Social media gives everyone the chance to become an equestrian ‘celebrity’. Previously, you’d need to be an Olympian to secure lucrative sponsorship deals, develop your own products ranges, and be asked to attend and host events. But now, through hard work and a lot of determination, not only can influencers secure sponsorship and more, some make good incomes from their following. Some have even turned it into a full-time job.
Many people will have heard of Gracie Tyte aka @pony_nuts on Instagram (pictured top). At 15-years-old, Gracie successfully competes in British Eventing competitions and has built her following on social media by giving a down to earth account of day-to-day life with her ponies. Her main account on Instagram has 107k followers (she also has @ponynuts_extras — 37.7k and @gracietyte — 26.1k on Instagram, and has 31k subscribers on YouTube), but they might not realise the negativity she experiences.
“My experience with social media has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Gracie. “The comments I receive and the DMs [direct messages] are generally lovely and far outweigh any negativity, but I have had some issues which have got quite serious. I appreciate that it’s jealousy, but also I think people forget that I am a real person behind the account and I do take on the negative comments.”
Luckily Gracie has an excellent support network in her parents who she speaks to about any unpleasant comments, and she’s also very aware of how you can escalate the issues with trolls when it comes to social media and report or block them.
Emily Lewis, the mum of and lady behind @kizzy_and_etties_ponies on Instagram (pictured with her family below) has grown an engaged following of over 52k since November 2018, and has 18k following on Facebook on the Kizzy & Ettie’s Pony Adventures page.
“It all started when I posted a few videos of Kizzy giggling away while cantering beside me on some horsey Facebook groups,” says Emily. “The response was amazing, and lots of people asked me if there were pages they could follow, so I made them.”
Matt Harnacke would definitely be labelled as one of the equestrian world’s ‘social media big hitters’ with a following of 553k on Instagram and 179k subscribers on YouTube, and features in the current issue of Horse & Hound magazine (dated 4 April 2019).
“I’ve been using social media for about 10 years now, so my following has been years in the making, but I’ve always made my content interesting and unique, and I believe that has really helped me,” says Matt.
Dressage rider Olivia Towers (pictured below) is someone who is continuing to grow not just a following, but a business, on social media. In addition to her accounts (@towers432 on Instagram with 21.5k following, Olivia Towers Dressage on Facebook with a following of 18.2k, and 18k subscribers on YouTube too), Olivia also rides and coaches professionally, has her own clothing line, and is using her following to spread positivity through the equestrian world and beyond.
“After struggling so much with self-doubt and being lucky enough to find just one person to tell me it can be different, I wanted to be that person for as many people as possible. I know it sounds cheesy but the main benefit is the fulfilment that comes from helping people,” she says.
The opportunities that having a quality engaged following can present can be huge. However, engagement and quality content is key — as Olivia says: “The main thing I focus on is not the number of followers, but the relationship. My community knows I care about them. I am also very honest and truthful with them by showing the highs and lows, which often isn’t the case on social media.”
“We have made some great friends through social media and had some amazing opportunities,” says Emily. “My girls meeting Teddy the Shetland was one example, but behind the scenes these friends have also helped support us. When you have a large social media following you inevitably get some negativity and it’s important to have this support. It’s very sad when someone feels it’s OK to rip apart a five-year-old child who is trying her absolute heart out, as is her mummy, but that’s an unfortunate side effect of an otherwise incredible experience”
The benefits extend beyond this though, with Matt making social media a full-time job. In fact, Matt’s following has allowed him to get to know some of the best riders in the world and more.
“Doing a clinic with Ludger Beerbaum, hosting a clinic for Ingrid Klimke and hosting my own TV series called ‘Saddle Up Sverige’, where I get to meet all sorts of talented horsemen and women has been really incredible,” says Matt.
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Olivia has also been able to use her vlogging skills in other ways and now works as a guest vlogger for the FEI. She’s just been to the FEI World Cup in Gothenburg to make two videos for them.
“I really do get to meet the most amazing people and I constantly feel inspired by them,” says Olivia.
“The size of my following has allowed me to receive gifts, but I’m always very mindful of my followers,” says Gracie. “I need to be authentic and I don’t want to make my feed too commercial. I share the things I love, whether they’re gifted or I’ve bought them… and even if I’m working with a brand on sponsored content, it has to be right.”
There’s no doubt that social media can hold massive opportunities for everyone who puts in the time and effort and shows up over and over again. With the continuing rise of the influencer, strong, engaged social media followings can also be lucrative too, not just in sponsored content and free products, but in terms of developing product lines and forging a career. But be warned, not everyone will ‘get’ it.
“I recently had an issue of a company being really unprofessional when I sent my rates over for sponsored content — they said I shouldn’t be charging,” says Gracie. “The problem is that they wanted full control over the content and it would have taken a lot of time to produce. People don’t see influencers in the equestrian space in the same way as they do in other industries just yet, but times are changing.”
For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday.