Starting from the Ground-Up
Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
It seems to be a common theme in the equestrian industry (and other animal businesses too for that matter) that volunteering and volunteer programs are pretty common, and expected even. And there is good reason for it. There is only so much time in a weekly lesson, and to get good at something or master something, you really need daily practice. Taking lessons more than once a week is often cost-prohibitive for many families, so what options are there for students to get that extra experience? The answer is volunteering.
Unless you have horses in your back-yard, volunteering is an essential part of the development of confident and capable equestrians. Unlike other sports, you can't really practice in your backyard, or even at your neighbourhood playground or park. For those that have their own horse at home, youth still have a hard time getting lots of quality, safe supervised hours in if mom and dad are busy. Spending those extra hours at the barn are just as important as taking the lessons themselves.
This past week we've been featuring our coaches on social media! A common theme throughout the coach profiles is that most of them started by volunteering and doing barn chores...
These countless hours of unpaid hours volunteering, and paid hours of hard work mucking stalls, is how 95% of equestrian coaches start out. Volunteering allows students repetition to practice skills. It allows them to get to the know the equipment and horses on a more intimate basis. To work at any animal based business, you need to have a passion for knowing the details of every animal. In the horse world, you know exactly which of the 5 red halters belongs to Dolly, for example, and you know every horse by name along with their personality, health conditions, likes and dislikes. This comes with practice, time and passion. Working with others who have the same interests for animals helps to develop this passion.
Understanding how things work is essential for a leader in any business, something my grandpa Bill Jonas taught me as a teenager while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. Although he wasn't a serial entrepreneur or farmer like my role models on the other side of my family, he treated his career and work life as if it was his own business and was very successful because of it. Despite going to school and getting an education to be a manager and decision maker in the forestry industry, he decided that it was necessary for him to start at the bottom, so to speak, with boots on the ground. So after school, instead of applying for office jobs, he got a job logging trees on foot in northern Ontario and Saskatchewan (something that didn't require an education or even a high school diploma at the time). He had countless stories of camping in the northern wilderness. Understanding where the challenging and limiting parts of the industry were, from his first hand experience, allowed him to make important changes, inventions and decisions once he became a manager. This hands-on experience got him respect from his staff all the way down the line from the truckers that he eventually built roads for to the men doing felling and tree planting in the camps in the bush.
The same is true for the equestrian industry. The coaches who get their hands dirty, ride the challenging horses, and deal with the tough situations, have more experience to teach from and inspire their students. Their time and hard work is eventually paid off by their success. I can say the same is true if you want to own your own business someday. The more hands on experience you have with all aspects of your business, the better your chance of success once you decide to take on those financial and legal decisions yourself.
We have a great volunteer program for students at Sagehill which includes our Junior Coach Program. You can read more about the programs here: www.sagehillstables.com/volunteering.html
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