Wellington, Fla. — Feb. 25, 2020 — In today’s society, social media plays a prominent, undeniable role in the lives of young people, and equestrian athletes are no exception. People of all ages continuously strive to find a balance between the good and the bad that can arise from the routine use of social media apps and the effect that it can have on their lives. The younger generation has learned how to navigate the oftentimes tricky and ever-changing social media landscape of today, while also understanding the role it can play in helping further their chosen careers and creating a following. Phelps Sports sat down with some of the nation’s leading young riders, Caitlin Creel, Emmanuelle Greenberg, Sam Walker, Catalina Peralta, Elli Yeager and Dominic Gibbs, to talk to them about their own experiences with social media while managing their riding career.
What role do you think social media has in the equestrian world, especially for young riders?
Catalina Peralta: “I think social media plays a part in young equestrian’s lives because it is a way to share what you are doing and it is a great way to meet people. It can open up a line of communication for people all over the world so you can view higher level competition that maybe you aren’t able to attend. You can follow what those riders do and try to take little things away from what they are doing and implement it into your own life or routine.”
Caitlin Creel: “We are in the generation where everyone posts everything on social media. Right now, it has given so many people some amazing opportunities for some sponsorships. An example that I see is Gia Rindaldi, I am familiar with her because we grew up in the midwest, she had such a strong social media following and she is obviously such an amazing rider and I think that lead to her having some opportunities and now she has a super fun job. I think it is really providing people a platform to promote themselves in a positive way. It is helping them extend their careers.”
Dominic Gibbs: “In my opinion, Instagram and Facebook or anywhere where you post pictures or videos of yourself with captions, I think those have a lot of help with publicity. I think, in most cases, that provides better publicity to you than magazines. I think that is because it is used way more often and social media is a lot more popular than reading magazines and news articles.”
What benefits and drawbacks do you see from being a young rider in the age of social media?
Sam Walker: “I think one of the benefits is that you get a lot more publicity and you learn so much more about other riders. It is a very good tool to use to meet new people. One of the drawbacks is that a young rider might start comparing themselves to others maybe in a negative way.”
Elli Yeager: “Some benefits that I see as a young rider in the social media age is that social media can be very educational. The media platforms allow you to follow great riders and the classes they are competing in at the venues that many riders cannot see live. For example, the media allows me to watch videos of professionals like Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Mclain Ward, and Harrie Smolders competing in classes at Spruce Meadows and across Europe. It is important to watch and learn from the greats of our sport, and social media is one tool for doing so. Some negatives for many young riders is that it is tempting to use social media to show their private lives. It is easy to forget that anything that goes on social media of all forms is no longer private. Also, on social media people are more willing to hide behind their phones and computers and make comments that can hurt others and would not be said face to face.”
Emmanuelle Greenberg: “I think one of the benefits is that you are able to support each other. You have your group chats and stuff which is a great support system. At the same time, that same connection to other riders can be harmful just in the sense that I know many riders who get very fixated on what other people are doing on Instagram. I think it is very important to focus on yourself and I think that Instagram and social media, in regards to the equestrian world, can be a big drawback because it can be a huge distraction from focusing on yourself and improving yourself and your horses.”
What influence do you think social media has had on you and your riding?
Yeager: “I do not let outside opinions or comments change the way I think about myself, my training or my horses. I do think it is important to my career to keep up with social media by posting big wins and sometimes just plain old horse pictures, though. Social media for me is purely a learning and communication tool.”
Gibbs: “I don’t like to let it negatively influence me. I like that it lets me see what other riders are doing and that I can watch everyone else’s rounds. It makes it very easy to see the results of huge competitions all over the world and watch the winning rounds within seconds. I do think that it is very useful for learning and seeing the equestrian world on a little screen that you can fit into your pocket.”
Walker: “I think that social media has a big impact on me with the amount of traction and new people I have gotten to meet. I have met lots of new people through social media and I have had people find out about me through social media – that has been really cool. There have been lots of people that have followed me on Instagram or Facebook and then I have shown up at a horse show and those people come and watch. It has happened to me a few times which is cool. You get more traction and you get your name out there. I think that is a very cool part about it.”
Do you personally struggle with any aspect of social media?
Gibbs: “I think that it really is hard for young people who are growing up with all this technology at their fingertips, I think that it is difficult for them and for me to put it away and focus on something else. It is always there in the back of your head, unconsciously too. I am also guilty of this and many other riders are — when you are riding and you finish and you are walking them out, you pull your phone out of your pocket and you scroll through social media. I think just not being able to put it away and focus on something else for an extended period of time like before when phones and social media weren’t a thing.”
Creel: “I do. Back to the comparison thing, to be honest, there have been times when I had to completely go off of social media; delete everything for a while and go black for a month or a few weeks and kind of remind myself that it isn’t the real world. The real world is the good and the bad and social media doesn’t always portray that. That is always a struggle to keep a check on that. I now have that screen report on my phone that lets you know how much screen time you have had and it tells you exactly what you are using. I have that engaged and I have a little competition with myself every week. When I get that report on Sunday, is it going to be down or is it going to be up? If it is up, then I make sure to make an effort the next week to not be on it so much. If it is down, then I can give myself a pat on the back and try to make it even lower next week. There are a lot of new technologies that help you check and balance yourself when using social media and it is a great thing but can also be a mentally draining thing. It is nice to see companies making an effort to remind people of that and help them back back to the real world a little bit. If we spend too much time on our phones, we are going to miss the beautiful and exciting things that are actually right in front of us.”
