How Did They Do It?: Marina Layton of The Positive EquestrianMay 30, 2022
Welcome to our 'How Did They Do It?' series, where we tell the stories, and dive deep into the journeys, of strong, successful, and inspiring equestrian businesswomen, entrepreneurs, professionals, and movers and shakers in the equestrian industry. Forget the highlight reels – this is real talk, the ups and downs, the lessons learned, and the strategies used. You'll take away inspiration, motivation, templates for success, and critical lessons and rules to live by for business and for life.
Marina Layton of The Positive Equestrian discusses her equestrian entrepreneur journey, establishing boundaries in business, prioritizing a passion for horses, living a softer life while building a successful brand, and knowing your worth in business and in life in this installment of our 'How Did They Do It?' series.
Name: Marina Layton
Age: 20 years old
Location: Toronto, ON (Canada)
Occupation: Graphic Designer & Social Media Manager / Content Creator / Equestrian Model / Horse Mom
On Course Equestrian: For anyone who might not know you, introduce yourself!
Marina Layton: My name is Marina Layton. I am a passionate equestrian, located in Northern Ontario. I have been riding for over 15 years in hunter/jumpers, and working in the equine industry for about 7 years now!
I started my career in the equine fashion industry in 2016 as a Junior Assistant Buyer for an equestrian boutique. I decided to shift gears in 2018 and began working as a graphic design/social media Intern for a wellness company. After graduating high school in 2019, I started The Positive Equestrian as a hobby blog/healing project. It rapidly grew into an online equestrian community. In summer 2020, I started modeling and became an “influencer”! In 2021 things in Ontario finally started to settle with COVID-19. I was able to start leasing a horse again, riding full-time, and continued to work on all my other endeavors part-time. Fast forward to present day, I continue to ride full-time, my modeling & influencer career is thriving, and I am thrilled to make my debut on the A circuit this summer!
OC: How would you describe what you currently do for work?
ML: I presently work remotely as a Graphic Designer & Social Media Manager at a wellness company (which I LOVE)! The Positive Equestrian brand continues to thrive and grow a brand, as does my career in modeling and influencing in the equestrian space. For now, TPE is all a side hustle, but I am very happy with where I am right now!
OC: How did your professional path develop? What led you to where you are today in terms of career?
ML: I have been riding since I was five or six years old in the hunter/jumper discipline. Like most horse-crazy kids, I worked at barns in my early teens, just working student type tasks – barn chores, summer riding camps – but my favorite was working at a therapeutic riding camp!
In 2016, I started my career in the equine fashion industry as a Junior Assistant Buyer for an equestrian boutique. I was responsible for tasks such as merchandising, buying, inventory, and networking; additionally, I would often assist in the marketing & advertising departments. I went into fashion design, and later released my first collection of rider apparel in 2018. In 2019, I decided to pursue an internship at a digital marketing agency. I worked on several projects with equestrian clients, building websites, mobile apps, graphic design projects, social media management, digital advertising, and more.
At the end of 2019, I started The Positive Equestrian amidst some major life transitions. In 2020, once the COVID-19 pandemic hit I was forced to put my horse girl dreams on hold due to the lockdowns. So, I devoted more time and energy to this hobby blog. What started as a hobby blog and healing project quickly grew into a successful business, brand, and community. In the summer of 2020, I officially started modeling and influencing as a business and working with brands in the horse world. The TPE shop opened at the end of summer 2020 with a limited edition collection that supported charitable organizations in the equestrian space. Come July 2021, Ontario finally started to reopen from COVID-19. My primary focus was making my horse girl dreams a reality now that I was actually able to. I started leasing my horse Toby, riding much more full-time, while working on my own side businesses part-time. Although I did not make it to the show ring last summer, I am proud to announce I will be this summer, which is something I’ve been working toward, and am really grateful to be able to both fund myself doing, as well as have the work flexibility to do so.
In the future, I plan to reopen the TPE Shop and release my own line of equestrian apparel again, while also continuing to grow my personal brand and expand that side of things/
OC: How did you build your business in the beginning?
ML: I am very fortunate that I come from generations of entrepreneurs, and my mother and I worked together to start our own businesses at the same time. So, I had a relatively easy start-up experience compared to some. My mother has a ton of expertise and experience – she handled all the technical backend tasks while I handled the frontend things like branding, photography, copywriting, web design, social media, marketing, networking, advertising, etc. Having her on my team was and is a huge asset.
I didn’t have any goals for TPE in the very beginning. Partially because I didn’t know what was even possible at the time, and I didn’t know where I wanted to take it yet. I just wanted to do something creative in the area I am most passionate about. I started building the brand initially by offering modeling and content creation services to equestrian brands. In my first year as an equestrian content creator I shot for 30 brands and I was published in articles by four major equestrian media outlets. TPE also grew immensely and rapidly from my networking and community involvement. I subsequently opened the TPE shop, released three products with my own designs, and created co-branded products in collaboration with Dreamers & Schemers and Gray Bay Horse Co. As an 18-year-old budding entrepreneur, things ramped up really quickly and I got to have a crash course in business ownership. I’m extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish as I learned the ropes!
