BY SISSY WICKES
The Plaid Horse magazine celebrates its 15th year in 2018. First published on newsprint with a local feel, it has grown into the largest exclusively hunter/jumper magazine in the United States. Glossy and bold, beautiful and current, The Plaid Horse is more than fabulous photography and horse show results. It has adopted a willingness to confront the difficult issues of our time. Through magazine articles, blog pieces, social media posts, and podcasts, TPH has assumed the mantle of media leadership. Hot button topics such as Safe Sport, Depo Provera, USEF vs. Larry Glefke, smoking on horse show grounds, body image, and employee ethics have caused a ground swell of anger and support, agreement and discord. Beyond controversy, TPH builds consensus around the importance of horsemanship and horse welfare and champions acceptance and inclusion.
Owner and publisher Dr. Piper Klemm has been at the helm of the TPH ship for just over four years. Unlike other prominent equestrian publications, The Plaid Horse is owned and operated by a horse person for horse people. Her agenda is not to judge, but to encourage. From the TPH pulpit, she preaches appreciation for the horse, equestrian sport, and the people dedicated to it. An amateur rider and pony business owner, she represents the everyman in our sport. From battling nerves to marketing sales animals to navigating governance challenges, Piper speaks from a position of commonality. Like most, she navigates personal and professional struggles. Only, she talks about it publicly- to thousands of people in many different forms. Her heart is on her sleeve, resolute in the belief that talking about difficult issues is the way to resolve them. She views civilized debate as healthy and the path to knowledge and resolution.
The following transcript is from a recent interview with Piper in which she opines on the “state of the state” of The Plaid Horse.
Piper Klemm on the state of TPH:
How do you define The Plaid Horse?
It is a magazine about people who are experiencing the horse industry. There are a lot of subjects, a lot of issues that are important to different people and we try to cover them. We all like to look at the winners; we believe the sport is amazing; we all want to be better and learn from the best. But, part of achieving that goal is learning from people like us with real life struggles and challenges. Whether they lacked funding or opportunity or faced medical issues, there is a large segment of our community who has felt marginalized and has had to find their own path. Listening to other people’s stories – people that you can relate to – is an important part of growth and success.
In many industries, there is a missing layer of female role models. Our industry is full of many strong and successful women. Some of us have the opportunity to meet them and be mentored by them. We try to bring them to a larger population and context so that everyone can feel the value of connecting to them.
How is The Plaid Horse different from other industry publications?
We do not have an external agenda. Our goal is neither to govern nor to judge. Unlike some other publications, we discuss news and topics in the equestrian world without bias. For example, the USEF and USHJA magazines are concerned with governance. Others are owned by horse show managers who understandably need to promote their interests. We sell ads and promotions to make money to support the magazine, but we have no preconceived agenda.
I love this sport and I strive to bring more people into it. I want people to enjoy it and make our competitions better and stronger. If more people access the sport, it will prove to be a huge asset. The Plaid Horse deals with topical and sometimes controversial issues in the effort to promote dialogue toward positive change. We present perspectives and issues from different segments of the community – vendors, judges, owners, spectators, reporters, riders. I wear a lot of hats and empathize with current topics. Last year, I wrote an anti-bullying article after sitting with a distraught TPH intern who had been mistreated while reporting at a show. I wrote a no-smoking article after standing at the in-gate at Devon, inhaling the smoke from people around me, and researching the Clean Air Act in Pennsylvania. We are reacting to what is going on in real time with real issues on the ground.
It all comes from understanding what is going on, recognizing that it can be better, and wanting to be a part of that journey for everyone.
When creating editorial content for TPH, do you target issues that you and your staff would like to focus on?
Absolutely. Each month for the blog and the magazine, I sit down with my writers and editors and we discuss what is going on in our lives as well as the larger picture. I want everyone to learn from a magazine with great writing and great photography, and I want it to be fun. I am an educator. I know that it has to be fun for people to participate.
Through content, I want people to think critically about their riding, the sport, the industry. They can think about themselves and the people coming up behind them and about their horses. After doing “horse” all day at a show, what is going to make them want to curl up and read a magazine about horses? The delivery has to be fun and entertaining. And we are always focused on what can make this sport better.
How do evaluate which topics to pursue? TPH has been involved with hot button topics like the recent LGBTQ interview and employee ethics blog post. You had Larry Glefke’s attorney on the podcast during that controversy and published an article about banning smoking at shows. How do you walk the line of news and sensationalism?
We evaluate each topic and its validity. When I first started with the magazine, I was very careful to avoid anything controversial. I only wanted to publish the positive stories that people would be happy to read. What I discovered over the years is that not printing pieces about tough issues doesn’t make them go away. People still talk about problems and challenges but with fewer facts and thoughtful perspective. Gossip and lack of facts do not lead to good outcome.
It is easy to rush to judgement when you haven’t heard all sides of an issue. We try to promote knowledge and empathy. What kind of day is someone having? What is the writer of the article thinking? What is the life of a trainer like on a horse show day? How does an amateur rider approach a battle with nerves? If we can be more purposeful and empathetic in our interactions, things will go more smoothly.
