I’ve led an interesting life. In just 30 short years I have experienced some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Recently, I’ve had the chance to speak of these experiences to a number of students from my Equine Reproduction class at Midway University, as well as kids from the Ag Department of the Greene County Career Center.
Most recently I was invited to talk to the Equine Scholars at Georgetown College where I was was asked to explain “my life.” What got me to this location? What made me choose a career in horses? How did this passion for riding and managing horses lead to a doctorate in veterinary sciences? And, more importantly, how did I get to experience these things in such a short time line?
My resume is not normal. My last name does not ring a bell in the inner circles of the thoroughbred breeding and racing industries. I didn’t even experience my first horserace until I was 22, and I didn’t see a mare deliver a foal until I was 23.
But my story is one that’s relatable to a younger generation, and hopefully one that motivates them, because my name and connections got me nowhere. What did was a lot of hard work, good sense and dedication, mixed together with a bit of desperation. I have blogged of many of these experiences—from working as a wrangler at a ranch in Wyoming, to being hired at my first breeding operation thanks to my ability to build a website more than my ability to lead a yearling.
But I made it work and I grew both as a person and as a horsemen. I fell in love with this industry of breeding, selling, racing and retraining thoroughbreds. In less than a decade, they convinced me to go from outsider and wary observer to insider and champion.
So with that I am happy to speak to this next generation on how to get that foot in the door, and more importantly, how to dig deep with that foothold and continue to climb the ladder.
Here are my basic guidelines. My rules for success in the horse industry…
1. Don’t consider yourself above any job. Ever.
I truly believe this mindset allowed me to moved up so quickly, and afforded me so many experiences. Drive the truck and trailer? Sure. Wash foal butts? Yup. Muck out and power wash the isolation barn? Ok. Do it all, and do it with a smile on your face with some country music blasting.
This was the first lesson I learned at Chesapeake Farm when I was hired. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a Storm Cat and an A.P. Indy, and I sure as heck didn’t know how to put on a sweat. I had never heard of Animalintex, nor had I ever handled a hickory twitch. But what could I do? Show up every day on time with a smile and say “yes”. Come an hour early to meet the vet? Of course. Stay late to meet the shipper? Why not! I was a ‘yes woman’, a skill every young person should learn to be.
2. Admit any insecurity, then learn how to change that to a security.
If you don’t feel comfortable handling stallions, that’s fine. I would rather you and the stallion stay safe versus having a bruised staff member, a lacerated stallion and a couple of mares that now need Lutalyse. A good manager can teach much more rapidly than they can undo.
This brings me to my “Jackie” story. I interviewed a young University of Kentucky undergrad one spring as a potential candidate for an internship. She would be working under me as I completed my Master’s research project on the farm. While I needed someone competent around horses, I really needed someone who could help me at a moment’s notice. Jackie Barr showed up and immediately admitted she had zero experience with mares and foals, had never seen a rectal ultrasound performed, and couldn’t tell you the difference between oxytocin and HCG. However, she adamantly proclaimed with a smile that she was always on time and eager to learn. And learn she did. Within weeks, Jackie was fully competent on the mare side of the research, and by the end of the summer she was handling and collecting stallions. Jackie admitted all of her insecurities, but then made her desire to learn apparent. By the end of the summer, we offered her a paid position throughout the school year, one which lasted two years.
Jackie became the right hand woman for every graduate student in our lab, and in exchange, we offered an education second to none. And, at the end of her college education, it was our lab and faculty who wrote glowing references. Today, Jackie works at one of the country’s premier warmblood breeding farms.
3. Be tough. Don’t ever let them see you cry.
So many women have paved the way for you to convince the farms and their staff that we are just as tough as the men. I don’t mean you will never be upset, or that you shouldn’t cry at home, but compose yourself when you’re on the farm. Always.
There were so many days where I felt frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted or had my feelings hurt. There were moments where I had to stand my ground and combat unhappy employees or fellow managers. I lost horses I loved and battled with horses I didn’t. There were numerous situations where things didn’t go to plan and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. But I stuck to the motto that there is no crying in horses…at least not in public.
So walk quietly out to that farm truck, drive to the hay barn and let it loose. But you will wipe those tears away, slap some cold water on your face and get back to the job the minute those tears dry up.
4. Be a team player.
These guys you are working alongside have probably been on that farm for 5-10 years, if not more. And just because they speak with an accent, or don’t speak English at all, doesn’t mean they are in any way beneath you. Your co-workers can be your best friends or your worst enemies. But when you are considered an insider you will receive the most support and the best source of knowledge and information.
I was blessed by one of the best staffs in the business when I started at Chesapeake. At first they were hesitant—who is this little blonde thing that doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish and gets to go inside the office in the afternoons instead of mucking out the rest of the barns? The one who gets to ride with the manager when we go on vet rounds? And yet, they quickly grew more welcoming and less standoffish every time I picked up that pitchfork and mucked alongside them.
And those men I didn’t know or even understand, eventually became like family. They were the first to hand me a warm sandwich on a cold day and offer a hug when I found out my grandmother had passed. They welcomed me to their family celebrations and handed me a beer at the end of a long day. In all honestly, they became the first friends I made in Lexington; friendships I still hold dear.
5. Be professional.
This might be ‘just a farm job’ and you might simply be in charge of mucking 60 stalls a day, but that doesn’t mean you are less important than the CFO of a company. So be on time. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Be cordial. Make connections with everyone around you. And realize that everyone is watching, at all times. You never know who that person is that you just made wait for 20 min to see a yearling. So always be polite. Always.
This goes for all aspects of life, from the farm to the breeding shed, to the sales, and even at the local pub (some of the best connections I made in this industry were by sharing a pint at the local Irish pub). I have been offered jobs by people at the sales that I didn’t even realize were watching me, or comment on something I wrote when I had no idea that they even knew my blog existed.
Someone is watching you. At all times. So hold your chin up, keep your hands soft and be the first one to the rake or the hose.
You are your own business card. And they might not know your name but they will soon recognize your face. So hold that face up. Say yes. Be professional. Be humble and confident.
And most importantly, be in this for the horses. Because they will never know if your last name is one of fame and fortune, nor will they care if you can’t spell “Eskendereya”. But they will forever be impacted by your hands, your mind, and your presence.
Read more from Carleigh at ayankeeinparis.com.