In 2021, I decided to step back from scaling the business and focus more on horses and riding, which my early success in business gave me the freedom to do. While focusing on creating balance and navigating my future, I managed TPE and my personal brand part-time, and was still able to cement contracts for content creation with several of my absolute dream clients. I was over the moon not only because this felt like a major stepping stone in my career, but also because they came to me during a very difficult time in my personal life, and reaffirmed my faith in what I am capable of.
Now in 2022, I’m able to continue growing all sides of my business while also being able to be more selective about my brand deals and also having the work/life balance and financial freedom that is allowing me to start showing on the ‘A’ circuit. I even landed a phenomenal international client and did my first international content shoot, which was an exciting moment. Lots of career and life wins this year already, and I am sure there will be many more to come.
I honestly used to live in a state of constant stress and anxiety, which I know is extremely common for both entrepreneurs and for horse people in general – it’s very easy to overstack your plate and feel a need to constantly hustle and do more. Now I live a “soft” life.
OC: What are the biggest challenges you faced when building your career, how did you overcome them, and what did you learn from them?
ML: The biggest challenge for me honestly has been and still is getting myself paid and setting boundaries around charging appropriately for my services. I would totally do everything for free if I could because I love what I do, but it’s not sustainable nor is it good for business. I quickly discovered that practically every brand will propose products in exchange for creative content. I do not like this trend and it’s something that puts a lot of creatives in a situation where they are overworked and underpaid – free clothes and exposure to not run a business. After 2020 I stopped accepting collaborations of that nature entirely. I completely understand brands have budgets that they have to adhere to, and influencer marketing is not in everyone’s budget. But – I will not be giving anyone access to me, my skillset, and my content for free. If a brand wants to work with me, it’s because they know I will serve them genuine value. I do not charge astronomical amounts, I keep my pricing affordable and ethical. But, you will need pay what I am worth to work together. I have absolutely no problem turning people away at this stage in my career, even big brands. I’m much more comfortable with upholding my boundaries now and am confident in the value that I bring to the table; if a brand isn’t willing to provide compensation, that’s completely fine, but I will not be able to donate my time, creative energy, and expertise. Standing up for myself and saying “NO” was one of the toughest pills to swallow in the beginning, but it’s a skill I’m immensely grateful to have honed now.
OC: What are your big-picture goals with your career? Where are you headed?
ML: This sounds very cliche, but ever since I was a kid I have always dreamed of being a model. I modeled as a kid a bit and even did a couple of runway shows. I always wanted to see myself up on a billboard, in a large display in a store, or in fashion shows. I would really love to see one of the campaigns on a large display of some sort at a horse show or even something like the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I think the equestrian industry could take a lot from the fashion industry, and I hope that as the horse world evolves, I will be able to bring my two passions closer together.
In terms of business, I am going to continue what I have been doing as it works fabulously for me and my desired lifestyle. In coming years, I will be scaling the business, but very purposefully. I plan to release my own podcast soon, and reopen the TPE shop and expand my offerings and collaborations there. After I graduate post-secondary, I plan on starting a second company with my own full-fledged line of equestrian apparel, and eventually buy a place in Florida so I can base my business in the heart of the winter circuit part-time.
OC: What does an average work day look like for you? Walk us through a day in your life:
ML: During the work week, I wake up at about 9-9:30AM and review all my social media calendars and posts for the day. Then I handle client calls and work meetings usually until 12PM.
At about 1PM/2PM I head out to the barn usually until 4PM. I work on something different every ride, and only jump once a week. Afterwards, I head back home and work until about 6PM before eating dinner with my family. My evenings look different every day, but I always do all my self-care in the evening before bed. It is a good way to relax and separate work life from personal life, which is challenging when you work from home. I settle down for the night at about 9-10PM, and unwind by watching some TV or listening to a podcast.
I spend about 30 minutes twice on all social accounts as well just engaging with everyone. It’s important to me to limit my screen time and be purposeful with how I use social media. I take lots of breaks throughout the day to go for walks, give my dog cuddles, and any errands are run when I go to or from the barn. I reserve Tuesday and Thursday afternoons for meetings/calls and do not take them outside of these windows, and any appointments also go in these time slots, worked into the spaces between or after meetings.
I spend about 30 minutes twice on all social accounts as well just engaging with everyone. It’s important to me to limit my screen time and be purposeful with how I use social media.
I reserve Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, or the weekends for photo and video shoots. I try not to do more than 2-3 shoots a week so I ensure I have enough creative bandwidth. I will shoot casual, in-the-moment social content like Stories and Reels daily. There is a lot of content creation happening at all times.
I honestly used to live in a state of constant stress and anxiety, which I know is extremely common for both entrepreneurs and for horse people in general – it’s very easy to overstack your plate and feel a need to constantly hustle and do more. Now I live a “soft” life. Although I no longer subscribe to hustle culture, my weeks are still always busy and productive, they’re just manageable and have healthy boundaries.
I really try to follow the European philosophy for living — “work to live, don’t live to work”.
