Alex Brown, the outspoken British exercise rider who came to the states 26 years ago to ride at Fair Hill, but wound up becoming known for the social media community he fostered, is planning to ride off into the sunset.
Brown, 49, announced this week that he intends to hang up the tack and return home to his native England to pursue a full-time teaching career centered around social media.
And of social media, he became pretty expert in the subject in 2007, after Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down at the Preakness, and the Internet savvy exercise rider began covering the story, blogging like mad.
After Barbaro succumbed to laminitis a year later and was humanely euthanized, Brown wrote coffee table book Greatness & Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy which captured the horse’s rise and fall, and included in depth discussion of horse welfare and slaughter.
In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Brown discusses his future plans and his thoughts on horse welfare.
Q: You’ve been such a fixture in the American Thoroughbred world—you’re leaving?
It’s always been in the back of mind, at some point, to move back to England. Now is a very good time for me because I’m not locked into a full-time career. I’m going home in January for a month for some information interviews and plan to hopefully move to Cornwall by the end of the next year.
Q: Will your decision impact the social media outlets you created, such as the Alex Brown Racing Forum?
I would presume that the discussion forum will continue. My involvement with that at this point is very minimal. I read it and contribute occasionally.
From a leadership standpoint, if you’ve done some stuff, whether it’s in an organizational setting, I think it’s incumbent that whatever stuff you’ve done can persist in your absence.
You need to create a culture or a framework where it continues without you. I hope I’ve done that with the forums.
Q: You’re circumspect about your role creating communities online to discuss or become involved with horse welfare.
In what we’ve been able to do, I’ve been a smaller part than what some people would probably make out my role to be. Any successes have relied heavily on the large community of those in horse welfare, whether they’re the Fans of Barbaro, or others.
There’s a lot of people now doing a lot of cool things.
Q: Who do you think is making a difference today for the horses?
Jen Roytz, for one, and the stories she does for the Paulick report, has been great. And Caroline Betts on the west coast (who founded Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue in 2008), and Steuart Pittman (founder of the Retired Racehorse Training Project)—he comes at it from a whole different angle, it’s fantastic.
I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of great people who work with racehorses in my travels across the country, and I believe there’s an increased consciousness about the issue of horse welfare, and collectively, there’s a lot of good things occurring, despite obstacles.
Q: Now you hope to parlay your experiences here to teach young people in England the tools of social media and community building.
I’ve been teaching digital marketing, and the way that technology intersects with marketing, since 1997 at the University of Delaware, and students seem to like it. They’re into it at first because they all use social media. But as they get deeper into the class, they begin to appreciate it for how it can be utilized from a business standpoint.
And I spend a lot of time discussing building community online and I use the story of Barbaro as a case study to help explain it.
Right now we focus on Social Media, and search engine optimization, and the shift to mobile, and big data. It’s interesting stuff.
Alex Brown leaves a large community of Facebook fans and supporters, of people brought together by Barbaro, who worked doggedly to help racehorses. Off-TrackThoroughbreds.com is among the fans of Alex Brown, and we wish him the very best success on the other side of the Big Pond.