Horse Photographer Malcolm Snelgrove: Dartmoor's Healing Landscape

Making a living from a passion is a dream for most of us. For horse photographer Malcolm Snelgrove, Dartmoor has proved a healing place and a way of life.

When it comes to Dartmoor, horse photographer Malcolm Snelgrove speaks of Devon’s wildest terrain like an old romantic. His latest collection of photographs of its indigenous wild ponies reflects both this romance and the majesty of a landscape that he reveres and respects.

He says, “I love Dartmoor because it gives you such peace and tranquility but it also challenges you as well. It’s open for everyone, from those who want to push their own barriers to those who might be less mobile. It’s astounding what you find on Dartmoor and there is so much diversity, offering outstanding beauty for a photographer.”

The Allure of Dartmoor

Malcolm’s first walk there was as a child about 45 years ago. From that moment, he knew it was where he wanted to live. It wasn’t until 2017 that he moved with his wife Juliette to Poundsgate, having lived at Hatherleigh since 1989. Now, his front garden is like an artist’s canvas, with far-reaching views across the moors, except this is a living, breathing landscape that inspires him daily.

He says, “It has always been our ambition to live on Dartmoor, and for us to live at Poundsgate is fantastic. Juliette has her own horse and her access to the moors is incredible. From our kitchen, you can see Buckland Beacon and the Ten Commandments, and the trees up to the tor are all varieties from deciduous to evergreen, their colors constantly changing. We have the River Dart on one side and the River Webburn on the other. The mist and fog can lay in the valley with the tor above the clouds.”

The Light and Landscape

“The light on this side of Dartmoor is just stunning and has a fantastic filtration to it, at any time of day. The sun will cast different shadows – at sunrise it can be a burning hot orange, and then it will burn through to glorious blue skies. In the evening, the sun will light up the tor. It’s so stunning, whatever the time of day,” says Malcolm.

For Malcolm, talking about the moors, walking it, reading about it, and photographing it has been a 30-year journey. He first started taking photographs of Dartmoor’s landscape and ponies about 30 years ago.

“I was taking landscape photographs, but I wanted to show the animals and wildlife living in their natural environment,” he says. “An American photographer named Thomas Mangelson was taking extraordinary close-up images of wild animals, which inspired me to take images of the ponies in their natural environment.”

Combining Work and Passion

As Malcolm’s love of photography grew, he decided to combine his work as an IT consultant with photography. In 2007, he started shooting commercially. He quickly established himself as a lifestyle photographer, with commissions ranging from outdoor adventure specialists to well-known clothing brands. He is an ambassador for Visit Dartmoor, and his photography workshops bring delegates from all over the world.

However, a stroke in December 2017, at the age of 50, caused him to rethink everything. He says, “I went from being perfectly fine to being collapsed on the floor, unable to move or speak. I couldn’t use my right hand or arm and was wobbly on my right leg. Having a stroke turns your life upside down in an instant and is one of the scariest experiences of my life. Thankfully, I am one of the lucky ones who is recovering well, with my speech and movement in my right side returned. I feel so lucky that I was given a second chance at life.”

Recovery and Rediscovery

To help his recovery, Malcolm spent hours quietly exploring the moors further. He took his time, often sitting to rest and reacquainting himself with daily tasks. During these quiet times, he came across individual herds of ponies that lived far from the usual honeypots. These ponies were less inclined to make friends in return for a snack, living more naturally.

Far from visitor hotspots, Malcolm hiked tor-topped mini mountains and boulder-strewn river banks flanked by changing foliage. The landscape he explored is entrenched in local myths and legends, alive with tales that dwell on moorland peppered with neolithic standing stones, lonely ruins, and bronze age hut circles. It is a stunning backdrop, ripe for photography.

Inspired by Wildlife Collection

These hours on the moors, often among the herds, inspired Malcolm's latest collection of photographs. He honed his focus on fine art horse photography, using Dartmoor as a backdrop. “I had to really slow down, as I was working as an IT consultant and developing the photography side of the business, dipping into film work too,” he says. “Those long hours on Dartmoor helped me refocus. Spending so much time among the herds meant I could understand their individual characters and behaviors. As the ponies started to accept me, the images I captured became more extraordinary.”

His latest collection is printed onto 3mm metal, a revolutionary technique that is relatively new to the UK. This technique gives the images depth and makes them weather-resistant, suitable for both gardens and interior walls.

A New Focus

Malcolm will continue to focus on Dartmoor and its ponies, encouraging people to take up his workshops and discover those off-the-beaten-track places while honing their skills. He also offers fine art commissions, allowing people to come to Dartmoor with their horses for stunning landscape photographs.

“Fine art commissions don’t have to be on Dartmoor, but the key is a great backdrop. I’d also like to replicate taking images of herds around the world, seeing ponies and horses in their natural environments,” he says.

While suffering a stroke may have slowed him down, his thirst for adventure and his eye for a great photograph haven’t. Judging by the popularity of his Facebook posts of the ponies, people around the world agree too.

Supporting Conservation

Malcolm has a passion for conservation and rewilding the landscape. He supports charities and organizations focused on protecting the environment.

Visit Sextons Gallery in Widecombe in the Moor, dartmoor, to view Malcolm’s photographs, or go online at www.snelgrove.com.