Absence of instructors and established pathways for education and knowledge development has led practitioners of self-organized sports to use the Internet as a source for knowledge. In many cases, practitioners even view YouTube as an alternative to a coach or supervisor. Do practitioners in organized sports also use the Internet and social media as platforms for knowledge exchange? Or is this only seen in sports that are not governed by traditional learning processes and governing bodies educating coaches and trainers? This article uses equestrian sports as a case to investigate these questions and aims to chart and analyze how equestrians use social media, how they communicate horse-related content on social media, and how social media can be seen as a source for knowledge exchange.
It is particularly interesting to explore equestrian sports as the Internet has become a significant resource for horse enthusiasts, and the online horse world can be described as an extension of the physical horse world. Riders continuously discuss and debate horse-related matters on social media. The fact that there is an animal involved makes it especially interesting to analyze equestrian sports. The horse is dependent on human care, and occupies a potentially vulnerable position depending on the human’s level of knowledge and education of how to take good care of it. There is growing concern for the effects of misleading and false information shared online for horse welfare and, ultimately, equestrian sports. The concept of “stable culture” is used to analyze norms of horse-keeping and the welfare of horses. Equestrian sports are included in the traditional sports movement but also differs from many other sports. The equestrian lifestyle far exceeds the sporting activity itself; stable culture includes fostering in the stable and taking care of the horse. To explain equestrians’ use of social network sites (SNS) we divide users into three categories: producers, consumers, and prosumers. The term prosumer explains how users both consume and produce content on SNS and describes how users control the production and distribution on SNS.
We used a mixed methods design for this study, deliberately chosen with the aim of developing a more complete understanding of how and why equestrians use social media to seek information about horses in general, training, and injuries/ diseases. The qualitative data were collected through 28 focus group interviews with riders in Sweden and Norway. A survey was constructed to expand the qualitative findings and explore whether the latter could be generalized to other groups in order to determine the distribution of social media habits among equestrians. A total number of 1628 equestrians responded to the survey.
Our study shows that practitioners of self-organized sports are not unique in using SNS to exchange and attain knowledge about their sport. We argue that there are similarities between equestrian sports and self-organized sports when it comes to utilizing online platforms for learning and exchanging knowledge. The proportion of social media users differs depending on the type of information sought. Generally, a greater proportion of equestrians use SNS for social information seeking in relation to general information and training than when it comes to horses’ injuries and diseases.
The fact that some equestrians use SNS to learn how to take care of their horse is so upsetting within the equestrian community that there is a widespread suspicion that ‘others’ (people in another age group or with other kinds of experiences) are doing so. We argue that the equestrians’ suspicions about “others” and their information-seeking is related to the strong norms and traditions in equestrian sports regulating what the ‘stable cultures’ should include and how the horse should be handled and treated in different situations. Furthermore, we believe such suspicions about the Internet use of “others” is related to the fact that equestrian sports are practiced by people in a very wide range of ages. Although, surprisingly, the quantitative results of this study do not show significant differences between the age groups in terms of which SNS they use, the qualitative results show that equestrians believe such differences to exist. Members of the older age group claim that the younger groups are less able to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources for information on horse care, and also that younger equestrians are mean to each other online. Conversely, the younger age groups make the same claims about the older age groups.
We propose that ‘stable cultures’ and the organized structure of equestrian sports in Sweden and Norway create boundaries stipulating where a ‘good equestrian’ should seek information about horse-keeping. However, the organized structure and traditional nature of equestrian sports do not mean that the equestrians do not turn to SNS. Just like practitioners in self-organized lifestyle sports, equestrians are motivated to use online platforms to gather and exchange knowledge. The same motivation – taking good care of the horse – that drives riders to insecurity and feelings of suspicion towards ‘others’, is what makes them do the same: namely, to use SNS to attain information about horses and riding.