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Thursday, 22 August 2019

The Rise of The Equestrian Blogger

October 2012, Team Tunnah Eventing was born…and it looked VERY different to what it does today, physically and in terms of the content published. In fact, here’s our first ever post – how about that for a throwback on a Thursday!

It started as on online diary for me to find motivation as we headed into the winter. I would typically lose motivation to improve our training over the winter months, opting to stay dry and warm, and leaving any training until the spring time. However, in May 2012, I bought Thomas to get me started with Eventing. We had an OK few runs at BE90 in the second half of the 2012 eventing season, but there was PLENTY to work on. Winter time was perfect for this so I started off with a couple of blog posts about the Events we’d done, what we’d scored and what could be improved on over the coming months.

Discovering a supportive equestrian community

I’d been on Twitter since 2009, mostly talking about my other passion and career, digital marketing. I quickly realised, while searching for ways to improve what we needed to, that there was a good community on Twitter, regularly using weekly horse themed hashtags to join conversations together. Initially I joined these as a way to get tips and suggestions, but also it gave me a reason to work on something during the week and report back on. The pressure of being seen to do nothing about something all week was a great motivator for me! I set up my @TeamTunnah profile so I could keep all my equestrian adventures totally separate.

After a few months, I was writing training updates for my blog, again, purely to remind me of what we’d worked on and give me a way to create a training plan for the next period of time. I found this really useful, and it broke down some areas for improvement into what felt like much more manageable and importantly, achievable, chunks of training. During the weekly conversations on Twitter hashtags, I found that the links to these post were a great way to share what we’d been up to, rather than trying to fit into a 120 character limit as it was back then. I started sharing them outside of the hashtag hours too, as I posted them live on my blog.

It was as we were coming out of the winter that I realised that people were clicking on the links to my blog at all times, not only while we were chatting on Twitter. I started getting replies and DMs with comments about people enjoying my content, but best of all I got really supportive messages when I was struggling with something, or feeling a little blue about something specific. It really showed me that the equestrian world that exists in “the real world” was WAY more catty than it was online. The communities I’d been welcomed into were just that – welcoming, accepting and supportive. They were full of people from all over the UK, and some were worldwide, who had all sorts of varying interests in horses, equestrian disciplines, and preferences to equestrian lifestyle, but they all came together and supported, helped and cheered each other on.

The rise of equestrian blogging & sharing stories

Back in 2012 & 2013, there wasn’t a big community of equestrian bloggers, but there were many MANY people looking online for tips and suggestions on how to improve things with their horses, whether that be training, feed, newbies to the equestrian world or welfare/healthcare. Sure, there was a couple that leant on the side of negative – a glass half empty type – and there was the occasional bad egg, but on the whole, I felt it was a great community to be part of!

The world of blogging in general, not only equestrian, seem to boom around the end of 2013-2014, with people’s online behaviours changing. This was true for the equestrian world too & with the rise of social media, more & more people were sharing their equestrian adventures, successes, woes and queries online in a community space. Facebook groups were formed, more Twitter hashtags were born and of course, Instagram exploded with a beautiful world of equestrian photography & film, shared to millions through clever use of hashtags. But where did the blogger come from?

Many people focused their energy from looking at “official” sources for information, to “real life” experiences, enjoying reading about people with similar stories and who had gone through the same experiences. Those who were enjoying sharing their adventures on social media, soon realised the opportunities available when creating your own online portal of content – a blog.

The benefits of owning your own equestrian blog

There are two major benefits for me to have an equestrian blog over only using social media platforms. The first is that I own the content 100%. Let me explain, for all the bloggers than only publish on social media platform, if that platform closes or deletes your profile for whatever reason, all of your content there is gone. Gone forever. Whereas, with a blog of my own, I own the content – I host it, it is mine forever. I can also take back-ups of it, which I do regularly, and store it, so should anything ever go wrong with the hosting, I have it all there. You can’t do this with social media platforms as you are completely governed by their rules, T&Cs and technical allowances.

The second bonus for me is that I can have my content rank on Google, meaning that users searching on topics can discover my related content for themselves – I don’t need to rely on how a social network ranks the content for me. Having your own equestrian blog also means people can easily link to specific topics/posts that you’ve published, and while this is possible on social media, it’s not a frequently used tactic.

