Website designed by Basha O'Reilly
The innovative New Zealand equestrian journalist who owns and operates Horse Talk, the world’s largest daily equine news website.
1 - What is the single greatest change you have witnessed in the equestrian world during your life time?
The move towards more horse-friendly training, riding and handling methods. They’ve always been around, but the move among horse people to widely embrace them is a more recent development
2 - Do you ride?
Not terribly well, but I’m working on it. I am told I will be trying endurance next year!
3 - Do you own a horse?
There are seven on the property. The horse with the task of carrying me about is Redgate, a Clydesdale-cross, bred on a high country New Zealand station. She treats me very well.
4 - Who is your favourite horse in history?
In 2004, New Zealand brought home the unidentified body of a Kiwi soldier who died on the battlefields of World War 1. His remains were placed at our National War Memorial in what is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Before his interment, 10,000 people filed past as he lay in state and an estimated 100,000 lined the roads as he was taken to his final resting place. He has come to represent the sacrifice made by all New Zealand servicemen and women. My favourite horse in history would a similarly anonymous equine individual who has given service to mankind. It matters little whether they found fame in history books or carted goods for an impoverished family. They all played their play in the betterment of mankind.
5 - Who do you think was the most influential equestrian human in history and why?
It would have to be the unknown individual who saw the possibilities in forming a riding partnership with a horse, rather than simply considering them food. It was, when you think about, a remarkable piece of thinking and the ingenuity required in starting from “square one” deserves acknowledgement. The opportunities it opened up for those people some 5600 years ago on the Eurasian steppe must have been life-changing. In modern times, there are many people who can be called influential – and a horseman worth his or her salt can learn something from nearly everyone.
6 - What was your greatest equestrian influence from books or cinema when you were young?
My interest in horses arose from marrying a horsewoman! I’m afraid horses had little or no influence in my formative years.
7 - What equestrian book would you recommend today and why?
We have an extensive collection of horse books dating back more than 200 years so this is a hard one to answer. There are many classic works of fiction and many non-fiction works which have deservedly earned a reputation as “must-haves” on the book shelves of horse owners. In my book – if you’ll excuse the pun – any volume that makes a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of the horse and our understanding of them is a worthwhile tome.
8 - How did you initially become interested in your specific equestrian specialty?
Our website, Horsetalk.co.nz, was started by my wife, Robin. It was designed as a general interest website for horse enthusiasts, but the news and features side of the operation has grown exponentially over the 12 years it has been running. I began writing for it to provide content and found I enjoyed it. It has provided the opportunity to talk to some really interesting horse enthusiasts and scientists from all over the world.
9 - What prompted you to enter that field?
It was a bit like a planetary alignment. Robin and I are both journalists. Robin is also a web designer and has owned and ridden horses all her life. Most of my reporting career was spent covering crime, so horses were a breeze by comparison.
10 - Did someone encourage your decision or inspire you?
What encourages us is our daily readership. With the internet, you can monitor what works and what doesn’t. You can see what people are reading and what they’re not. Rising visitor numbers is what puts gas in our tank.
11 - When did you begin your research, investigation, work?
Horsetalk began about 12 years ago, but I guess I didn’t come on board until it got legs.
12 - What do you think is your most important discovery, achievement or insight regarding your equestrian work?
I’m not sure we’ve achieved any lofty goals to date, but certainly, in terms of achievements, presenting a readable diet of general interest horse news and features seven days a week is a hard enough mountain to climb. It’s a fast-changing world and humankind’s knowledge of horses grows almost daily. It’s hard to imagine a better tool than the internet for keeping abreast of it, provided people are careful to assess the reliability and quality of the information they are provided.
13 - What modern technology, techniques and media have you found most helpful?
The internet’s ability to disseminate information is truly remarkable. Its flexibility, manageability and cost-effectiveness provides huge advantages over other media. That said, the internet is still a lawless frontier on many levels. It’s evolving at a remarkable pace and it would be a brave person to predict how it will look in 10 years time.
14 - What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?
Talking to fascinating people with an interest in horses. It’s great fun and, journalistically, about as much fun as you can have sitting at a desk with a phone in your hand.
15 - What’s been your biggest disappointment in your work?
Copyright infringement. As I said, the internet remains a lawless frontier on many levels. We once found a South American website using 50 feature-length articles I had written, together with all the images. All up, about three months of fulltime work “borrowed” by the site’s operator. That’s an extreme example, of course, but the reality is that any news organization survives by getting visitors. To get visitors a site needs unique content that encourages people to visit. Quality journalism online will not replace print media until such issues are resolved.
16 - How do you explain the gulf between academic equestrian investigation and the average horse owner?
Researchers are not necessarily the best communicators and journalists are not always the best at conveying academic findings to a general readership in a readable and accurate way. The answer is not better researchers or better journalists. It’s better collaboration. I have been buoyed over the years by just how keen scientists are to share their findings with general horse owners. Without exception, I have found them interesting and engaging. The mass media has limited interest in what I’ll loosely term specialist areas of science, such as equine research, which leaves it to specialist niche sites such as Horsetalk to do its best to get that information across.
17 - What equestrian subjects are in need of more research and investigation?
Plenty! On the health front, laminitis and musculo-skeletal problems. Rotational falls in jumping. Durability in thoroughbreds. Effective long-term parasite control strategies that don’t encourage resistance. Scientists could name a few hundred more, I am sure.
18 - Which part of the equestrian world would you like to see reformed and why?
A pipe dream, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be great to see far more programmes in place that focus on finding roles for horses that retire from their disciplines, particularly in racing. Part of this would have to involve reforms of industry models that, in my view, encourage overbreeding. This sadly provides plenty of raw material further down the line for the slaughter industry. It’s nothing anyone in the horse world should be proud of.
19 - How do you traditionally deliver your findings or message and how would you ideally like to do so?
The internet. What more can I say?
20 - What intellectual, technical or ethical advances would you like to see in the horse world?
In horse sport, it would be an end to training techniques that are not horse friendly, and an end to doping.
21 - Do you foresee any difficulties for the horse world in the immediate future?
Overbreeding is a major issue in Western countries. Too many poor breeding choices are made and it’s the horses that ultimately pay the price. Studies indicate that equine obesity is a growing problem in Western nations. Equine welfare remains a major problem in poorer nations that still rely on working animals.
22 - What is the greatest challenge facing the horse world in the long term?
Overbreeding and equine welfare. Two issues with no simple solutions, given the nature of industry models in the West and the level of poverty in some nations where horses still power their economies.
23 - What books, magazines, websites, etc. can people read and review to learn more about your work?
Our daily efforts are there for all to see on www.horsetalk.co.nz.
24 - Any final thoughts?
Humankind’s relationship with the horse is unique. Too many people lose sight of this and tend to focus on the destination, not the journey.
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