family, her dream as a young girl was to be a country singer, and she traveled the nation singing at competitions and shows in Nashville and other venues.
Second Chance and Snapping Photos
Samantha’s father gave her a camera when she was 13 years old, and neither had any idea of the journey that would come of it. “Now that I’m older, I’m pretty sure this was his way of ensuring I stopped bothering him, being a single parent and self-employed,” she explained. “However, I don’t think he ever anticipated that I would take photography this seriously and be traveling the world photographing horses.”
Wherever Samantha went, her camera went with her. One of her best friends’ families had horses, and spending hours photographing them ignited the first real “spark” and connection between her love of horses and passion for photography. Upon graduating from high school in 2010, she started photographing horses more, in addition to singing professionally.
In 2013, Samantha’s photography was still a firmly rooted hobby, and her opportunities as a singer were expanding. That same year, Samantha met someone she considered her soulmate. “We connected so well and even had horses in common!” she said. “A year later, in 2014, he ended up taking his own life due to combat-related PTSD that was well hidden from all of us. It shattered my life and brought unbelievable darkness into it, darkness I’d never known before. It was the first time in my life that I remembered wanting to end my own life. I still harbor a lot of guilt from that. I was confused as to how someone could be suffering that much without even showing signs of it. I’m sure the signs were there, I just didn’t see them or know what to look for at that time.”
Samantha credited horses with getting her out of that darkness. They loaned her their strength to carry her through, and it was the horse by her side that helped keep her going. Around that same time, Samantha started turning her hobby of photography into a side job, photographing not just horses but weddings as well. Her full-time jobs varied throughout the years, with her last job being the one she enjoyed, but at the same time despised the most: a used car manager—different from a used car sales manager—keeping track of all the used cars coming in, and what needed to happen to make them sellable.
During this time in 2015, Samantha met her future husband, Jonathan, whom she credits as the reason she is able to do what she does. “If it weren’t for him, my life would be wildly different, and I don’t think I would be where I am without him,” she said. “He shouldered a lot of the weight when we made the decision for me to quit my job in 2017 and chase this photography dream. He also suffers from combat PTSD, and I was able to save his life when he was in a dark place because I had educated myself about veterans and the signs and symptoms of PTSD from combat. We support each other through everything.”
Equine Photographer, Will Travel
Samantha’s come a long way from a girl with a camera and a woman working at a used car dealership to a successful, globetrotting equine photographer. Samantha’s social media, where she connects with past, current and future clients, is filled with her photographs and powerful quotes that hold meaning to her, which have inspired and uplifted many of her followers. “I have messages from people from all over the world reaching out thanking me for being so open, encouraging and vulnerable about things that happen in my life,” she explained. “My experiences with suicide, depression, Imposter Syndrome, ADHD and other struggles are not unheard of by any means, and I’ve found that it helps others when I share my experiences, so they don’t feel so alone.”
Today, Samantha travels across the country for business several weeks out of every month, visiting clients and photographing their horses. Often booked six months to a year in advance, with every year including some international trips, she still makes time for her family and horses, riding and competing in horse shows and team penning when time allows.
Samantha’s goals are bright and bold: photographing horses on different continents, exploring the world of horses more in depth, continuing to excel in her artistic medium and gaining more recognition for her photography. At the same time, Samantha always makes time to help others who are struggling by offering support and encouragement.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day; I live by this,” she said. “The people you see that are living their successes got there because they paid their dues—they paid for it in years of time and hard work. Give yourself some grace. You just have to keep practicing and exploring to find what your soul craves. If you’re ever struggling with mental health, please know you can always reach out to me or find someone you trust to talk to. Please don’t go through it alone.”
For more information, visit www.samanthadawnequinephoto.com