Thursday 30 December 2010

The Look Back, The Look Ahead. The Past, Present and Re-thinking the Future.

One thing that is both satisfying and disappointing in looking back at the year that has passed is trying to figure out what one should have learned, what one should avoid in the future and how to make the year ahead glorious and better [right?]. 

For me, the 2010 was the year I failed myself in one very crucial way and that caused me to have a year not-to-remember. However, this year also gave me many reasons to not-to-forget it ;)

So, here we go. If you feel like a read, bring some biscuits, bring some coffee and feel free to comment afterwards.


2010 - The General View

"Never face facts; if you do you'll never get up in the morning"
~ Marlo Thomas 

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.
Napoleon Hill

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...



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


Oak Creek Ranch said...

You sure did a good, thorough and very honest assessment of where you are and where you are going. Tough decisions... hang in there!

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful - I think you're finding your way - it'll take time but I think you're going to get there. The horse industry is hard but your ideas are sound and you do plan and adjust as needed.

The best in the New Year to you and yours!

Unknown said...

Annette - thank you, I'm hoping the new ventures for the Academy will bring more stability and less stress this year :)

Kate - thank you for the long-distance belief :) It does mean a lot. I actually made a note to read your blogs (especially start the Financial one!) more often!

All the Best in the New Year for you too :)

trudi said...

I think you have made a very important start...honesty with yourself. It is a hard industry, I know from experience but I was lucky that my OH made the money and I could afford to break even. The big problem is the unforeseen downtime as you mention and it's hard to plan for. Diversification is essential as you say and I wish you well with your academy, sounds like a winner. All the best for 2011.

Nic Barker said...

Its a difficult time of year but I think the re-assessment of the past year and the looking forward are so important - particularly for those of us who are self-employed and whose businesses can take us in unexpected direction(!). I am so pleased that Rockley has given you a few ideas, and I think your idea of a training yard is fantastic. If you'd told me I would be running a place like Rockley 10 years ago I would have been astonished - and yet here we are -anything is possible :-) Roll on 2011 - I think it could be a great one for you and Kingsley!

Unknown said...

Thank you Trudi. I had some financial help from friends in the first year which is why it all seemed doable but when that run out it became very clear it was going to be a hard task to remain above the red line.

All the best in 2011 to you and your beautiful PRE horses :)

Unknown said...

Thank you Nic! There was always something missing in my yard plan and I think it was the underlying idea of it - seeing Rockley Farm and how relaxed and happy the horses are there was totally inspirational. Also the fact that they are not just a bunch of retired old bones but fit and working horses.
Keeping horses "behind the bars" for long hours has always felt slightly disturbing to me throughout my entire involvement in show-jumping at higher level. Horses are generally kept so much more naturally here in the UK than they are in mainland Europe (except manic desire to rug them up the eye balls that I often see here ;) and it appeals to me.

I like the element of surprise in freelance work but would be grateful for a bit more predictability next year ;)

All the very best to you and all at Rockley Farm!

English Rider said...

You have achieved a whole lot through brains and commitment, in a year when no businesses were doing well. You must factor that into your review.
Can you connect with a facility where you might have clients come for an intensive residential programme of a week or more at a time? There are travel agencies that specialize in intermediate riders who want to learn. if you know in advance how many riders will be "Ponying-up" a fee, you can rent time in an indoor arena. There are some boarding schools with equestrian facilities that might be available during school holidays. Accommodation too. Good luck in all your endeavors in 2011.

Unknown said...

English Rider - thank you and that's true but I can't say I did well business wise, I survived but with loses on my balance sheet.
Thank you for the idea, I haven't thought of the week long training and using the facilities like that but I like the idea and will look into it! The partnership with the riding club we are venturing in will bring two very good centres into equation so I will investigate the possibilities.
There are colleges I guess too if that's what you meant re school holidays? I guess they might have their arenas and horses in need of use...Will have a good think :)

English Rider said...

Hi Wiola, I meant the private (called public schools in U.K) where the children of the wealthy can take their horse to school with them.
I think Millstreet was the name of the school attended by the children of one of my Royal employers long ago. It had a great reputation for riding as well as academia.

