,For those of us who have grown up around horses or who have children that choose to be involved in equestrian sport, we understand the importance of positive mentors in this niche world. These influencers come from all walks of life and share a common bond of respect for the horse. These indiviudals teach, sculpt and set an example for youth as to how to live a fulfilled life. As a stepmother of four children, I am highly aware of the uniqueness of these individuals in society at large and how important they are in the formative years of youth. One of the most influential young role models that I have developed an understanding and respect for in our horse show world is Dr. Piper Klemm, PhD.
As I have matured with experience over the decades, I have become a passionate adoovcate that all junior riders also focus on pursuing a higher education degree as a means of ensuring opportunities whereever life takes them. Piper is the embodiement of this philosophy. Most people in our sport recognize Piper as a young business professional that is the publisher and face of The Plaid Horse magazine. In actuality, she is multi-dimensional in her career(s) and beyond accomplished in academia. She is a respected scientist that not only earned her PhD in inogranic chemistry from the esteemed University of California science department, but she continues to publish science based papers AND will be teaching a class this fall on entrepreneurship at St. Lawrence University. Piper has created options for her career path, but specifically chosen to primarily direct her focus on her passion, equestrian sport. In a very short span of time, she has become a succesful entrepreneur, innovator and influencer.
Piper’s road to success in business and acadmia is built on a foundation of diligence, commitment and knowledge. While her resume is impressive and her positive contributions to our industry rapidly growing, what is most important is that Dr. Piper Klemm, PhD is humble and sincere in all of her endeavours and also extrememly credible. This is a woman I would want each of my step-children to emulate.
In 2015, Piper shared her background with us starting with an interesting introduction to ponies to the first anniversary of owning The Plaid Horse. This story was published on our parent company website, KMThornton.com. Today, our public facing website has split off and operates under a wholly owned subsidiary of K.M. Thornton and Co, llc called Street to Stable® with the corresponding URL StreettoStable.com. As we updated our technogy, the online links to our published articles became “invalid” to the public. Digging into the K.M. Thornton & Co. archives, I retrieved the document version of the first article about Piper and just recently she provided Street to Stable with a follow-up interview addressing the progression of her businesses and her involvement and influence in the U.S. hunter jumper industry. Below is the compilation of both interviews.
Impressive would be an understatement.
PIPER ON POSEY- the pony that delivered lessons for life.
I come from a non-horsey family and have been obsessed with ponies since day one. My parents did the weekly lessons when I was 7, which was quickly followed by bi-weekly, then by letting me a complete barn rat. When I was 12, I got my own pony- an unbroken 2-year-old named Brighton Boast A Bit.
Difficult is an understatement- it would take me about 40 minutes to catch her in her stall when I got her. She wouldn’t do anything politely – she shred every blanket we got her and wouldn’t stand for any new experiences. But I finally had my own pony and I was determined. I pulled up a chair and every day, I would sit outside her stall and read my homework to her with a basket of carrots. Whenever she chose to walk over, she got one. My mom called it ‘intensive carrot therapy’ and to this day, that his how we work on all of the ponies when they need something. Emily Elek, who trains my ponies when they’re off lease now, has more mints than carrots, but it was the first thing I noticed about her when I met her- her ponies are all happy and constantly rewarded for great behavior.
Eventually, I sat on Posey, showed her on the line at Devon, went across the diagonal and did a lead change, and jumped her around- I got to be the first one to do everything on her. She was exceptional. She slowly grew out of her difficulties and loved horse showing. As soon as she started winning, her inner diva came out and she was hooked- she is so competitive and wants to win every class, every time. Fast forward many years- we started to lease her when she was trained and she has been leased for over ten years.
My parents, who as business professors had me tracking pony expenses the whole time, said that when they were paid back for their investment, she would be mine. I paid them back in full when I was 20 and then through Posey was able to get another prospect, then another, and then suddenly I had 8 ponies!
