California Horsetrader‘s Warren Wilson
well-established publication, the California Horsetrader is now in its 36th year. We had a chance to chat with publisher Warren Wilson about the past, present and future.
EQSOL: Give us a brief history about you and your involvement with horses.
WW: My family moved to a ranch in San Marcos in the mid-’60s. The family’s 14-acre Pepper Hill Ranch still thrives; my mother lives there with her magnificent Quarter Horses. They are well-known performance horse lines, she has a breeding stallion named Nic Chex. She still rides and is active in the community as a horse and responsible land-use advocate.
As a kid in rural San Marcos when there wasn’t even a traffic light, my pony was literally my transportation across the hill to my friends who lived on small ranches. The area was a patchwork of avocado groves and alfalfa fields, connected by dirt trails.
Now I ride when I can, but what time I have with horses revolves mostly around my 6-year-old daughter, Lily. She hasn’t shown yet, but she’s ready – she’s cantering over poles now.
EQSOL: Can you tell us about the magazine’s beginnings?
WW: California Horsetrader was founded in 1979 by my mom, Carolyn Read, at Pepper Hill Ranch in San Marcos. She started publishing it in the tack room of our barn.
I purchased it in 1990, and launched Horsetrader.com eight years later. We created the Horsetrader Alliance in 2005 (it consists of Equiery, Horsemen’s Yankee Pedlar, Quarter Horse News, and Barrel Horse News).
EQSOL: What sparked your interest to get involved with the magazine?
WW: I have publishing in my blood. My father was an executive editor at the San Diego Evening Tribune (now the U-T) and my mother worked on several magazines. In the fifth grade, I persuaded my grade school to launch a newspaper, which we called The Richland Report. From high school through college, I gravitated to being the editor of the schools’ papers.
By the time I was 20, I was the editor of a community weekly paper, and at 23 was the managing editor of a morning daily. This was great experience on the news side of things. Then I moved into sportswriting at just the right time – covering those great San Diego Chargers of the ‘80s, the Padres in their World Series run and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
During the same time, my mother had been working hard to launch something new – a professional, easy-to-use and affordable advertising vehicle for her passion, the horse industry.
EQSOL: How would you define the magazine’s main mission?
WW: Our identity is pretty straight-forward, starting with the name – we help bring buyers and sellers together. We also help retail sales from local to national. We’re everything horses. Having content – both news and advertising – that is current and accurate, having technology that is relevant, having a sense of responsibility that goes with our being part of the fabric of the horse world, all of those missions we take seriously and we enjoy the challenge. But it comes back to bringing buyers and sellers together.
EQSOL: You are considered one of the most innovative and forward-thinking publishers in the industry. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve implemented during your time with the magazine?
WW: Different eras demand different solutions – it’s a moving target. In 1979, my mother founded the paper with the most profound innovation – she took the idea of the tack store bulletin board, packaged it into a digestible format, and was never late with an issue, twice a month. Until that point, reliable, current, free horse publications were not the norm.
From then to now, technology has made a difference. But technology is like wine – you can’t be indiscriminate in your selection of it, and you certainly can be intoxicated by it. Whether it’s the old-time fax with the roll paper or the internet and social media, innovation is all about the customer – and how will it bring buyers and sellers together.
EQSOL: Your favorite issue(s) over the years?
WW: The most recent one, always. Each issue, we put ourselves into it – not unlike a theatrical production. There’s pressure, there’s obstacles, there’s pride, there’s relief when we’re done. When the issue hits the newsstands, there’s a profound sense of accomplishment, and then it’s on to the next one. Our Horsetrader team is a remarkable group of dedicated pros – from sales to accounting to production and IT, and everywhere in between.
EQSOL: What do you see as the future of publishing?
WW: When times are flush, characters build publishing. When times are lean, publishing builds character. We’re in lean times, and there will be a culling of the herd, as always. That part is not different than any industry. What is different in the current period is that in addition to handling an economic storm, publishers must navigate through a technological challenge. That doesn’t mean to chase the bus with the latest internet craze. Part of the challenge is not technical at all; it’s a perception issue. Our advertisers remain with us for a simple reason – they see results. I think publications that have that core purpose – bringing buyers and sellers together – will thrive if they put the buyers and sellers first and understand them. It also helps to love the horse industry and publishing.
Thank you Warren for your time – we always enjoy a chance to catch up with you.