As far as the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year I guess quite a few have been accomplished. I certainly have pushed myself by working every waking hour of the day, seven days a week for 8 months. I paid for it with the most horrid laryngitis which, physical pain aside, took my voice away completely for many weeks and made me realise how fragile my way of making the living is. The recovery was long and dreadful and it took a good couple of months to sound vaguely normal. When your job depends on your voice, it's amazing how powerfully depressing it is to lose it. I tried not to blog about it too much at the time because I was pretty sure whatever I wrote would be great for a Morbid Writer Contest! My surprise, or shock even, at the state of mind I found myself in back then made me face the Fact #1: [For me]Teaching riding is not a sustainable source of income. What I love doing most in life is not going to allow me to pay for the living. This was not something easy to come to terms with.
Fact #2: From what I've learned about this industry here, to be able to make ends meet you need to have different income avenues. If, like me, you have no own/rented yard, no own horses to teach on, low fee-per-lesson AND very high commuting expenses, the teaching alone is not going to pay the bills. Seems logical but I've always tend to ignore the 2+2=4 and tried to make my own calculations ;)
In January last year I wrote: The Thing to achieve in that next year is to launch and start developing my little riding academy project. It's something I want to put my heart and skills into and make it work.
This has definitely been done. After days and nights spent on taking the concept from my battered notebook and into the real world I was done too. It has been the most grueling task I've ever undertaken but it's now up and learning to walk. Fact #3: Should I knew how much work it took I would think four times about even starting it. Vision is one thing. Making it work is another. When you do something half heartedly and the outcome isn't vital to you the whole process doesn't have to be stressful. However, when you throw yourself completely into a project its success is your success. And it can burn you out.
Once the website has gone life I felt like someone had stuck a needle into my energy balloon. Many years ago I received a book from my aunt who is a lecturer and studied Polish Literature. The book was about learning to ride, it had a large photo of Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt in it, I was about 10 and was sure that one day I would be a professional rider. My aunt, who had slightly different view on such dreams, wrote a fragment of a poem by Adam Mickiewicz as a dedication for me. It went:
Cyrkla, wagi i miary
Do martwych użyj brył;
Mierz siłę na zamiary,
Nie zamiar podług sił.
I am not going to attempt to translate poetry but what it basically said was: measure your strengths in relation to your plans, not your plans in relation to your strengths. In other words, only aspire to achieve things that you are able to do...
It stuck with me ever since mostly because I've always acted against it. I thought it was such an old-fashioned, boring way to go about reaching your dreams. However, Fact #5: Measuring and knowing your strengths, possibilities and opportunities is simply the best way to go about setting up any business. It saves you a lot of stress.
The Aims I had:
1) Pass Stage 4 Riding & Care for full BHSII (Intermediate Instructor)
2) Get my head around the Stable Manager exam and get theoretically ready for it (and maybe have a go at it should finances allow)
3) Watch & Learn from the best out there (i.e. fit as many shadowing days into my year as humanely possible)"
Re 1: Never managed to save the money needed. Stage 4 exam costs £214.
Re 2: Done fair amount of reading on the subjects and feel like I definitely advanced my knowledge but as above, didn't manage to save any funds towards the exam (£255).
Re 3: Had some great opportunities that I managed to take advantage of and some that I couldn't make time for. Rode some wonderful horses this year and for that opportunity I am very grateful.
2010 - Personal View
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
December 2009: "So that's what I am going to make my 2010 into - a journey I will love being part of." This is were I failed myself. I worked so much it made me ill and burnt me out. I truly believe that it doesn't matter how long something takes to achieve as long as you enjoy the present and the process of bringing your dream to life. I didn't enjoy this year as I would like to. It made me question what I do and why I do it.
Most of all, I started thinking that I can't do it. In my view, if you plan something big, something you know is way beyond where you currently are, you must believe you can. One moment of doubt and you're out. You almost have to be on a verge of a denial and for that you need to surround yourself with people who believe in your goal, no matter how unattainable it might seem.
However, you also need to know your stats. That's where I failed myself too.
Business & Finances View - 2010
No man ever achieved worth-while success who did not, at one time or other, find himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.
Despite me ignoring all things numbers I managed to survive the third year of full-time freelancing. Survive is the word though and nothing more than that. Some months less than that.
