Esme Higgs, 18, on her unhorsey start, the pressures of social media and being star-struck by William Fox-Pitt
It still amazes me that so many people watch my videos on YouTube. It was the summer after my GCSEs that I started making videos of my horses and, one day, I made one called “How to tack up a horse”. I had no clue people would watch it. I thought it would just be friends and family – but that video got me a couple of hundred subscribers.
My YouTube channel “This Esme” now has 370,000 subscribers, and I get 12 million views across my social media platforms each month.
As my channel has got more and more views, I have realised the unintentional responsibility I now have; I really have to look at the content I’m posting and I want to give a realistic view of what life with horses is like. When I make my videos I always try to put across that this is just how I do things, I am no instructor. With horses you are always learning.
None of my family rides, but I’m lucky that they now help me out with some filming. I was quite fortunate that I grew up in the countryside and we always had donkeys. I couldn’t ride them, but the local riding school used to go past my house and I managed to get lessons at the age of five. I’ve never looked back.
As a child I used to watch The Saddle Club on TV and, with non-equestrian parents, learning through the Pony Club helped me a lot. Back then I would have loved to watch the sort of videos I’m making. When I posted the “How to tack up a horse” video, I thought there might be someone out there who is taught to ride, but perhaps not about how to care for their pony.
My main audience is viewers aged 18 to 35, but I also have quite a few subscribers in their forties, fifties, sixties and older. There was one lady who stumbled across my videos who hadn’t ridden for a few decades. After watching one of my videos, she was back riding again. I’ve had emails from families who say that every Friday at 4pm – which is when I upload my videos – they all watch it together.
I’ve done quite a lot of work with the FEI where I’ve learnt on the job when it comes to interviewing. I’ve never had training in presenting, and if you go back to my old videos, I pretty much spent a year doing YouTube where I didn’t speak to the camera at all, I was so shy. At school I was always the person who hated having to read out loud.
When I look back at the first video at Olympia that I did with the FEI, which was only a year and a bit ago, I think: “Esme, speak up, you’re being so quiet!” Presenting my channel has taken me far outside my comfort zone.
Earlier this year I spent a day at William Fox-Pitt’s yard for a video; it was definitely a “pinch me” moment. I thought: “I need to look back at the photos to see if that happened.” It was a dream to be able to ride one of his Badminton horses, Little Fire.
There have been so many other incredible experiences; I’ve been to Senegal with Brooke to see the amazing work they do there, worked with World Horse Welfare and I got to ride my Connemara pony Casper on top of the Hickstead Derby bank.
On the final day of my A levels last summer, I took a chemistry exam in the morning and then went to Hickstead to film. I haven’t had a day off since; it’s a full-time job now. When I was younger, I always wanted to work with animals, but YouTube as a job didn’t exist.
I’d love to keep the channel running as long as I can; you don’t see horses that often on TV, but YouTube has enabled a passionate equestrian community to come together.
Ref Horse & Hound; 2 April 2020