Rising Rainbow said...

It sounds like you are going to be as glad to see 2010 gone as I am. It's been a hard year all around.

Some of those things that happened you just could not plan for but still had a huge effect on your bottom line.

There's that other thing that I see in the horse industry that you did not mention. That would be that people can get stuck in old ideas and it can be pretty hard to break them loose of such thinking to try something new. Whether that be you and your academy or me as a breeder, we have to find a way to present ourselves in such a way to overcome that prejudice to stick with what you know. Doing that can be a big boon towards success.

Then reevaluationg in itself is so stressful. A necessity, of course, if you want to be sucessful but it can feel like a defeat sometimes. Don't let that feeling cloud your view as you make your decisions.

I try to remind myself that dreaming is the most important part of the process. As long as I can hang onto that I can and will figure out the rest.

I have faith in you! Your dream will become a reality at some time, just as mine will. Maybe not on the time schedule we both would like but we'll get there none the less. The struggle it's taken us to get there will make the accomplishment all that much sweeter.

Happy New Year, Wiola!

Unknown said...

English Rider - hmm, will have to have a think about this one. Not sure if I know of any close to London but who knows.

Mikael - thank you so much! I am sure you will make it yourself sooner than later! Wishing you a much better 2011, an enjoyable one...!!

Judi said...

There are struggles to achieving your dream, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

I settled for security and have been sitting at a desk for nearly 25 years--doing the nearly the same thing the whole time--quite bored. If only I would have had the gumption to try to do something I loved, instead, like you...

Here is a suggestion. You are quite a good writer with a lot to say. Some people will pay you for it. It would be a good thing to work on when things are slow in the winter. It would be hard to make a living writing, but it can be a good supplement to your income--and can bring attention to the Academy.

Unknown said...

Judi - thank you :) If I'm honest I'm not too proud at my writing and always feel like I am making shumbles out of English grammar! It's ok for a personal blog but I am not sure if I have confidence in my English writing skills to the point of asking money for it...
However, I love writing and I used to write a lot in Polish for magazines etc I made a first step by agreeing to be an Question & Answer "expert" for one of the top UK monthly equestrian magazines so we shall see. It might not bring the money but like you say, might be good for the Academy.

I'm tempted by security every single winter. I don't know if I am brave or stupid but I will try until I make it!

By the way, you know what they's never too late...?

Anonymous said...

Hi Wiola,

Keep your head up and your heart strong because you really have achieved a lot to be proud of! You will make your way yet - I believe in you :-)Things always seem the hardest right before success. I forget who said this quote, but "never fear the shadows. It just means there is a light nearby."

That said, I don't know very well how things work in the UK but the instructors I know in the USA make the majority of their money off commissions from brokering horses. For example, if one trainer finds a client a $30,000 horse through the trainer's contacts- they receive a 10% commission on top of the purchase price. The client pays $33,000 and the instructor takes home $3000. Could that be a possibility for you?

Also, one of my goals in 2011 is to apply for University programs to get a Masters degree in Business. Email is a wonderful thing - if you ever want to send me those troublesome business plans or questions, I will do what I can to help and be your academy's business person from the USA. No need to worry about paying me until the Academy has made you rich ;-). You pay me enough in food and lodging when I visit anyway.

Much love and hugs!!!

Unknown said...

Candace! Oh how I wish you got another year in London :) That would be fun! How much is it to fly a horse over? ;)
Thank you so much for your support and yes I would really do with some help - I'm so bad at it I don't even know what to ask if that makes sense? Well, maybe not as bad as that but close ;)
I definitely need a business manager so I can focus on the coaching side of things. Unfortunately I have to be both in the same time which is rather difficult. It's OK now as I work half week and have the other half to sit and think things through but from April to November I am flat out and barely ever home before 10pm. Even if I knew how to my business brain is passed use by date by then.

But let's not complain too much, all is good, we'll make it work. Thank you soo much for this offer and hope you are bracing yourself as questions WILL be coming your way!
I will email properly in reply to your suggestions :)

Loooots of love and looking forwards to your visit! Xxx

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