Since the birth of the Internet, people have wanted to share content with friends, colleagues, and strangers alike. Social media is not a new phenomena, and iconic Facebook is a major platform that has not only survived the twelve years since creation, but also evolved into more than just a blank wall. It is a full-fledged, multidimensional community. This, Alexis Rappaport, 18, figured out quickly with her Facebook group brainchild, Junior Rider News.
From Short Stirrup to Wellington
Rappaport, of Berwyn, PA, fondly remembered how it all began. “I’m from the suburbs, so riding is a very prominent sport. We lived right near Devon, which is a famous horse show, and my parents would take me to watch it every year.” Despite not being particularly horsey themselves, Rappaport’s parents started giving her riding lessons at a local hunter barn at the age of five years old. “I’ve always loved animals, and I became super involved with the horses. I stayed longer and always wanted to go back,” said Rappaport. “We eventually started moving to more and more serious barns and it progressed into a lifestyle.”
By eight years old, Rappaport was juggling jumpers and eventing, and by thirteen, making a name for herself by winning the champion title at the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton, N.Y., as well as at the competitive Marshall and Sterling Child/Adult Jumper in Colts Neck, N.J. In 2012, Rappaport had to choose between disciplines. She was at too high a level in both sports to continue both simultaneously. “I loved junior jumpers,” said Rappaport. “And I just don’t think I’m brave enough to keep going cross-country!”
Within the next year, Rappaport and her new KWPN Dutch Warmblood, Valkenier, made everyone sit up and take notice. The personable gelding gave Rappaport the confidence to eventually move up into the 1.3-meter classes with a string of successes. “I didn’t think jumping the big fences would be my thing,” said Rappaport. “He [Valkenier] has the biggest personality, he’s so human, and such a great horse. We’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success.”
A Booming Online Niche
After showing around the country and meeting so many people, Rappaport realized she and her new friends did not have a central place to get together and talk horses. “I had a great idea to start something, Junior Rider News, as a way to connect all of my friends in the riding world and talk about what was going on. I had no real aspirations, and I never thought that it would grow to where it is today.” Rappaport and her father decided to create a safe, constructive, online space for riders to talk about the industry.
A Facebook discussion group, Junior Rider News allows members to join via moderator-acceptance only, and has grown from a handful of friends gabbing about the most recent horse show into a large virtual community with members of all ages and experience levels talking about everything within their favorite subject: horses.
“We don’t make any money from it; it’s not a business. We started it to help everyone meet each other, talk about riding, and share the passion. It started to spread by word of mouth; we’ve never advertised for it or put up signs. More and more people started joining, and it became an online outlet for everybody. It’s not just a personal group for me anymore, it’s for everyone,” said Rappaport. “People will say ‘JRN’ on Twitter or in person and others know what you’re talking about...either from participation themselves or simply understanding the reference.”
The numbers fluctuate slightly day-by-day, but average around 23,000 very active supporters within the main group and several thousand in each of the spinoff branches, such as Junior Rider News Critiques, Junior Rider News Photography, Junior Rider News Sales, Junior Rider News Uncensored (for older equestrians), as well as the Junior Rider News Instagram and Tumblr social media accounts. Described as “created by junior riders, for junior riders,” participants post questions, look for riding critiques, and share about their personal equestrian experiences. There are an average of 12,000 posts a day and 700,000 likes per month within the group.
As a group for juniors, there are strict rules permanently posted at the top of the feed. Members are not to engage in profanity, bullying, fundraising, or discussion about other topics besides horses. Rappaport and her father moderate the board to keep it clean, appropriate, and friendly for all. “Anyone who is mean we will kick right off,” Rappaport affirmed. “People can be very mean over the Internet, and that’s where my dad would step in—to handle those conflicts that are not conducive to this environment.”
“A great thing though is the diversity— all the posts are so different,” explained Rappaport. “There might be a person who just went to their very first show, and then a more experienced rider will comment and congratulate that person, give some tips, and really build them up. Some might have parents that aren’t supportive, and some might have a horse that just recently passed away. It’s a sympathetic environment where people can share their lives. It’s not just one discipline, skill level, or location; it really does encompass everyone. People were looking for something, and this filled the niche. I never thought it would be like this.”
Eyes Up & Looking Forward
Between wins at Wellington, Harrisburg, and the Nation’s Cup, along with the popularity of Junior Rider News, Rappaport and her father, Craig, began to see sponsorship offers rolling in. “We have relationships with great companies, and I’m so grateful to be in such a reciprocal position. They have helped me so much, and I have the time to be able to do things for them, too. I’m not looking to get free stuff,” said Rappaport. Sponsors such as Dover, Kerrits, and Point Two Air Vests recognized the opportunity a large platform such as Junior Rider News provides, and Rappaport is passionate about continuing the growth of the equestrian world. “They will sponsor jumps and shows, and in return, I’ll wear their products, post on Instagram or within Junior Rider News, and put up signs while I’m showing. I’m not an Olympic rider, and I’m very thankful for this chance to help these companies.”
Now, at 18, Rappaport has just started her collegiate career at the University of Miami while balancing her show career in Wellington with Valkenier. “I just started this past fall, so I’m still a confused freshman and not sure what I want to do. I know I want to do something with entertainment, whether reporting or event planning, while still keeping riding as a passion.”
The Broadcasting and Entrepreneurship major makes her studies her first priority, with the horses a close second. “It’s definitely busy, and usually I only get about three hours of sleep, but it is so worth it,” declared Rappaport. “I ride every day between classes and show on the weekends. My goal for the next four years is to graduate and get my degree, but I also want to be competitive at the highest level I can. I want to be able to do this because I’m having fun, not as a career. I’ve seen too many people who lose the ability to ride for themselves. It’s a hard sport and a lot of things can change, so I’m just taking it one step at a time.”
What does this mean for Junior Rider News? While Rappaport is not planning on making the group her life’s work, the online group sure doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. “It’s thriving,” said Rappaport. “I’m so lucky to be part of such a great community.”