We have published a lot of controversial material. Our readership and people in our lives want discussion and facts. For example, people wanted to know what the facts were in USEF vs. Larry Glefke last summer. We felt that USEF was not giving us answers, so rumors and misinformation was rampant. Addressing the issue was important and we invited parties from both sides. We ended up with a legal representative from Glefke”s camp on the podcast. I would have loved a more even dialogue, but that”s what we got.
We printed an article about the ethics of employment that was hotly debated. Many people didn’t agree with the article, so went home and wrote about their own point of view. We published them as well. We are not promoting a right or wrong, but productive discussion. If everything were just black or white, it would be easy. We would all do the right thing. But, most things are grey and deserve real thought and discussion.
Reactions to controversial topics can often be churlish and nasty. How do you handle this kind of nastiness aimed toward you and TPH?
When I publish an article, I sometimes think, “Ah, so-and-so is going to call me about this one.” And they usually do call or email me, and I appreciate the gesture. I welcome discussion and dialogue and will always present a constructive presentation of a different point of view. Someone always disagrees and some have nasty things to say. But, we offer great forums for constructive reactions – blog posts, social media posts, podcast discussion, magazine editorials. Call me! I welcome calls and discussion.
I got a lot of backlash about the smoking article I wrote. A lot of negative response. But, no one wrote a response that I could publish. Zero. It became a lot of nasty, personal comments, but little about the actual subject matter.
You have been the owner and publisher of TPH for a little over four years. How do you evaluate the evolution of the magazine?
When I first bought the magazine, I was a staff of one. I did the whole thing almost entirely myself – every photo, article, ad sale. What is funny is that a few months ago my mother said to me, “The magazine is looking more like your work.” It is a curious comment, because I am doing less of the actual magazine construction than ever before. I have more staff than ever before. But, it shows me that we have a great group of people here that are all working toward the same goals: education, promoting positivity and inclusion, horsemanship, and horse welfare.
My mother’s comment made me realize how emboldened I have become to be me. I lay my feelings on my sleeve regularly – on my own social media, in print, on the podcast, on the blog. Waking up and wanting to express myself is a measure of our success. I feel empowered to tackle tough issues and brave about facing what I find scary. The bigger TPH gets, the more feedback we receive from our readers, and the more we can represent the people in the sport. I have navigated through a lot of struggles that others face and can identify with them and they with me.
What TPH magazine covers are most meaningful to you?
I love the covers of the leaders in our industry, the famous professionals that I so admire. But, I also like the ones of people who are less well known. I like to celebrate those who have given their lives to the sport and are less recognizable. I think of Stephanie Ray Peters in 2015 who discussed her struggles as a amateur rider with weight and body image. She had a ton of success on the west coast through hard work and determination. I love the young professionals and young riders that we write about. Their energy, drive, and charisma make me feel optimistic about the future. It’s great new people in the sport and connecting with them through this process.
How does the future trajectory of TPH mirror that of the industry and you personally?
The industry is changing more quickly than any of us can keep track of. The Plaid Horse is changing more quickly than anyone I employ can keep track of! And I think I am changing as fast as I can keep track of, too. It will take a different skill set to keep up with the sport and the industry. We all need to keep our eyes on what is going on and the changes that are underway.
Our society seems to be trending toward valuing experiences more than buying items. I can’t think of a change that would be more beneficial to our industry. We need to promote our horse sport experience and expose more people to it. Whether watching a night class at Devon or getting their kids to start riding or beginning to ride themselves, the experience is there for so many people to enjoy.
There is so much time spent on phones and not a lot of reading going on. That’s rough on the industry and on The Plaid Horse. I am afraid of this superficial interest to the sport. It all looks too easy. We need to educate our kids and translate to them the amount of sweat and personal toll the sport requires to do well.
Acknowledging that TPH is a tool that shapes discussion in the industry, what topics do you feel need to be addressed in the future?
Horsemanship and horse welfare are always on the table. These are essential issues to the sport and we must stay vigilant about horse welfare forever or we will not be the industry we want to be.
We need to address the narrowing of the sport because of financial restrictions and the repercussions of expense. SafeSport and all of its effects should be discussed and the effects of this policy forecast. Will it hinder the sport or help it? I wholeheartedly support the mission of SafeSport and I do not want to undermine that in any way. But, we need to honestly discuss how to protect young people and provide them with a safe opportunity in the sport.
Horsemanship worries me as I think we are seeing more and more young professionals come up without enough education and practical knowledge of the horse. I encourage all young people to find a mentor and work for them for a few years, not a summer. Education, ethics, business practices are all essential to the next generation of horsemen and women.
How does TPH fit into the future?
I hope we continue to be a champion of education, inclusion, and promotion of the sport. I hope we continue to cut a wide swathe of readership in riders, professionals, owners, and businesses. I hope that through promoting fair, thought provoking content, we can continue to support the industry that supports The Plaid Horse.
About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.
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