Thursday, May 21, 2015

Birthdays, Boyfriends, and Business

Memorial Day weekend, 2005, I signed the lease on my first barn, and with that, I became a business owner. 

I had been working “in the industry” for years by then – from teaching lessons and riding for a show barn in college, to four years as a working student in 3 different programs (with three different focuses), to stable managing, to freelance teaching, to keeping training horses in a boarding facility. So putting my name on a lease was a logical, albeit scary, step. 

As I look back over my time in the horse industry, I have to liken it to a relationship.  In college, while I was vacillating between a degree in journalism and biochemistry, I took a summer job teaching riding lessons.  A year later, I was offered a position riding horses at an A-circuit Arab barn.  In my mind, college was preparing me for a dignified, parent-approved future, and I was earning a few bucks on horses. Horses became the equivalent of a high-school girl’s “bad boyfriend.”  (I had one of those too, but that’s a whole other story.)

I finished undergrad and decided to take a year to play with horses before I started either a masters or vet school. I took my first working student position in South Carolina.  Essentially, I ran away with to have a “fling” with the “bad boyfriend.” Or so I thought. 

My first dressage boss, Claudia Garner, went out of her way to teach me not only riding, but also business skills. Unfortunately, my time with Claudia was filled with loss – my super-supportive dressage instructor from home developed breast cancer, my favorite client from home died of prostate cancer, and my step-brother passed away suddenly. I had too much loss going on to make grown-up career decisions.  I’m sure I frustrated the heck out of her – she was looking for someone to groom up as assistant trainer, but I was still on a fling and not ready to tie the knot, no matter how pretty the ring. So I had to break up.

When I I took my next position at Garland Farms in GA, I was looking for escape and healing.  The bulk of Garland’s business was vacations, and it was tons of fun. Our clients were at their best, free from the cares of daily life, and able to focus on their passion. It was a great place for me to heal.  Plus, with the regular influx of new students and Gina Krueger’s close supervision, I really learned to teach. It was, to stick with my analogy, the equivalent of dating the “fun guy.”  You know, the one who is quite acceptable to take to family holidays (or, as one of my college friends used to say, "Christmas-able), but probably not ring-worthy.   

I was approaching the 2-year mark at Garland, and my “fling with horses” was beginning to look more and more like a career path.  So if this dressage thing was going to become a “real relationship,” where did I want it to go?  Well, FEI of course. So I sent out a bunch of resumes, went to several interviews, and took a position at Black Swan Farm in PA with Lorinda Lende. This position was different than my first two, as both Lorinda and I knew I was there for a set length of time-one year, and to learn specific skills.  Which would make my time there equivalent  to “Mr. Right Now.”  

After my year, my plan was to return to GA, where I have family, and work on establishing myself professionally.  But during that year, I met Doug, who seemed both Christmas-able AND long-term worthy.  I decided to stick around in PA and see how our relationship would develop. (I know, mixing this real relationship into my metaphorical relationship essay makes for potentially messy prose, but stay with me reader.)

So I picked up some freelance lessons, then a few more, took a stable management position to replace waitressing as my consistent rent-covering income, then took a couple training horses, and a few more students, then worked out a deal with a boarding barn to base a lot of my training clients in one location. My “bad boyfriend fling” was beginning to look more and more like a serious commitment. Meanwhile, Doug and I were also getting more and more serious.

So we decided it was time to tie the knot, with both my real boyfriend and my metaphorical one. Doug and I got married in Oct 2004, then we signed the lease on our first horse facility the following May. The ''bad boyfriend'' had made an honest woman of me.

Just like a marriage, SFD has gone through wonderful times and rough patches, and I've learned  a ton about horse management, people management, business management, and managing my goals, but that is a story for another time. 

Happy 10th Birthday SFD. We’ll toast you at the horse show this weekend.

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