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Western Horseman: Yesterday and Today
By Randy Witte
Western Horseman magazine began in 1936, which makes it one of the oldest horse magazines in the world. To glance back at the magazine’s history is to survey much of the history of the horse industry in North America, because Western Horseman was there to champion the formation of breed associations and registries, research and record horse history, and publish accounts of the care, breeding, and use of horses through the decades.
When the first issue was printed and distributed in January 1936, interest in horses was waning in the United States. Founding Editor and Publisher Paul Albert knew it all too well as he watched horses being displaced by automobiles and tractors, and promptly dispatched to the slaughterhouses.
Paul later wrote of that era: “Horses were worth practically nothing and thousands were being slaughtered each year for dog food, the dog having replaced the horse in public affection and the machine having discarded the horse in transportation and power.” He created The Western Horseman as a voice for the horse, to show people that horses were still useful in a variety of ways on farms and ranches, and that they could have a bright future as recreational animals. The magazine’s motto was, “For the Admirer of the Western Stock Horse.”
Paul, his wife, Worth, and a secretary and friend named Dorothy Smith made up the magazine staff. They worked “within the lighted circle of the kerosene lamp,” Worth later wrote, in the Albert’s’ ranch house. Their ranch was located in the rolling hills near Lafayette, Calif., about 20 miles from San Francisco. There Paul and Worth ran a small herd of cattle, bred Arabian horses and did their best to keep western riding alive. They operated a “one-day dude ranch” on weekends, hosting visitors who paid 75 cents for an hour’s horseback ride.
By the time that first issue of The Western Horseman appeared, Paul had quit his job as a traveling salesman for heavy equipment to devote full time to the ranch and to publishing the magazine. Worth recalled that “finances were nil. But with the idea and a stubborn determination, scraping here and pinching there, we finally managed $200 to edit and print our first issue.”
That first issue of the magazine sold for 30 cents per copy, with subscriptions listed at $1 per year. Included was news on horse shows and rodeos, technical advice, and the first in a series of well-researched articles written by Paul and titled “The Romance of the American Stock Horse.”
Bob Denhardt was an early contributor to the magazine, and served years later as its editor, after he had been instrumental in the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association. He was a student at the University of California at Berkeley when The Western Horseman was launched, and came to the Albert’s’ ranch looking for a place to ride.
In the January 1937 issue, author F.D. Haines wrote about the remnants of a breed of horse called the Palouse, a name which some had corrupted into Appaloosa, he explained. There weren’t many Appaloosas left, he wrote, and urged those who had them to “register and establish the type before it is too late.” The Appaloosa Horse Club was organized in 1938.
Paul wrote an editorial in that same 1937 issue urging preservation of the Western horse. Remember, this was prior to the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association (in 1940), and even the name Quarter Horse was not affixed to a particular type of horse.
“A West without cow horses would be a disappointment to everyone,” he wrote. “It would pay us to well consider this thought. Some (people) stand calmly by, never lifting a hand to save our gallant friend and greatest attraction, the Western horse. The pages of The Western Horseman are dedicated to this work. It is a good work and an unselfish one.”
In the fifth anniversary issue, Paul noted that with the aid of publicity from The Western Horseman, four new horse organizations had formed: the Palomino Horse Association, the Appaloosa Horse Club, the Albino Horse Club and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Paul was only 40 when he died of cancer, and his magazine was only seven, but he lived long enough to see his efforts on behalf of the Western horse begin to pay off. W.K. Albert replaced P.T. Albert on the masthead of the January-February 1943 issue, and Worth remained editor for the next four issues of the magazine.
The Western Horseman was sold to John Ben Snow in the summer of 1943, and moved to the Speidel headquarters in Reno, Nevada. This came about because John Ben was an avid horseman throughout his life, and a top executive at Speidel, a chain of newspapers spanning the country. The Speidel staff put the magazine out until John Ben decided to move it to Colorado Springs in 1948. He lived in town, had a horse and cattle ranch north of the Springs, and felt he could best take the magazine under his wing and help it grow if it was close by. He arranged for construction of the magazine’s office on the north side of town in 1949. The two-story structure is patterned after the well-known Palace of the Governors in the old town square in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is a familiar Colorado Springs edifice in its own right.
The magazine has continued to grow and evolve through the years. The Western Horseman became simply Western Horseman in later years. Logo type, layout and design also have changed whenever the staff felt there was a reason for it, and circulation has expanded to nearly 200,000 subscribers and newsstand buyers. What hasn’t changed through the years, however, is the magazine’s philosophy. Through 12 editors and four changes in ownership, Western Horseman has remained dedicated to horses and the people who use them, primarily in the West.
After John Ben Snow’s death in 1973 at age 89, the magazine became employee-owned, and stayed that way until 2001, when the Western Horseman board of directors and employees voted unanimously to sell to Morris Communications.
Morris owns several newspapers throughout the country, as did Speidel (which later was acquired by Gannett). But Morris also has a variety of magazines, including a handful of horse publications. The Western Horseman staff felt that Morris Communications, headed by W.S. “Billy” Morris III, a dedicated horseman himself, was an ideal company to carry on the philosophy and tradition of Western Horseman in the 21st century.
Western Horseman has been the leader in its category through the years partly because the people who have worked for the magazine also have been involved in the horse industry, with interests ranging from horse shows and rodeo, ranching, trail riding, polo and cutting. No other horse publication carries such a wide variety of topics, which include equine health care, training, breeding, competition, packing and trail riding, ranching, horse and human personality features and historical articles.
Western Horseman has stayed true to its roots, and readers of the publication in 1936 – those who are still with us, typically feel “at home” with the magazine today. Contemporary readers who run across those early issues find them fascinating.