The simplest thing about business is that Income should at least cover the Expenses. In more real terms, it should bring Profit. Although I *know* this I also know that in the horse industry some things only come to those who are willing to work for free or, if they are lucky, for very little. Your wage is the skills and the knowledge you gain.
I also have a soft spot for people who really want to learn but can't afford the lessons. This meant that many a time I would go to teach for a fee that just about covered my travel expenses.
As rewarding as it is, that's no way to run a business.
Here's the thing though - as much as I love working on the coaching side of the Academy project, I don't necessarily enjoy organising its business model. Planning financial success of it equals the most dire of duties.
And yet, my be or not to be as a freelance riding instructor depends on just that.
One thing that I find the most difficult in business planning is the highly unpredictable nature of the horse industry.
For example, I lost over 60% of my income this summer/autumn due to an outbreak of Strangles at one of the yards. It closed for a month and re-opened but operated at low intensity as horses take a long time to physically recover after the illness.
It was a stressful and sad few months because despite many educational materials available and protocols on dealing with the disease, Strangles still come with a big stigma attached. I wasn't involved in looking after the ill horses but it still made for a tiring process of thorough disinfection, keeping separate set of clothing and footwear and washing my hands hundred times with alcohol based hand wash. I feel that there isn't enough (if any) decent information out there for freelance grooms and instructors who work on several yards and/or mix with large numbers of horses from different places. I'm a BGA member so contacted them for advice at the time and got given some very useful info as well as the reassurance that I was doing the right thing.
Another thing I feel strongly about is to be honest and open about any contagious diseases at any yard. Yes, you might lose a job or two if someone decides they don't want you to work for them whilst also working at an affected yard. However, I think the more open the horse people become the less situations like this will occur. There are procedures to follow by the vets and there is no reason you can't follow them too to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.
Then there is the weather...
The fact that the industry literally freezes whenever the temperatures drop and snow arrives makes it for one hell of a job to make the business work.
My income is based on 90% of teaching and 10% of schooling/yard work. Although horses always have to be looked after and that part of income is pretty much constant there are two problems with it:
1) It pays close to nothing
2) In many cases you need to live at the actual yard to be able to get to it through the snow!
The last two years have been disastrous in that 80% of my work got cancelled. In 2009 the snow stopped the play in early February, then again some freeze in December, this year January brought the snow then again more snow in November and December. It seems like about 4 months a year the business is severely weather
The challenge now is to figure out the way to stay afloat...the obvious solution would be to work some insane hours in the spring and summer but something tells me it might not be enough to cover for the winter loses.
Any thorough risk assessment for a self-employed horsey person might be long enough for a fat novel...
THE LOOK AHEAD
Although the 2010 brought a lot of difficult moments on many levels it also made for a good shake up. What doesn't help for sure is living in London. I am very aware the City is making me progressively unhappy. However, I like its multicultural, multinational crowd, the fact I don't feel "foreign" here. There is certain joy to the lit up streets and colorful shops. The materialistic aura to it is tiring and empty though, the commute depressing and living here is generating substantial expenses.
If the move was to happen the question is, where to? Perhaps the New Year will be the year when we find the answer.
General Goals for 2011:
1) Continue developing the coaching side of the Academy project.
2) Make friends with numbers, business models etc
3) Find a suitable yard for Kingsley where we can continue his rehabilitation
4) Budget for Stage 4 Exam
5) Re-think my work structure and come up with a system that is more sustainable than the current one
6) Ride more and learn more.
7) Look for a yard base for Academy and myself
My ultimate goal has always been to create a training yard. From a very realistic point of view it is pretty much an impossible task but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it. The experiences with Kingsley and getting to know Rockley Farm inspired me to look in more detail into a possibility of setting up a yard that was both horse and human friendly but one that catered for amateur performance horses and their riders. A sort of yard which comes with good facilities enabling comfortable all-year round, all round training to the riders and stable environment for the horses that can be kept as naturally as possible. A type of yard I would want for Kingsley. Such venture would of course need a very strong financial backing and an even better business plan.
Verging on unreal but life without big dreams would be a boring pit! Facts are good to know but sometimes it is better to just believe you can. This has nothing to do with arrogance. It's just a self-defense mechanism against the world that wants to conform you into identical shapes and sizes.
Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it so it goes on flying anyway.
Mary Kay Ash