I own ponies that are leased out on generally an annual basis. I think it is most important for ponies to be kid’s ponies- if you look at all mine, what they have in common isn’t seen in the show ring- it is that they can be completely handled by kids- bathing, clipping, loading, trail riding, showing, everything. Some of them go swimming with kids, go foxhunting, jump around bareback, get dressed up, do leadline, and every other injustice we expect of good ponies. Of course pros school ponies and grooms handle this stuff on some leases, but all seven of them (baby Eagle is #8) have the quality that they are fundamentally good ponies, love children, and love doing their jobs. I have one that I bred (baby Eagle) and most of the rest I bought as young prospects (unbroke, barely broke), with the exception of my two small ponies. Small Ponies have to be so good- there is no room for error in how saintly a small pony has to be, so I got Stonewall Black Pearl and Masterpiece Theater as established division ponies from my friend Kerin Benson.
In early 2013 I had the opportunity to buy Brighton Precisely, who is closely related to Posey and sent her to Sugarbrook Farm in Florida to breed to Sugarbrook Blue Pacific. We ended up with a colt Sugarbrook Positron Blue or Eagle in 2014 – the only pony born into my program. He has such a good brain and is so friendly and fancy – I’m just so excited about him!
KMT: When we caught up at HITS Coachella this past winter, you mentioned your involvement with ponies is continuing to grow. Can you update us on your pony string and how you are getting more people involved?
PK: This will be surprising to no one, but my pony string is ever expanding. Over the last three years, I have become even more educated on what type of pony I’m looking for and what works best in my program. Emily Elek of Stonewall Farm and I work together to find, produce, and grow a large string of young ponies at any given time, while training children how to train young ponies. It is quite an ambitious model and Emily is simply incredible in all aspects of this. It is the collaboration in the horse world I am most proud of – I get to play support team for someone who I watch do right by ponies and children, generation after generation.
We’re both huge pony nerds, so we’re always comparing bloodlines, what we’ve seen all over the country, what we like, and new training methods for ponies and learning styles for kids. We often talk on Sunday nights when we’re both driving our marathon distances home from wherever we are – every round, every canter step, every lead change – how to make every pony go at his or her best as an intellectual exercise. It is like Sissy on the magazine – constant information flow to always try to make the process better. But, every issue, every kid, and every pony is an individual, so they’re always challenging us.
We’ve also been experimenting on ways we can bring more outside investment into the sport – it has been really exciting to have non-horseperson money come into a young pony’s life and allow young riders who might not have the means to further their careers through riding, lessons, and showing opportunities. I’m always trying to create win-win-win scenarios and while we’re still working to perfect the pony investment fund models to work for everyone, initial results have been exciting and it’s thrilling to see more investment into growing knowledge and capability – human capital from a young age in the industry and taking out financial barriers for young riders who are hungry for opportunity.
THE PLAID HORSE
KMT: The Plaid Horse just celebrated it’s first year as you as a publisher, what motivated you to purchase the magazine?
PK: I have always loved The Plaid Horse. Since its inception in 2003, it has been fun – a magazine full of smiles and people enjoying the horse show experience.
I love all horse magazines- I literally read every single one of them, but it terms of my own horse show experience- The Plaid Horse has always been the most relatable. It’s not about classes I will never even compete in, let alone win, or items I will never afford, it is about what is going on for folks horse showing at all levels.
KMT: Our last interview was in 2015 and you were celebrating your first anniversary of publishing The Plaid Horse. How has The Plaid Horse evolved in the last 3 years?
It has been a huge three years. I was actually just looking at the Pony Issue last year to prepare for this year’s and our progress in even just the last year has been really unparalleled. The biggest change has been the team – we have added on some truly amazing players and the results show. Sissy Wickes joined TPH just over two years ago and brings her wisdom of decades in the business to all of us, while we all try to learn how to run a magazine better. We all have similar ethos on the team about perfecting our craft, which has been so fun to be a part of. Lauren Mauldin is the blog editor and she has taken the website and brand to new heights online and it feels like she’s just getting started. A year from now, her impact will be felt throughout the magazine as a whole, which is really exciting.
We moved to all glossy pages in January 2016, which was a big step for TPH, which historically was a mixture of newspaper and glossy pages. We started podcasting in Fall of 2016, the #Plaidcast, and it’s been a really incredible new format to connect the hunter/jumper community and discuss issues. We ran a clothing line which peaked and is winding down now to a couple essentials and favorites (link to shop). And during our 2015 interview, I think we had committed, but it wasn’t public yet – TPH becoming the presenting sponsor of USHJA’s Horsemanship Quiz Challenge (link to register). We have seen participation soar over the last three years and I want to see every single USHJA member under 21 take advantage of this program.
