How AHP changed my career

Here’s my “meet-cute” story. Come to the AHP conference and you could have one of your own.

By Jennifer O. Bryant

My life changed standing in line for the ladies’ room.

I didn’t know it at the time, of course. I was queued up during a break at my very first AHP conference—or seminar, as it was called then—in Daytona Beach, Florida, in the mid-1990s.

I was in my mid-twenties, working at a job I loved, as the editor of Hoof Print, a start-up monthly all-breed regional equine tabloid in upstate New York. Thanks to a previous stint in book publishing, I had decent editorial skills, but the rest of it—advertising know-how, circulation-growth strategies, postal regulations, dealing with freelancers and readers—I was pretty much learning on the job. I read Folio: and everything else about magazine publishing I could get my hands on, and when American Horse Publications sent a letter inviting Hoof Print to join, I got my boss’s permission to sign up.

Then the notice came: AHP would be holding a weekend educational seminar. I don’t recall the exact session topics, but they addressed all those aspects of the business my magazine needed to improve on. Serving as speakers would be staffers from such major publications as Equus, Practical Horseman, and The American Quarter Horse Journal. Surely, I thought, these folks would have all the answers!

Through relentless begging, I convinced my boss to allow me to attend. Determined to get every penny’s worth of my employer’s investment, I compiled a list of questions I hoped the seminar speakers and attendees would be able to answer. I polled my advertising manager, circulation rep, and graphic designer and added their questions to my list. By the time my plane took off from Albany, The List was at least 50 questions long.

Jennifer (right) was among the 35 members who attended the 1995 winter seminar in Daytona.

The “Seminar by the Sea,” like every other AHP seminar and conference, kicked off with a welcome reception. Compared to today’s events, the Daytona Beach reception was a small and very low-key affair—but I was terrified. An introvert by nature, I was by turns nervous, earnest, and determined to soak up every educational morsel.

The warmth of my welcome surprised and delighted me. I was a young nobody, and yet people were as friendly to me as they were to the “old hands.” They seemed genuinely happy to see a new face, and it didn’t take long before The List was eliciting chuckles at the conclusion of sessions. “Jennifer, are there more questions on your list?” became the good-natured refrain—and my answer, naturally, was always yes. (I was secretly comforted to discover that the Big Guys did not, in fact, have it all figured out, and that they grappled with many of the same challenges as my little magazine, albeit on a larger and more sophisticated scale.)

Which brings us back to the ladies’ room. Standing beside me in line, a dark-haired woman extended her hand and said, “Hi! I’m Lua Southard, publisher of Practical Horseman.”

It wasn’t quite as thrilling as meeting, say, Isabell Werth or Bruce Springsteen, but it came close. The publisher of a magazine I read and loved was talking to me! Here was someone whose name I’d seen on the masthead for years, in the flesh! And friendly and down to earth, to boot!

Jennifer (far left) and Lua have been lifelong friends since they met in 1995 in Daytona Beach. Lua has always been an AHP cheerleader. Both she and Jen have earned the Chris Brune Spirit Award and been honored as AHP Champions.

That casual, unscripted meeting is AHP in a nutshell: colleagues, horse people, lovers of words and images and quality journalism, coming together to learn and to share. Even competitors are willing to offer tips and solutions, and before long the group of peers starts to feel like a group of friends or even family.

That chance meeting with Lua actually did change my life. I must have told her about Hoof Print and about my own equestrian experiences as a former event rider turned passionate dressage student, and I suppose my raw enthusiasm made a good impression. A couple of years later, Lua remembered me well enough to add my name to a list of possible recruits to staff a dressage magazine that her company had bought and was relaunching. The headhunter called, I got the job, and suddenly I had a foot in the national-magazine door.

It wouldn’t have happened, I am certain, had I not attended that AHP seminar. Even today, as I work from home as a full-time freelancer and rarely even pick up the phone, much less have in-person meetings, I recognize the undiminished value of “face time.” My Internet connection is my professional lifeline, but it cannot substitute for being in the same room with one’s colleagues. The AHP Equine Media Conference, as it’s now known, never fails to provide valuable education, but that’s not the entire reason it’s been a fixture on my calendar for more than 20 years. I attend in part because I know the importance of getting to know other AHP members, sharing ideas, asking questions (still!), and forging relationships. So come to the conference, and be sure to say hi to that stranger waiting in line for the restroom or the coffee urn. You never know where that meeting might lead you.


SIDENOTE: March 1995 AHP Newsletter: “The Seminar by the Sea may not have been the best attended Winter Seminar we’ve had,” wrote Chris Brune, “but the attendees returned home with memories of brilliant blue skies, thousands of seagulls, driving on the beach, and the roar of engines. And for those wondering who won the Rolex 24-hour endurance race that ran February 4 and 5, the winner was none other than Paul Newman at age 70, driving a white No. 70 Roush Ford Mustang sponsored by his current film, Nobody’s Fool.”