As a side, third, benefit, I am also completely in control of how my blog looks, how it displays my content, how I promote various elements (social channels, newsletter sign-ups, contacting me), and what information I wish to show the world about me.

With an increasing number of people wanting to share their equestrian experiences and adventures with the world, coupled with the above extra blog benefits, a new community of equestrian bloggers has risen. People enjoy reading their real life experiences, seeing life from their eyes and generally being more connected with a source that feel more real than an educationally published article in one of the industry magazine sites.

Real and genuine equestrian experience count for everything

But real life experience extends to beyond training tips and suggestions. Product reviews have become a soaring success, and many equestrian brands have opened their eyes to the possibility of working with bloggers to increase awareness from a more realistic view point. Unfortunately, “influencers” seem to be declining as I write in August 2019. I think it’s an industry that’s been over-used, and the big influencers are now questioned as to whether they genuinely use products, services or items, or whether they are featured for a few weeks or months because they’ve been ‘gifted’.

I introduced product reviews to my blog as a tangent to telling my story of having a young horse, and owning my first ever grey horse. Tips and suggestions mostly about getting one clean! They were 100% focused around products I’d purchased at full price from a local equestrian shop, and expressed my true view of them. Since that time, I’ve been offered a whole host of products and services to review, but I’m fairly proud I stick to my gut – if it isn’t something that I would pay for an choose to use then I don’t review it, just to do a review style post. Of course, it’s a great way to try new products or innovations to the market, but my worst situation is to jump from free product to free product so all my readers sit there thinking ‘well, last week you raved about brand X for getting socks clean…’ It’s false & I want my audience to always know what I publish is genuine. & in my opinion, it provides no long term value to the brand providing the product either.

My equestrian blog took a turn into more storytelling in January 2015 when Louie joined the team… I’d never had a freshly backed 3 year old horse to bring on as my own and I wanted a way to remember day 1 ten years later, I wanted a way to look back on a bad day and see all the progress we’d made along the way. It was at this point comments and interactions with my blog really started accelerating – daily traffic volumes increased, I saw more comments on each post, my social media following grew.

People seemed to be enjoying hearing how our journey was going and the real updates within our posts – it wasn’t always rosy and we didn’t only post on the days we won a rosette. I always use my blog as a great way to level my emotion on the difficult days – I express everything that went wrong but for the value to my readers I need to find a way to show how we will correct/improve it. I always remind myself I’m not the only person experiencing my horse bolting across the next dressage arena while someone is completing their test, or came to the same fence three times and ate sand three times in a row in the same spot, or really feeling that I just can’t do it. People love reading this content – they can relate to it. One of my most popular posts EVER is the top5 things I’ve learnt with a young horse...

Creating an award winning equestrian blog

In 2016, I won Equestrian Blogger of the Year, announced by Haynet and Mirror Me PR. It really felt an amazing recognition of the hard work I’d poured into my blog over the first nine months with Louie. It came as a total shock and surprise to even be nominated, so to win was fantastic. This was also a new defining moment for my blog, where traffic again rose to a new level, and I started to look to the wider blogging community to improve my own efforts and bring my learnings back to equestrian blogging community. In March 2017, I set up the first knowledge sharing group on Facebook, specifically for equestrian bloggers. There are a couple more now, but I’m very proud that I was the first to set this out and create a community that wasn’t about driving traffic, but instead was a support network to help each other and share ideas. If you’re an equestrian blogger, but haven’t yet joined us, you can look us up on Facebook, just search ‘Equestrian Bloggers’ and look for this group below…

The future of equestrian bloggers

What’s next for our equestrian blog? Well, nothing fundamental is going to change. I know what my audience like to read and hear about, but if you ever have something you’d like for us to add in, just drop us a message! However, one angle I’m going to give a go is broader topics but including our own experiences as reference points and why I believe them to be important. A little like this post… Hopefully it will be something that everyone enjoys, but always feel free to feedback to me.

Through an ever increasing social environment of people wanting to belong to like-minded communities, sharing real experiences, adventures and journeys is becoming more and more popular. Some choose to stick with “micro blogging” through social networking sites, but others enjoy writing much longer content across and telling a story over time. It is the latter that has risen up through the ranks in volume and created a super strong community of equestrian bloggers across the globe. No matter what you’re topic, interest or query, there will be equestrian blogs out there to help you find your answer.

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