Horsetalk reaches visitor milestone


noseHorsetalk welcomed its two-millionth visitor for 2013 in the early hours of today.

Webmaster Robin Marshall said visitor numbers this year had grown nearly 36 per cent when compared with last year, and the rate of growth was accelerating.

She expects the website will end the year just short of 2.4 million visitors.

Marshall said the numbers were gratifying.

“Horsetalk is a pretty modest little operation, so we couldn’t do it without the support of a great many people – and, of course, our readers.”

The website was launched in 1997, drawing only a handful of visitors a day.

Marshall, a former print journalist, said she was amazed by the rapid change in the media landscape.

“This isn’t going to stop anytime soon. I’m pleased to say that we are small and adaptable.

“I would hate to have the problems the big media companies, with all their cost structures and plant, face in trying to adapt.”

Marshall said Horsetalk’s readership was now truly international, accurately reflecting the shape of the equestrian world.

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  • November 12, 2013 at 8:40 am

    The Rise of a New Equestrian Press

    With New Year’s Eve still many weeks away, it may seem premature to call for a review of important events which occurred during the year 2013. However the announcement that Horse Talk has had two-million visitors in a single year is part of an critically important, yet hitherto unrecognised, trend in modern journalism; namely, the emergence of a desperately needed independent equine press.

    To appreciate the events of this year, we would need to look back in time to the late 1990s. That was the era when America’s most famous “horse whisperer” frightened the press by filing a ten million dollar lawsuit against a magazine which dared to expose numerous questions about his public practices and private life. Fearing financial and legal implications, and alternatively lured by the smell of boat loads of advertising money, the corporate-owned American magazine that published the article caved in to threats.

    Unforeseen consequences resulted from this act of corporate spinelessness.

    Instead of encouraging overdue research into the subject of fraudulent horse trainers and cruel training methods, the mainstream equine press enacted a shameful voluntary censorship. The effect of this chilling subversion of the press was a terrified silence, during which time ruthless trainers, operating in a wide variety of equestrian activities, grew rich all the while they perpetrated injuries against countless horses.

    One of the primary obligations of an investigative equestrian journalist is to ferret out inconvenient facts, to expose the activities of dubious individuals who injure horses, to dare to speak the truth about suspicious organizations and unprincipled corporations that abuse the public’s trust. The emergence in the 1990s of a timid, corporate-owned equine press brought an end to such journalistic practices and principles, introducing instead an era of sycophantic stories.

    Thus, for many years the entrenched, corporate owned, commercially aimed, equine media has been part of a grid locked system. As glossy, glib and superficial as any teen fashion magazine, and just as unerringly aimed at the lowest common intellectual denominator, the majority of the so-called “news” released in these monthly publications has been publicity puff pieces designed to manipulate the public’s trust and dip into their pocketbooks.

    This did not merely result in creative stagnation. It was a dereliction of duty on the part of an equine press that preyed on the credulity of horse owners.

    Yet regardless of what P.T. Barnum said, people aren’t stupid. Trust in corporate-owned, mainstream journalism organizations has sunk to a shocking low, with a recent Gallup poll showing that 60% of Americans have little or no confidence in the media being either fair or unbiased.

    Likewise, a poll done in Great Britain by an equestrian organization revealed that 76% of the people surveyed said they no longer bought or read horse magazines, claiming they were more suited to teenagers than mature rider/readers.

    The public isn’t alone in voicing their scepticism. Highly placed editors on both sides of the Atlantic have also expressed private concerns about the activities of the corporate-owned equine magazines.

    An English editor in London told the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation, “The trouble with horse magazines here is instead of giving readers something that would shock, educate or change their perceptions they are too set on the results of focus groups, readership demographic surveys and chasing the market share. Instead of offering a gourmet feast, they are trying to catch the shrinking audience by dangling the same old tired carrot as all the other magazines are. Whatever you like to call it, they give the readers what they think they want; the same old same old. But I am increasingly convinced they are wrong. Readers don’t want that!”

    Such scepticism is not restricted to Great Britain. It is flourishing among the former colonies as well.

    The publisher of one of America’s few independent equestrian magazines stated, “I can hardly stand to look at the current crop of horse magazines anymore. For corporations it is all about the bottom line. Any passion for real content has been sucked out by the bean counters sitting in a corporate office somewhere far removed from the reality of purpose, spirit and a yearning for something meaningful.”

    Thankfully a small cadre of brave new journalists have emerged Phoenix like from the ashes. They have signalled a growing rejection of the practice which demanded that journalists be meek tools dictated to by the controlling corporate elite. As a result a new generation of bold journalists has at last placed public responsibility before financial self-interest.

    During 2013 Ryan Goldberg of the Thoroughbred Daily News released a stunning six-part series which documented the extent of doping in the racing industry.

    Julie Taylor of Epona TV tore away the veil of secrecy surrounding the wicked training method known as Rollkur.

    Geoff Young of Horse Connection magazine braved criticism by calling for the FEI to either be corrected or disbanded.

    And Neil Clarkson and Robin Marshall have turned Horse Talk into a daily equine news service which is trusted across the globe.

    These few have led the way by consistently revealing the hypocrisy which is all too often a part of the competitive horse world. They have had the courage to document the dark side of the equestrian experience. They have proved that turning horses into a commodity menaces the animals we collectively love.

    Yet despite the public’s growing intolerance of cruelty in equestrian events, corruption in the horse world remains a vast under-reported problem and any call for reform is seen as an attack on the collective identity, and lucrative profitability, of the entrenched powers that be.

    It was the Pulitzer Prize winning editor, Herbert Agar, who dared to say, “The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”

    What’s needed is a brush fire of investigation and indignation, such as exposed the terrible abuses perpetrated by renegade trainers within the Tennessee Walking Horse community earlier this year. Citizens and journalists need to work together to tear back the shield of secrecy which has protected abusive practices for years. Whistle-blowers within the equestrian industries need to summon the courage to reveal the truth about the equestrian world’s version of blood diamonds.

    Too much of today’s equestrian journalism is still nothing more than a weak and biased charade.

    If this new century is to shake off the shackles of its predecessor, then the time has come for a new generation of reporters, editors and publishers to follow Horse Talk’s example, by championing passionate inquiry, intellectual exploration, objective news gathering and courageous journalism, instead of kow-towing to the forces of cowardice, corruption and criminality which have infected the horse world for too many years and perpetrated a media system which is reluctant to serve the truth.

    CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS
    Founder – The Long Riders’ Guild


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