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Behind the social media account — Esme Higgs aka This_Esme

Although 2020 is a write-off as far as spring competitions are concerned, cast your mind back to last year and to live zones and chat zones at some of the country’s most loved events. What might be surprising, is that in addition to having top riders in these areas for interview, an increasing number of equestrian influencers were also there… and what crowds they drew!

There’s no doubt that ability in the saddle is essential when it comes to whether or not you win from a competition point of view, but for riders looking to win sponsorship, support and opportunities too, they need to be more than a rider. They also need to be an influencer.

In this series, we’re going to catch up with big equestrian influencers who have grown their following from zero to some seriously impressive numbers. Social media is available to everyone and can be utilised by everyone too — and hopefully these features will inspire and motivate you to grow your following, attract sponsors, do more, and also how to deal with the negativity too.

Esme Higgs, better known as This_Esme is an equestrian influencer with (at time of writing!) 427k subscribers on YouTube channel (her most popular video has 4.5 million views), and 183k followers on Instagram. Esme has worked with the FEI, has recently been part of Virtual Eventing, and is a proud ambassador for The Brooke charity. She has also attracted sponsorship from a number of brands and has worked with some great riders on big campaigns.

On top of all of this, Esme started her This_Esme accounts when she was still at school. Now Esme has left school, she runs her YouTube account, works with brands, and creates content for other outlets full-time. Here, she gives us the inside scoop on what it’s like being one of the equestrian industry’s biggest influencers. And the answers might surprise you.

How did you get started?

I started around five years ago when I started uploading small edits of my progress with my then young and green Connemara pony, Casper. I initially just used YouTube as a way of storing the videos of showjumping rounds or clinics and also as a way of sharing easily with friends and family. There was never any plan to turn this into anything more than that, but in 2016 I started uploading more videos. I really enjoyed the creative and editing process, learning new skills and techniques to make the videos look and sound better and to be more interesting. It was a fun distraction from the increasing workload of GCSEs and then A levels, and something I could do together with my equines. Over the summer of 2017, after my GCSEs, I made a few small videos a week, and to my surprise, people started watching them. Slowly over the next few years, the channel grew and I now regularly have more than six miliion views each month in over 170 different countries.

What do you enjoy about what you do?

First and foremost, I love spending time with horses. I also really love the creative and story telling side of making videos and small documentary style pieces, meeting some incredible people along the way and having some amazing experiences. But in truth, it’s all about the horses.

What do you find hard about being an influencer?

It’s hard to be constantly trying to please everyone, constantly making content, and constantly being out there. Social media is a beast that continually needs feeding. It’s important to learn that you need to give yourself a break sometimes, especially when the demand is relentless and can cause many creators to get burnt out. At the same time, you are working at home with no fixed hours, you need to be motivated and passionate about what you do — it’s a fine line to balance.

Do you like the term influencer or do you prefer to be called something different and why?

I personally am not the biggest fan of the term ‘influencer’ — it sounds so sinister and controlling. I often get asked what I do for a job, and in reality I write, present, produce and publish my own TV show, as well as owning and running a video production company — is there a word for that? In terms of influence, I show what I do and why I do it, rather than telling someone what they should do and why they should do it, I think that is very important distinction.

Can you talk about some of the opportunities that being an influencer has created? What have been the most memorable for you?

There are so many opportunities that I am incredibly grateful for and honestly give me those ‘pinch me’ moments, as some I still can’t believe to this day. From riding at the top of the Hickstead Derby Bank to galloping across a lava field in Iceland, visiting top international riders, and sometimes even riding their horses, working with the FEI at international shows and meeting and connecting with viewers across the world, it’s been an incredible experience. Probably the most memorable was visiting and filming at the RDA Nationals last year, visiting World Horse Welfare’s headquarters, as well as seeing some of the incredible work first-hand in Senegal that the Brooke charity do in the developing world.

Which brands have you worked with recently? Do you tend to seek out longer term partnerships, individual promotions or a mixture of the two and why?

I’m incredibly lucky to be a brand ambassador for Voltaire Design, Baileys and Ariat, as well as closely working with Le Mieux and Omega Equine. It’s really important that the channel’s main focus is about producing high quality content that the viewers enjoy, and is not simply a vehicle for advertising products. The content has to be genuine — I’m only happy to endorse products that I use and would purchase myself. That’s why I much prefer longer term partnerships — they bring with them the opportunity to have a much closer working relationship which benefits the brand and the channel.

Do you receive any negativity online? How do you deal with trolls?

My viewers are amazingly supportive, and I owe so much to them for enabling me to have the opportunities I’ve had. Whoever you are, and whatever you do, not everyone is going to like you. You also don’t know what may be going on in someone’s life that drives him or her to make potentially hurtful comments. However it works both ways, don’t believe that you deserve all the positive comments either!

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Top tips for anyone who wants to start a YouTube channel and grow it?

There are only three rules:

Don’t use copyrighted music
Don’t use copyrighted music
Don’t use copyrighted music

In all seriousness, I got to 60,000 subscribers using just my smartphone and free editing software. If you need to spend money on equipment, spend it on audio and not video.

Be original, do something you are passionate about, make sure you enjoy it and don’t try and be someone you are not.

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