For millions of social media users, particularly those under the age of 25, TikTok is the place to be seen and heard. For one young Canadian equestrian, it’s also a place to express a passion for horses and music.
Delta, BC-born Thomas Schillebeeckx, 18, whose parents own and operate Eagle Ridge Equestrian Center, has become a TikTok sensation, whose @thomas_schillebeeckx account has over 276K followers, and 9.7 million likes. You can also find him on one of his two Instagram handles, @ts_sporthorses_ for his equestrian competitive life or @thomas_schillebeeckx for more informal posts.
HorseSport.com spoke with Schillebeeckx, currently based out of Florida and Virginia where he’s a working student, to find out what makes him tick (and TikTok).
Horse Sport: What brought you to TikTok?
Thomas Schillebeeckx: It’s actually a funny story. When TikTok first became popular, we all had it to just watch the funny videos, but one day a friend convinced me to make a TikTok with a horse in it. At first I was very against it due to the fact I thought I would get a lot of backlash, but that video ended up going viral with hundreds of thousands of views. After that I just kept posting horse content and it got me to where I am today. Although it might sound funny to some people, TikTok has opened up so many doors for me and given me so many opportunities with huge brands along with meeting lots of cool people.
HS: What is the inspiration behind your videos?
TS: Honestly, I do not have a real inspiration. I just see what is trending and follow the trends and the odd time I will try to create my own. I find most of my music on my FYP (For You page) or just music I have been listening to. There is no real formula to my videos.
HS: What is it about social media that you find so appealing?
TS: At first it was the adrenaline rush of my videos blowing up, but as you rise above that state of mind it more turned into a business mindset for me. I now think of my social media as a business opportunity, which hopefully it will eventually turn into.
HS: What has surprised you about the success of your TikTok videos?
TS: The part that surprised me the most is the fact that people actually cared and were interested about me and my life. From growing up in a small farm town outside of the city in Canada to showing in huge venues such as WEF is mind-boggling to me. All of this hasn’t just been due to my social media following, but it definitely has been a major player in getting my name out there and creating opportunities for me.
HS: Your trailer that is pinned on your account is a montage of various aspects of your life. What makes that the Thomas Trailer?
TS: I remember very well making that video! It was a montage of funny and happy moments in my life which coincidentally all revolved around riding. Rewatching that video has made me come to realize that riding is what truly makes me happy.
HS: Tell us about some of your top horses.
TS: I currently do not own any of my own horses, but some of my favourites I have ridden or owned are Ludwigs Folly, a 17-year-old Westphalian warmblood. He is my heart horse and also my first horse who taught me how to ride. A fun fact about him is that he loved to take pop bottles or cans and drink out of them. King Vendi, a nine-year-old Irish Sport Horse who took me around my first big jumper classes. Maverick, a seven-year-old German Sport Horse. Just an all-around good boy and the comfiest horse I’ve ever sat on, who has a strange obsession with sunsets and sunrises. And Quantum, a 13-year-old Holsteiner; he was my first real equitation horse and was very special to me because he always tried his hardest, no matter what happened you could always trust he would get to the other side of the jump. A fun fact about him is that he competed in World Cups and Olympic qualifiers for team Greece before he was imported to Canada and we turned him into an equitation horse.
HS: What are your future plans? Turn TikTok into a career as many have, or riding?
TS: As of right now my future plans are not set in stone. I do plan on going pro, as this is my last junior year for riding. I do plan to stay in the States for the duration of [the year] as I plan to attend equitation finals this year. After that I will see where I am with riding and see where I can go with it and what opportunities come my way. Later in my future I plan to start a sales horse business along with training. I am usually the type of person to always have a plan, but I have learned in this industry you have to expect the unexpected and go with the flow. Riding is what I love to do, and my father once said, “Love your work and it won’t feel like work” so I plan to follow that.
HS: What advice would you give your fellow riders who want to dip their toes into TikTok?
TS: Honestly, if I had to give someone advice about social media it would be to find something no one does or find something someone does and make it better. There will always be another equestrian wanting to pursue social media, so be different.
HS: Any final thoughts for our readers?
TS: If there is one thing I could leave everyone with, it is this: In this sport we always think we need the latest and most expensive brands and the million-dollar horse, but that is just not true. Everyone has to start somewhere and if you work hard with what you have, someone will notice that and give you those brand name products and that million-dollar horse. Good things come to people who work hard and show kindness. So, keep working hard and showing kindness to everyone and great things will come your way.