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Editor for equine publication uses agriculture, journalism education

By Kelly Schnoor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Contributing Editor Sue Copeland also has her own magazine column called "This Horse Life."

Contributing editor Sue Copeland also has her own magazine column called “This Horse Life.” (Photo courtesy of equisearch.com)

Contributing editor Sue Copeland of Horse&Rider magazine is not new to journalism and editing. She has experience in both writing and editing and has held multiple positions at Horse&Rider magazine.

Before staring her career, she studied agriculture and journalism at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where she learned valuable knowledge in both fields. She majored in agricultural journalism and also received a minor in animal science. While in college, she edited for the university newspaper, The Battalion.

Copeland credits her science background in college as helpful to her career.

“Ag journalism, or at least the program at Texas A&M, can provide a great science background that broadens your career options,” she said in an email.  “For instance, I’ve been offered freelance gigs as a technical writer for pharmaceutical companies. I’ve also worked with veterinarians on horse and dog care books. My science background was invaluable…My science background enabled me to write and edit detailed horse care articles for the magazine and to edit and write several books on that topic.

“Certainly my animal science background with a specialty in equine sciences helped get my resume noticed when I applied for the job at Horse&Rider.”

Since her college days, Copeland has done a variety of work. Her first job after graduating was as a freelance writer and editor for magazines. She then worked five years as an advertising director at a sporting goods company. Working with advertising and catalogs, she gained experience in linking photography with copy. From there, Copeland went on to become editor at Horse&Rider magazine. She retired as editor in 2000. But She still works for the magazine as a contributing editor, which is a different kind of editing.

Besides editing individual stories within the magazine, she also writes a monthly column called “This Horse Life.” In the column, she discusses issues prominent in the equine industry, discusses the happenings of her horse life and responds to questions and comments from readers. She also writes at least two pieces a month and directs photo shoots. Copeland said the main differences between editor and contributing editor relate to the responsibilities editors have beyond actual editing. As a contributing editor, Copeland does not have to work with budgets, content, planning and other typical responsibilities of editors. She also is allowed more flexibility.

“As editor, you’re responsible for establishing the magazine’s voice, or slant. And, you’re responsible for making sure every article in the magazine shares that voice or at least complements it. That can take a light edit, or it can require a rewrite. The slant is key,” Copeland said.  As both an editor and contributing editor, Copeland has been fortunate to travel for work. She has also interacted with trainers, horses, and competitions within the industry.

Copeland also is a freelance co-writer and editor of various books including “Hands-on Horse Care: The Complete Book of Equine First-Aid,” “Smart Start: Building a Strong Foundation for Your Horse,” “Be a Smart Horse Buyer: A Guide to Avoiding Common Mistakes and Finding the Right Horse for You” and others. She has worked and collaborated with many prominent trainers in the equine industry.

Copeland shed some light on writing for a how-to publication like Horse&Rider magazine.  She said, “The basic rule of how-to writing is ‘What, Why and How’ in that order. First say what you’ll be writing about, then why it is important to the reader and finally, how you do it. As an editor, you make sure the writer did exactly that. I rewrote a lot of articles because that concept is hard for some writers, especially those lacking how-to writing experience.”

To students aspiring to find an editing career, Copeland said, “Know your reader. What does he or she want? How will you hook him or her? You can’t edit well or plan or assign issues without that knowledge. You have to be intuitive. And you need the foresight to know not only what your reader wants today, but also what he or she will want tomorrow.”

Copeland’s career choices have made her well known in the equine industry. From editing for Horse&Rider magazine to working with prominent horse trainers to collaborating in the writing of many equine books, she has established some fame in the horse world. She has used this to help people in need by creating a charity called Ribbon Recycling. Ribbons from horse and dog shows can be donated to her charity. They are then redistributed through therapeutic riding programs to program participants. Often, the programs cannot afford ribbons, so they really appreciate the donations. Editing has allowed Copeland to expand her good will to many others in the horse world that are in need.

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