OC: Do you have a team? Is it just you? Give us the details and how that works in your business.
ML: I am as of right now a one-woman-show for the most part! I do have my mother’s support and help with backend business tasks a bit. My brother occasionally helps out with content shoots, as does my fabulous barn family. My current go-to photographer is Anneli Tapanila, however, I always love working with new people and often shoot here and there with other creatives.
OC: If it’s just you, how do you manage wearing multiple hats? Is there anything you delegate?
ML: I have a very specific, consistent, productive, and balanced routine. It works like clockwork, so I am a bit particular about other hands in the pot. I also like things done a certain way, and only I know how every single aspect of my business operates. For now, it is just me wearing all the hats. I will definitely expand in the future, but for now, I really love the groove I have going on.
I really try to follow the European philosophy for living — “work to live, don’t live to work”.
OC: What is the why behind your career? What fuels you, specifically, to do what you do?
ML: For me, it comes down to two main drivers: horses, and my faith. Everything I do is because of my passion for horses, and I credit my abilities and skills that allow me to pursue what I love to God. They have both given me every opportunity in my life, but it’s up to me to take these opportunities and make something out of them. I strive to be the best version of myself and to be truly happy. I feel like I am a completely different person from who I was in 2020 thanks to the people, horses, opportunities, and experiences that have shaped me while on this path God has put me on. I am extremely blessed and grateful, however, it hasn’t been only sunshine and rainbows – like anyone, I have gone through darker periods and my fair share of struggles. But knowing that my services, work, and messaging help promote positive changes and a more inclusive and welcoming environment in this sport, and that I have the opportunity to help uplift and empower other equestrians… those aspects along with my faith keep me going through the harder times.
[...] knowing that my services, work, and messaging help promote positive changes and a more inclusive and welcoming environment in this sport, and that I have the opportunity to help uplift and empower other equestrians… those aspects along with my faith keep me going through the harder times.
OC: What does success mean to you? What is your definition of success?
ML: Success means something different to every person. To me, it’s being happy. Waking up and being able to truly feel happy with my life and with my contribution to the world. Of course I will always strive to better myself and build upon what I’ve built – I know I talk a lot about balance, but I am also very driven! Right now I am very happy in every facet of life. I think that is the biggest success a human being could have, so I’m proud of how I’ve designed my life and what I’ve accomplished.
OC: What is the most rewarding thing about your career?
ML: Networking and being involved with the community are the most rewarding parts of this career. I used to very much distrust people, just because of the negative experiences I had as a kid. Now I love connecting with like-minded individuals and bonding over our love for horses – it’s become my favorite part. Every person has so many unique experiences and stories that make up who they are and I am genuinely interested in getting to know my community and hearing their stories.
OC: What is the most challenging thing about your career?
ML: Setting boundaries, but it’s something I have worked hard to master. Figuring out what my non-negotiables & negotiables were as a human and in business was hard, let alone in my career. But once I set clear boundaries in every aspect of my life and built confidence around enforcing them, life got a lot easier. I felt like a weight was lifted. I felt more empowered, respected, and valued. It was challenging to figure out how I to make the necessary changes I needed to make to establish, enforce, and feel comfortable around my boundaries.
Work hard to really understand your worth and value in the beginning stages.
OC: What are the most important skills you’ve learned along your journey?
ML: I have learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way. Here are my top five tidbits of advice for those starting out or scaling in the equestrian industry:
- It is not sustainable to work for free nor is the point of business to break even. I have worked with and negotiated with a lot of brands. Almost every brand will offer you products in exchange for posts. It is a good method for a few months while you are just getting started, growing your audience, building up your portfolio and proof of concept, and figuring out your worth. However, it is not a sustainable way to work long-term and you have to set a timeline early on for when you will start charging, how much you’ll charge, and what your boundaries are, or it becomes a slippery slope.
- People will take advantage of you if you do not set and enforce clear boundaries. It is so important to set boundaries to protect yourself. Figure out what your non-negotiables & negotiables are as a person and in your business. If a brand or a person is stepping over the line or not respecting the boundaries you’ve established, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself professionally and respectfully, but firmly. If they do not respect you, say goodbye. With peace and love, they are not the right fit for you.
- Work hard to really understand your worth and value in the beginning stages. I was a little late to that party (as a human and entrepreneur). I am not a money person, if you know me, you know I’m not motivated by money. However, you need to charge for what your services are worth. You are valuable. If a brand wants to work with you, it’s because they know you will serve them value. Don’t let them drink the milk without buying the cow! You have earned it, and you deserve it.
- Networking and community involvement is your best friend. I’m going to put this very bluntly — if you want to stay relevant and valuable, you need to get out there and network and be involved with the community.
- Be unique, be yourself, and find your USP (Unique Selling Point). The easy thing to do is follow trends. We all do it, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, they way people really “make it” is by leaning into their USP. Be true to yourself, be unique, start your own trends. Do what speaks to you. There is a lid for every pot. Don’t let social media pigeon hole you, or dull your shine!
Keep up with Marina...
Photos by Anneli Tapanila Photography and Shelly Williams Photography.