They say “comparison is the thief of all joy.” How do you think young riders can combat that?
Greenberg: “That is a huge problem, especially, I feel, in the equitation. One thing I think is a major problem in the equitation world is the lack of diversity. I think that people shouldn’t be afraid to post things with their horses or of their personal life. They aren’t just a stick figure up there riding a horse around, they are an actual human being. I think we need to learn from each other and respect each other and not just compare ourselves to people because we want to be better – there is a much better attitude to have about competition than that. I think the right way of thinking about it is ‘what can I do to make myself better’ as opposed to looking at someone else and saying ‘they look so much better than me, why can’t I be like that?’. Instead, you need to focus on how to improve yourself.”
Walker: “I think that you can’t get caught up in peoples results. You just have to keep focusing on what you are doing and keep enjoying the sport for what it is and the horses. Don’t get too caught up in social media and comparing yourself to others. Be happy for others but don’t compare yourself to their results.”
Peralta: “I think comparing yourself to people can be good to see what you want to emulate or a goal you want to work towards. I do think that at a certain point, especially in terms of social media, you have to implement checks and balances so that you aren’t finding yourself going down a hole and thinking ‘oh, I don’t look like that person’ or ‘oh, I wish I had those boot or that hat.’ We all ride horses because we love them. Our differences are just because we are in different parts of our journey, and it doesn’t mean we are better than someone else.”
If you could give one piece of advice to a young rider struggling with social media, what would it be?
Creel: “Just get off of it. I think when you are on it and are just stuck on it and you are stuck in a down time for you, I think the best thing possible is to delete it for a while. Let your friends know you won’t be posting because I know many people are into their following and want that to grow, but I think people have a respect for people needing a break. Just totally take a step back and find the things that really make you happy. Whether it is trail riding with your horse, reading a book, doing a face mask and watching a movie, whatever it is, and remind yourself of what is really important in life. Only use social media as a bonus during the day but not have it control your every outcome from what will and will not be posted on social media.”
Greenberg: “My personal advice and from previous experience would be to focus on what you are doing in your own life and your own riding. Do what you love to do and don’t let anyone make you feel that you aren’t good enough and don’t let anyone tell you that you act or look a certain way. It is an open community. You need to make sure that you are being true to yourself and that you are doing what is best for you and your horses. That is all that matters.”
Peralta: “Take everything with a grain of salt. If you see someone who is doing a lot better than you, see what you can do to better yourself but don’t get caught up in the little things that you can’t change.”
Yeager: “If I could give one piece of advice is that I would tell them to recognize that social media is just a front of the good moments and that it never tells the whole story. Social media is not a way to measure your success or failures.”
Whether you are part of the equestrian community or not, social media can play an influential role for athletes of all ages, especially those who have grown up in the age of social media. Everyone can acknowledge that there are various reasons as to why someone should or should not use these types of platforms. It is our job as humans to take control of our lives and not let an app like Instagram or Facebook dictate how we perceive ourselves or our capabilities. Life is a massive balancing act and social media is just a pawn in the game. Do take advantage of the opportunities that can arise from promoting yourself or the advantage of having an ever growing support system. Let social media, whichever platform you choose, to be a fun way to connect with others and a way to share your individual journey.
About the Riders:
At the age of 24, Caitlin Creel feels right at home competing in the jumper arena. She currently rides with Quentin Judge at Double H Farms in Wellington, Florida. After competing for the Auburn Equestrian Team during her college years, Creel now focuses on the high jumper classes on her three horses. She has competed in the Global Champions Tour and has had success on both national and international equestrian stages.
Team Canada’s Sam Walker is quickly becoming a star in the jumper arena at only 18 years old. After winning the ASPCA Maclay Finals in 2018 and the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Finals in 2019 with help from the instructors at North Run, Walker has turned his main focus to competing for Team Canada. He sported the red show coat and Canadian flag in the 2020 Nation’s Cup at the Palm Beach Masters and he plans to continue to compete for Canada and in the Under 25 and major Grand Prix classes in the future.
At 18 years old, Elli Yeager has built an impressive career spanning coast to coast. After amazing success on the west coast circuit, Yeager ventured east and has continued to prosper in both the equitation and jumper arenas. In 2018, she won the Ronnie Mutch Equitation Championship at the Devon Horse Show and won the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Finals. She rode to a third place finish in the 2019 Maclay Finals and plans to continue her achievements while competing for Southern Methodist University Equestrian Team in college.
Catalina Peralta has had an amazing riding career as a 17 year old. In 2019 she rode to a top 25 finish in both the Maclay Finals and the USEF Finals under the tutelage of the trainers at Beacon Hill Show Stables. In 2019, she competed on the Youth Team during Nations Cup for the United States and ended up sporting a gold medal. Peralta plans to continue her successes in college riding for the University of Georgia Equestrian Team.
Carriage Hill Farms’ rider Emmanuelle Greenberg has achieved great success for only being 16 years of age. She has achieved top results in the equitation arena, earning third place at Region 3 Maclay Regionals to attend the ASPCA Maclay Finals at the 2019 National Horse Show. Greenberg spends her summers traveling throughout Europe to compete in the Longines Global Champions Tour where she has achieved top placings in previous years.
Beacon Hill Show Stables rider Dominic Gibbs has begun to make a very big name for himself. At only 16 years old, he produced stunning rounds to win the North American Junior Equitation Championship in 2019 as well as a third place finish in the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Finals in 2019. Gibbs has a bright future ahead of him in both the equitation and jumper arenas.