The Plaid Horse was first published as a newspaper print magazine in 2003 when George W. Bush was the President and “Hey-Ya” was at the top of the music charts. In an industry dominated by few publications, an upstart monthly about the hunter/jumper industry was a bold gesture. Founder Cindy Taylor saw the opportunity to offer equestrian fans a choice in reading about the ponies, horses, and riders centered in the northeast. Over the next sixteen years and now under the nimble hand of Piper Klemm, The Plaid Horse has grown to become the largest hunter/jumper magazine in America as well as a multi- pronged media presence throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Piper Klemm sits down to give us her view on the state of media, the horse industry, and the future of The Plaid Horse.
The Plaid Horse was founded in 2003, the same year that USA Equestrian and the USET combined to become USEF. What challenges do both organizations share in 2019?
People have changed since 2003 to prioritize quality of life in a way we haven’t seen before. Every organization that serves, educates, or entertains has to keep up with the shift of people following their hearts to live an enjoyable life. My generation finds more value in experiences than in things. My big desires are exploring, traveling and experiencing life. We are less apt to be boxed into one career, which can confuse an older generation. I know people ask how I could be a PhD chemist one day and shift to a media business owner the next.
Our sport has to understand that things have become more emotional, and less rational at times. Ultimately, this is a great thing but it also presents challenges. In our industry, there used to be a formulaic track: you do the Short Stirrup, then the Pony Hunters, then the Junior Hunters, then the Junior Jumpers and the Equitation. Now many, myself included, may only ever show at 2’6.” We want to do little Hunter Derbies and have fun, not just chase points. We don’t want the governing body telling us which pathway we have to choose or what shows we may go to. We want less structure and less dictating of options.
You see the web of options everywhere—even in our entertainment and news. People can draw from countless sources, ideas and perspectives and get educated about anything by watching videos or reading online. I recently launched The Plaid Horse Network where you can have 24 hours a day of horse related content, making for a rich landscape of material and expansive conversation.
This all sounds very positive. Where’s the challenge?
To govern and legislate is difficult because of all of the changing factors. What is the role of the USEF now? Are they providing enough member benefits? USEF is serving the top of the sport, but are they serving the 2’6” amateurs? It is similar for media. There used to be one path and one audience and now there are multiple sources and multiple audiences. There is so much choice that it can be overwhelming. The audience is able to dictate what media is focused on which can be challenging and sometimes we miss the mark on issues and events.
Sport Growth is a hot topic at the moment in all equestrian disciplines. How do we accomplish this and what is the role of TPH in the effort?
Almost every business from the time frame of 2016-2021 is in the phase of either modernize or disappear. With so much happening, self-evaluation and transition are essential. Growth should be a hot topic; we should be talking about this all the time.
So much is happening so quickly and there is such a difference between the generations that lack of change is not good for our sport. There are millions of horse owners in the U.S. but we have many siloed institutions. It makes it hard to have a collective conversation.
Since launching The Plaid Horse Network, I’ve looked at my own silos. I watch hunters all the time, but there is so much to learn from other sports outside of our hunter/jumper umbrella. We leave a lot on the table by not learning from various materials put out by excellent horse people. The more we can engage outside our comfort zone, the more our sport will grow. It is everyone’s responsibility to encourage people to participate in our sport whether it as beginner riders or as fans. It is a complicated landscape to navigate, so we need to help people figure out how to get into it.
Once we get new riders, we then have to figure out how to keep them. There’s a lot of analysis on retention in other industries, like why women come into the educational sciences but never rise to become tenured faculty, but where is the analysis for our industry? Why are we losing members? We need to concentrate on getting new members, and on how to keep the ones that we have.
What is the future of the media industry in the shifting paradigm of technology and communications?
The TPH Network we recently launched is about growing the sport. It’s all inclusive, all equestrian content, all the time. Anyone can watch for free any way they want – on television, your Apple or Android phone, iPad or tablet, with the TPH Network app and on any URL. Ease of use is hugely important to me and the goal is to provide entertaining, educational content to horse crazy people like me. I never felt like our market was well served in easily available video content and this is a natural way to grow the sport. I am really excited about our efforts to grab an audience and drive the future through education and exposure. TPH Network offers an easy portal to the industry.
What about the magazine industry? With the tectonic changes in media, what is the future of print magazines?
There will always be a The Plaid Horse magazine. I have every type of media under the sun, but I still like to curl up at the end of the day with a tangible magazine or a book. Research shows that your brain processes books and magazines differently than screens. For me, it’s easier to read longer form pieces in print rather than online. As we become more and more accessible, it is important to have uninterrupted moments to absorb, think, and plan.
Having said this, screens take up most of our time and we may read one or two publications versus the many we read a decade ago. So we have to provide compelling content and make every issue better than the last. As long as we keep moving forward with this goal, we can be the one of the treasured print publications or two that people read every month.
The economic pyramid of horse showing becomes steeper every year. Many fear we are pricing ourselves out of growth potential. How do we approach the cost of horse showing and the economic chasm it creates?
I used to believe that cost was an insurmountable barrier. Lately, I have been budging on that thought by asking: does the ability to buy it make it easier? Of course, being able to buy nice horses can make riding easier, but if you put time and effort in over a sustained period of time—you can get results. A lot of success that can be achieved in this sport on a relatively limited budget. There is knowledge and education available, but I don’t see enough people taking advantage of these resources. There is so much out there to read and watch. Pay attention, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and build a data set of knowledge. To be really good at this sport you can be an apprentice, assistant trainer, any job that helps you watch and learn and build your own knowledge base.
You are ever the optimist about the value of horses and riding in a person’s life. With the amount of time, money, and sacrifice that goes into riding or competing, do you ever waiver from this belief?
I don’t. I think that riding and horse sport come in many different ways. As most people know, I don’t ride every day- not even close- and I’m okay with that. I love spending time with my animals; sometimes grooming is more fun than riding. I love being part of the training process.
We need to value people in this sport who serve so many roles. There are many ways to participate- rider, trainer, owner, groom, fan. I love being an owner as much as anything. Riding is incredible and I love to do it when I get a chance, but it takes a lot of sacrifice to be good. Every person doesn’t need to make that sacrifice. They can participate at whatever level is fun and makes sense to their lives.
There is value at every level. Want to start showing again? Welcome. Want to go to shows and watch?
Welcome. Want to stay at home and play with your horse? Welcome. Your relationship to the horse and horse sport is what is important.
What are the goals of TPH now and another 16 years from now?
The Plaid Horse has always been a source of education. It’s a great place for amateurs to learn, for writers and photographers to get published for the first time, for young people to intern. I see us as a resource for people coming into the industry, discovering their relationship with the industry, and a launch pad for people getting into other industries. Those will be our same goals going into the next sixteen years.
Our Equestrian Voices Writing Contest this first year out of the gate drew 250 entries which blew my mind. The essays were so powerful and I enjoyed reading them. The idea was presented by our Web Editor, Lauren Mauldin, and I was lucky enough to say yes. We will embrace these kinds of new opportunities for the next sixteen years. We will keep the same goals of growing people, talent, and horsemanship with an emphasis on education and wellness, priorities often lost in the current state of the world.
About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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