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Horses

A Rider He's Not, but a Writer He Is

February 20, 1988|DARLENE SORDILLO | Times Staff Writer

Keeping the county's horse people informed is a way of life for Ken Sainte Marie, founder of Today's Horseman magazine.

From his home in Orange, Sainte Marie writes, edits and publishes the monthly magazine single-handedly. He also designs 95% of the advertisements that appear in the publication.

But even though he rides herd on the county's main source of horse news, Sainte Marie doesn't ride a horse. He never has--and by his own account probably never will. But he says that doesn't matter.

"I don't do explanatory articles, like (horse) conformation. The magazine is designed for news, to tell the horse people what's going on out there. I don't have to be a rider to do that."

What he does have to be is a roving reporter of sorts, scouring the county's horse scene and attending as many horse shows as he can fit into his schedule.

How did a non-rider become so immersed in the world of boots and bridles? Sainte Marie's introduction came from his daughter, who formerly owned a riding stable in Santa Ana. When, several years ago, she suggested there was a need for an Orange County horse magazine, Sainte Marie decided to leave the world of salaried employment and strike out on his own as a publisher.

To him, horses remain strictly news.

Drawing on his background as a newspaper reporter and editor, he turned the equestrian scene into a news beat. After he compiled enough information for the first issue, he says, he had no problem learning to write about horses.

Now he is a fixture at local horse events, mixing with the competitors to get his story. He also relies on a stable of correspondents who send him news about shows he doesn't have time to attend.

His time on the road is indeed limited, due to the demands of producing the magazine. Sometimes he goes without sleep for days at a time, especially before his mid-month publication deadline. But that's OK with him.

Putting out "the paper," as he refers to Today's Horseman, is a labor of love for Sainte Marie.

"It's exhausting at times, but I wouldn't give up this way of life for anything. I have lived, eaten and breathed for the paper since I put out the first issue four years ago."

He also has gone without a vacation, working 80 to 100 hours a week, seven days a week, since the first issue appeared in October, 1983. That fledgling issue, a 12-page newsletter, bears little resemblance to the full-fledged 50-page magazine it has grown into.

"We had to work for credibility and respectability at first," he says. "Now everyone in the horse industry knows us."

If you're a horseman in Orange County, it's hard not to know Sainte Marie. Wherever horse news is happening, he's there. And his monthly editorials have sometimes made headlines of their own among equestrians; his current issue takes to task Olympic jumper trainer George Morris, who was "too busy" to be interviewed by Sainte Marie at a recent clinic in Orange County.

The publisher is also known to make social commentaries on horses and their place in Orange County. Pleasure riding in these parts, he says, "is doomed" by metropolitan growth.

"Orange County is completely different from other Southern California counties because they all have room and inland space," he says. "Orange County is the smallest of them all and is primarily coastal. Where can you go here with horses?

"Horses here are going to end up being ridden in riding arenas at training stables--and mostly on government land, like the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center in Huntington Beach. You won't see people buying tracts of land and putting horses on them. Those days are over in Orange County."

Although the high interest in hunters and jumpers in Orange County requires him to devote considerable coverage to the sport, Sainte Marie doesn't want Today's Horseman to be labeled a "hunter-jumper" magazine.

"We're multidisciplined," he says. "We may have a paint (horse) on the cover one month and a dressage horse the next. We want to cover every type of riding and every type of rider, from the little guy to the big stable owner."

He doesn't, however, intend to expand beyond Southern California. "That's where other horse magazines have failed, by expanding too much. We'll never be an all-state paper or a Western regional paper. We're a local paper, and we're going to stay that way."

Sainte Marie defines "local" as the Los Angeles Basin. Although Today's Horseman originally covered only Orange County, it now includes Los Angeles County and, to a lesser extent, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino counties. He prints a controlled circulation of 3,500 copies per month.

Some of those subscribers, he admits, "are just itching to get me on a horse--but it'll probably never happen. When would I have time to ride, anyway?"

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