International sports federations, like the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), face an ongoing challenge to remain engaging for a youth audience. For Generation Z – those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s – social media has been a constant presence in their daily lives, making them a technologically adept group of content providers and a discerning group of consumers. However, for many sports, such individuals have become difficult to engage, largely due to the differences in their behavioural patterns and media consumption, even in comparison with millennials, the generation that came before them.
Understanding the need and desire of Generation Z to interact fully with brands that value authenticity, dialogue, and uniqueness, the FEI created My Horse World Club in 2019, bringing to life the vision that FEI president Ingmar De Vos presented in his ‘Roadmap for the Future’. In his manifesto prior to his re-election in 2018, De Vos highlighted the crucial role that young people play in the ongoing growth and sustainability of any sport, and the need for equestrian sports to be relevant to such an audience.
“While pony-mad youngsters exist everywhere, we realised that if we wanted to attract more youth to our sport, we needed to create an equestrian brand entirely dedicated to young
people that would respond to their digital expectations,” FEI commercial director Ralph Straus explained.
“My Horse World Club was launched with the intention of bringing young people together around what they love most – the horse – and to celebrate the precious horse-human connection. While this required a departure from the corporate approach to our overall social media strategy, this new brand reflects the dynamic and vibrant nature of this new generation of equestrians.”
The brand was initially launched on YouTube and Instagram, but it was its recent move to TikTok that allowed it to really flourish.
TikTok, the easy-to-use video creation app that provides a host of editing features allowing users to sing, dance and act to the backdrop of pre-recorded audio clips or songs, has grown exponentially over the past year. It has been billed as one of the hottest apps for fostering creativity and socialisation and, in April 2020, the company reported that it had
surpassed two billion downloads on mobile devices after seeing a surge in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Since its launch in June 2020, the My Horse World Club TikTok channel has garnered an impressive follower count of more than 32,000 that continues to grow rapidly, as well as almost 5.5 million video views.
“When we started on the TikTok journey, it was clear to us that our fanbase would only grow if our followers could connect with relatable people and identify with their tone of voice,” Straus said. “For this reason, it was important that the content creators for a youthfocused social media channel were themselves members of Generation Z.”
My Horse World Club: A brand for the youth, by the youth The FEI is using the power of social media – and TikTok especially – to drive interest in equestrian sports from
The “content for the youth, by the youth” motto has meant that the name and visual identity for the brand were created by Generation Z members themselves. Additionally, the FEI works with a network of young creators who are closely involved with the content planning process and are responsible for regularly publishing videos to the channel.
Influencers in their own right, they have a true passion for and a deep understanding of the equestrian world and fit the profile of the demographic the FEI wants to target. They also boast an impressive following on their personal TikTok accounts, as well as other social media platforms like Instagram.
Regular contributor Lauren Ella (@laurenellaequine) has a TikTok following of 466,300, while others like Jamie Prier (@jamieprier) and Esme (@this_esme) have 329,000 and
244,100, respectively. Together the influencers have helped to generate close to 800,000 likes and interactions, over 5,000 comments and 3,000 shares since the launch of My Horse World Club.
Catering to the desire of equestrian followers for more educational content, My Horse World Club provides information on good horsemanship practices, useful tips on horse care, and on equine health and well-being. Each piece of content is approximately 15-30 seconds in length and puts the music, sound, video effects and filters from the app to creative use. The end result is content that is educational, as well as entertaining.
“TikTok provides a space for equestrian sport to reach a completely new audience and connect in a meaningful way with followers who are not passive consumers but active participants,” Straus added.
“Tone of voice is critical and, as an organisation, we have found that working with young influencers has helped us transmit our core values of horsemanship, horse welfare and safety in a way that resonates with this young group.”
Although it is too soon to assess the full impact of TikTok on the FEI’s youth digital engagement strategy, some key lessons have already emerged from the experience.
“While focused and targeted content is important to grow a following, it is the authenticity and quality of the end product that builds follower trust,” Straus explained. “For this reason, we have provided content creators with as much creative freedom as possible so that their individuality and personality comes through. It allows for a more dynamic content creation process.”
By engaging with a young audience through compelling content and interesting storytelling on a platform that is easy to use, the FEI hopes that it can spark a life-long interest in the unique and rewarding aspects of an equestrian lifestyle, as well as the sport for some.
“The move from YouTube, then Instagram and finally to TikTok has shown that digital media offers a great deal of flexibility, and that international federations must be ready
to embrace these new platforms or risk being left behind,” Straus said.
“The My Horse World Club journey has only just started and in this fast-paced world of ours where change is constant, we are still trying to understand the digital landscape and
what it means for Generation Z. But we hope that the brand will become the reference point for young people globally and a place where they can all come together and truly experience the value of the equestrian community.”