Media Analysis: Horse & Hound enters a fresh era

The country's 120-year-old equestrian bible has just relaunched at a time of the controversial hunting ban. Sarah Robertson looks at the changes the magazine has gone through and what it offers to PROs.

When Hugh Grant posed coyly to Julia Roberts as a journalist from Horse & Hound as part of his attempt to woo her in British blockbuster Notting Hill, the magazine achieved unlikely international recognition.

'It helped us explain what we do, especially to Americans,' says editor Lucy Higginson.

Its 15 minutes of fame aside, these are pivotal times for Horse & Hound.

Positioned as the bible of the equestrian world, it is the main source of information for Britain's hunters and has been one of the strongest voices against the ban.

Publisher IPC relaunched the title three weeks ago, doubling its news and features content, with the number of editorial pages rising from 64 to 100.

Higginson pledges now to help overturn the ban. One of the ways is by following and reporting the moves of a new campaigning group, Vote OK, in the run-up to the general election. The group plans to oust anti-hunting MPs in marginal seats.

Hearty campaigner

The hunting ban has changed the tone of Horse & Hound's coverage. 'The news is harder and grittier. For example, as the ban took effect, we phoned every hunt in Britain to find what they were planning for the first post-ban hunt and gauge how landowners were reacting,' Higginson says.

Sections include a veterinary page, hunt reports, a product page and extensive event listings.

Previous efforts by the magazine to thwart the ban include encouraging people to attend Countryside Alliance marches, and it regularly profiles people whose livelihoods depend on hunting. But Higginson denies the magazine has been redesigned specifically because of the new law: 'We are capitalising on three consecutive years of circulation growth. But the prospect of the ban and its implementation has helped sales. People are desperate to know what is going on.'

Last year the magazine had an ABC of 71,128. Its readership is 70 per cent female, more than 60 per cent ABC1 and is most widely read in the South-East, Wales and the Midlands.

The magazine's appeal to out-and-out equestrian enthusiasts is what differentiates it from competitors such as Your Horse and Pony, says Higginson. 'There are opportunities for PROs in the news pages, but we are a hard nut to crack because we are very discerning about what we run - it has to be topical,' she adds.

'We are interested in issues such as rights of way, horse passports and litigation problems for stables. There is a common misconception that we are just about hunting - we are about riding in the widest context,' she says.

Countryside Alliance head of news Tim Bonner is in daily contact with the 18-strong editorial team.

'Horse & Hound is crucial for us to communicate with our members. We meet the team informally to discuss issues,' he says.

However, the title does not quite have an avid following in the racing community, which looks more to the Racing Post and the national press for coverage, says Jockey Club PR director John Maxse: 'We target their point-to-pointing (amateur flat racing) column, but that's all.'

From horses to hunting

British Horse Society director of communications Ollie Wilson says: 'Horse & Hound is looking for news and feature ideas on anything to do with the horse world. We target them on campaigning issues such as safer road surfaces for horses.'

Earmarked features for the magazine include pieces on careers with horses, such as in the armed forces.

Karol Marketing account director Sara Ragan, who represents outdoor clothing company Barbour, says: 'We send products in for inclusion but what Horse & Hound really wants is strong news. So we promote our events, new ranges and sponsorship activity.'

The title has always served as a gateway for people who go riding to cross into the hunting world, says Bonner, and as the conduit for a group as angry and impassioned as the hunting community is at present, Horse & Hound is likely to remain a popular read for those concerned.

News and campaign information should be emailed to Higginson at Lucy_Higginson@ipcmedia.com.

Product information should be sent to new product editor Victoria Gray at Victoria_Gray@ipcmedia.com.

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