KMT: Explain where you find value in what you provide to the community (via The Plaid Horse)?
For me, there is so much that celebrates a couple elite shows and so little that celebrates the majority of the horse show community. I love those elite shows- I have fun when I go, I have many friends there, and they are generally in gorgeous locations that I feel so privileged to be at.
At the same time though, I love going to local shows and seeing people bringing along young horses, kids learning to ride, and pros doing their best to juggle riding, teaching, paying bills, and their own goals. And everything in between- The Plaid Horse is about loving all horse shows, not just a couple people winning at a few horse shows.
KMT: What is the most rewarding aspect of publishing the Plaid Horse? Is their anything that just puts a smile on your face?
The Plaid Horse is often the first magazine someone is ever published in and the excitement people feel when they see themselves in print for the first time is simply contagious.
KMT: How does being involved with the pony/AA hunter industry enhance your content within The Plaid Horse?
When I go to shows to report, I rarely walk towards the barns at all. I head to the rings, watch the performances, interview the top riders (who always say that their horse was good), and then head to my computer to edit photos and write the article.
When I go with the ponies, I really see all the effort and work. It is so easy to forget how much work jobs that you don’t do are. I’m not grooming or training or riding or prepping my ponies, but to see all that work when I do visit them is very humbling and I think keeps the magazine on track.
We’re not robots and I think when I’m at home reading online, some of the winners do seem that way. There is so much emotion involved in getting to the ring, win or lose, and I think that’s easy to forget sitting behind a computer screen. It is literally all I can do hiding away in the VIP tent to not be an insanely nervous pony mom at Pony Finals- it is such a pressure situation, one split second is the difference between a terrible day and a great day, and there is nothing I can do about it- I just have to hope that the very young child and the pony work together to make great decisions. I think that makes The Plaid Horse much more sympathetic and aware covering shows to the experience people are having.
KMT: What excites you about the hunter/jumper industry in the United States?
To me, the most exciting thing is variety. Every week, I go to a different horse show with different people, different horses and different goals. I can get so pumped about a big grand prix and then the next week get excited by an equitation final and then next week be in pony heaven- we have so much good going on in the US on so many different tracts and so many different levels- you really can’t help but to be excited by how much we have to offer!
You are very credible in equestrian sport, specifically the American hunter/jumper industry due to your PhD and involvement as a business owner, owner and rider. What do you see as the biggest outstanding issues our industry faces for the “general” horse show community and how have you assisted in directing change?
In the last eighteen months or so, I have definitely been feeling more bold in going after the change that I believe this sport needs. Most recently, we have been advocates on supporting US Equestrian on their Safe Sport initiatives and pushing USHJA to lead the way and role model other affiliate organizations in supporting a broader Safe Sport.
I wrote an article last month for the blog about it being time to ban smoking at horse shows (CLICK TO READ POST). I think this one is fairly obvious, but we got plenty of pushback on it.
In terms of costs, horse welfare, footing, drugging – these are all huge issues and we try to keep at the forefront and push every discussion forward. These are very real issues and to grow our sport, all must be addressed simultaneously. I really believe that supporting and spending money with businesses you believe in is one of the best ways we can ensure change in this industry. Many of these changes are on a macro scale, but many are on a micro scale – life is a grassroots campaign. What grassroots decisions are you making and how can you make them better? For example, I try to spend money with trainers and horse shows that I believe are providing a service to the community.
KMT: Through hard work you have proven that you are serious about making a positive difference in the industry. Where do you hope to make the biggest impact moving forward?
I hope my biggest impact will be essentially role modeling – that people look at me and feel empowered to make this industry work for what they want for themselves. Some of us will be amazing riders, but most of us will not (me included).
So, what does that mean? I can still have fun riding, competing, and getting out there.
I can have a voice and help people and run a magazine. I can bring people together and help create opportunities. This industry is an amalgam of all of the skills we bring to the table – let’s embrace that and help each other hone their craft and make it the best place we can be. Let’s make a place where we can speak up when things aren’t right (no matter who you are), have fewer or different challenges for subsequent generations (and remember that that’s a good thing, not a bad thing), and remember why we’re all here – because we love horses.
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To contact Emily Elek/Stonewall Farms regarding ponies for sale or lease, call 920.889.0028 or follow on facebook @stonewallponies
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