CEO and Chairman of Horse & Country TV (H&C), Heather Killen observed a discrepancy in the media market around horses and equestrian sports. After relocating from California to England in 2003, Killen discovered her passion for horses later in life. She found that while there were a number of old-fashioned horse websites, the former Yahoo! executive sought to lend her skills to a whole new dimension of equestrian media. So, when she was approached to become involved with Horse & Country, a British digital-media company, Killen jumped at the chance. “There was really an opportunity around the number of people who were interested in horses, the amount of money and attention that they lavish on their passion, and the amount of money that was actually being made out of the media in this area.” But Killen didn’t just get into the equestrian world through her involvement with media; she jumped right in by becoming a sport horse breeder as well.
Equestrian Living magazine recently spoke with Killen in London:
Tell us about your French breeding operation, Haras d’Austral.
We bought a property in Normandy in 2007. It’s about 150 acres in the middle of the Département called La Manche—the little “thumbs-up” sign that sticks out into the English Channel. The region is an incredibly rich breeding ground for the sport-horse industry. Some of the most storied names in French breeding are from La Manche. With limestone substrate soil and lots of rain, it’s the French equivalent of Kentucky. One-third of all horses born in France are produced in La Manche.
Compared with the multi-generational equestrian dynasties, we are absolute beginners, but we are having fun with it and learning as we go along. We run about 60 to 80 head of horses on the property, comprising our own mares and young stock, our manager’s horses, and mares and young horses belonging to boarding clients. We have our own lab so we can manage clients’ broodmares through the whole cycle from insemination, through gestation and the foaling, down to weaning their foals. We are focused on jumpers for the competitive amateur and professional market.
We breed about six or seven foals a year and, together with our managers’ mares and clients’ horses, we typically have between 12 and 15 foals in a season. The barn has about 50 stalls, including four oversized foaling stalls, a dozen or so outside stalls, a large indoor arena, and two outdoor arenas, as well as a six-horse walker. It’s quite a big ship to steer, but we have fantastic help.
How did you become involved with H&C?
I rescued H&C when it was about to go under at the beginning of the financial crisis. At the time, it was just a single commercial broadcaster on satellite TV in the U.K. on the Sky platform and not doing very well at all. We thought there were some assets there, there was some programming, an audience, and some advertising relationships, so we got involved and started to turn the company around and position it for international expansion. We started to move the business into a pay-TV model, and we got it carried on quite a few cable and IPTV systems and expanded into the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and the U.S.
How have you approached the U.S.?
By the time we got to the U.S., the ground had really started to shift under our feet. The traditional pay-TV model began to come under pressure, and digital distribution was starting to take off. So, the last few years have been about pivoting the business from pay-TV to being a multi-platform subscription service. We’re changing our content to more live and exclusive on-demand content. In the last few months, we made an acquisition in the U.S. of EQ Sports Net, which was the leading live sports-streaming outfit for equestrians in the U.S. They’ve become a part of our team and have brought really interesting assets and relationships with them.
What kinds of content do you offer?
We have four pillars of programming: sport, training and learning, entertainment, and documentary. With sport, we are doing more live events, although it has been hugely disrupted for this year. Our plan at the beginning of the year was over 200 days of live sport, including some very high-quality and very popular events in the U.S. such as the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, the NCEA Championship Final, the Del Mar Horse Show, the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, and the USHJA Hunter Jumper Derby Finals. In Europe, we have live coverage of lots of events across various disciplines, from grass-roots up to prestige international events like the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping and the Saut Hermès.
One of the things that we are offering to show organizers is the ability to create their own channel on our platform, so they get their own branded space with only their content. They can create a seamless connection from their own website and have placement for their sponsors without having the hassle of creating their own service. If they decide to charge for that, then they can use our ecommerce engine. We also have a free streaming channel that is a high-quality 24/7 channel, all horses, all the time, and it’s completely free. You can stream it on the internet, on your mobile device, through apps, on your Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, or Apple TV or Android TV.
In the Training and Learning area, we work with top riders and trainers and have produced a lot of clinics and masterclasses with leading riders, such as Laura Kraut, Isabell Werth, and William Fox Pitt, across many countries and disciplines. In making those shows, we’ve also visited riders’ barns and created a show called Barn Talk. Soon, we will be partnering with Equestrian Living magazine in offering these shows.
The Entertainment area has very interesting chat shows in different formats. For one, we have a well-known U.K. personality who goes to a famous rider’s home where the rider cooks up their favorite meal for her. We have also produced reality shows and documentaries about people, horses, travel, and adventure—over 1,400 hours of programming that are available on demand, as well as the channels.
H&C is a very broad offering and quite unique in its combination of live, on demand, and linear channels. Look for our H&C TV/EQLiving videos soon!
Free for a limited time, Equestrian Living readers can enjoy watching two exclusive barn visits filmed and produced by Horse & Country TV starring Georgina Bloomberg and Liz Halliday-Sharp. The videos are available to view until October 26, 2020.