BY CATIE STASZAK
Janet Jolliff worked in the insurance agency—of the human health variety—for several years before she connected with Taylor Harris Insurance Services.
But ask the 18-year veteran of the company what skills help her more in her job, and there’s no hesitation in her answer: those gained from a lifetime of working with horses.
Jolliff is one of Taylor Harris’ core team members, with managing the office among her many roles. A former member of the Rappahannock Hunt Board of Directors with experience in hunter-jumper sport, foxhunting, 4-H and Pony Club, her industry experience could be described as “lengthy,” but that would be a gross understatement.
Knowledge. Decision making. Vocabulary. Taylor Harris’ in-house staff agrees, having clients in the equine insurance space requires a unique knowledge base. The five diverse women in the office—all skilled horsewomen, albeit in vastly different areas and disciplines—make up the heart and soul of THIS, undoubtedly one of the most recognizable company names in the industry.
THIS was founded by Michael Taylor in 1987 to provide a more specialized insurance for all kinds of equine risk. Placing its policies with highly rated and secure carriers, THIS stands out for its access to multiple underwriters and its customized policies. The company has a corporate connotation with its strong brand visibility, but its tightly-knit team prides itself most on its hands-on attention and personable customer service.
“Customer service is our big thing. We all walk the walk and talk the talk,” Jolliff said. “We’ve been there, done that [in the horse industry], and people really appreciate that.”
When you call the THIS office, you’ll speak to either Jolliff, Emma Biederman, Christina Kalinski, Catherine LaBarre or Hillary Lak. With the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily adjusting office procedure, each of the five in-house agents take a day manning the office line and sharing the workload. Collectively, they make sure that neither current nor potential clients have to ever be greeted by an automated messaging system.
“With horse insurance, it’s more than a car; there’s an emotional attachment,” Biederman said. “It’s helpful when you can understand the industry yourself, and you can help guide people. It really helps in relating to clients as people. When you’re following a horse or filing a claim, it’s just so much more personal.”
Biederman, originally from Vermont, boasts a unique background in the Thoroughbred industry, having galloped racehorses and worked for both a steeplechase trainer as well as flat trainer Michael Catalano, who bases his operation at Parx Racing in Bensalem, PA. While working for a local hunt club, she came across a job listing at THIS. She now happily lives in Northern Virginia with her dog, a West Virginia-bred Thoroughbred, and one “accidental” goat.
“Taylor Harris has done a good job of cultivating agents that have diverse but specific backgrounds in the industry,” she said. “We insure a lot of horses that do very different things. When someone calls and says, I just bought HIP 387, and I need to get [the horse] insured, I can go, ‘I got you!’”
Having grown up riding and showing Morgan Horses, including her own homebred, LaBarre can’t help but get excited with the occasional client calls and mentions a horse with carriage driving abilities. But there are plenty of Morgans on her roster. After all, she asserts, the breed can “do everything under the sun.”
LaBarre has worked with THIS for the past four years, and in that time, she’s immersed herself in a variety of other disciplines through the clients for which she processes policies, holding true to the mantra that the agents at THIS are far more than voices at desks. In their eyes, they are horse people helping horse people.
“We’re a small, close knit office,” LaBarre said. “All of us are horse people, and we understand what people are looking for, why they want to protect their investment and why they love their horses. We want to get our clients the best coverage for each individual situation.”
An opportunity at THIS was enough to draw longtime professional Kalinski away from a career in the saddle and at the ingate, having worked for some of the hunter-jumper sport’s top east coast outfits for more than a decade. When she’s not in the office, you can find Kalinski at one of THIS’ partner events. With the agency’s heavy involvement in the sponsorship and support of a wide variety of top competitions, from the National Horse Show to the Great Meadow International to the THIS National Children’s Medal, she is often cheering her clients on in person.
“I love the fact that Taylor Harris gives back to the sport, especially in the hunter-jumper section,” she said. “The company sponsors a lot of events, and I get to go to horse shows and be a full spectator and watch the entire class. I can see the kids that win, meet them the next year, and see the contribution to the sport in their accomplishments. It’s more than just the clients that come in for insurance. It’s gratifying to know that we support the sport as a whole.”
Kalinski unequivocally cites her experiences as an industry professional as key factors in her success at THIS. While “premiums,” “exclusions,” and “claims” are important terms, so too are “indoors,” “points,” and “circuit lease.”
“I understand the horse shows, the people, and the point system, where they are going, why they want to get there,” she said. “I think when someone is talking about leasing a horse through indoors or a pony hunter that’s not going to measure and is trying to go to pony finals, I can relate. I’ve done it, I’ve been there.”
“If I was just a normal person with insurance experience coming into this world, there’s no way I could do my job,” Lak added. “There is so much lingo we all have. You even have to have some veterinary knowledge! We’re always talking about issues that come up with the horses. We have to know the specific parts of the horse and how horses react to things. It’s not something a normal person who has insurance experience could do.”
An office environment was the farthest thing from “normal” for Lak heading into her role at Taylor Harris, which has become a hybrid of processing, invoicing, consulting and more. The event rider of the group, she was used to far more open air on the cross country course. But she’s fit in to the company seamlessly, thanks to her only-a-horse-person-understands multitasking abilities.
“As someone with no experience in an office, I was totally petrified!” she exclaimed. “After all the days living breathing the horse thing, you see a computer, and Oh my gosh! But I was having a hard time with trying to find a work-life balance in the horse world. I found THIS, and it was really perfect. Everyone that I work with is super nice, and we all have this great little family that we’ve built in the office.”
They’ve extended that family beyond their offices and their home offices. The agents at Taylor Harris Insurance Services get their greatest satisfaction out of connecting with the equestrians that seek them out for their guidance.
“I like what I’m doing, because it’s helping people,” Kalinski said. “If you make a major investment, you want to protect it. I feel really comfortable about our product and what we serve up. When we get someone with a new horse, it’s nice to connect with those people and watch them go down the path of qualifying, going to Wellington for the first time, and [achieving their goals]. I think I enjoy what we can do with the horses.”
To learn more about THIS and its team of agents, visit thishorseinsurance.com.