December 28th will mark the anniversary of the arrival of our first outside liveries under the name Morning Star Stables. And what a year it’s been! The arrival of Jamaica and Zorro increased our population to sixteen or seventeen horses, which felt overwhelming at the time. Now, we’re home to twenty-eight and every last one of them has some useful task it’s achieving. The only horses that don’t get worked are either too young, too lame, or broodmares.
I remember years ago when we discovered Arwen was pregnant with her second whoopsie that I stood looking at her thinking, “Six horses! How will I ever deal with them all?” These days I’d have fed, groomed, and worked six horses by about noon. It’s incredible how one adapts.
God has blessed His stableyard so abundantly. Every month our horses and riders get better and better. We’ve ridden our first Nationals and come home with a fistful of ribbons. We’ve started eight young horses. We’ve sold seven. Our first foal was born successfully and is beautiful. We ran our first pony camp and it was a massive hit. I even managed to write some exams. And most importantly of all, we brought the Light to the hearts of many children, and love to the lives of many horses.
There have been many trials and struggles and trips to the vet, but God has seen us through it all. He is so here with us. Every day. I slip up, often and hard and disgustingly, but He picks me up every time. And then, cleansed by the Blood, strengthened by His Love, we all stagger back down the narrow path once again. Striving to take as many of them with us as we can.
So here’s some things I’ve learned this year that I wish I’d read as a starting-out stable manager.
1. It’s OK to not be Superman. Just because you have a yard doesn’t mean you magically can ride whatever and never struggle with your own nerves, or your own faults. You’re still human – and that’s totally OK. Own your limitations: it makes you seem more confident rather than less. Don’t try take on a client horse you know scares you. Do what you can, and do it really well. Face your fears in your free time: having to make a living out of being scared drains all the strength you need for other stuff – like kindness, creativity and learning. Your weak points can even become your strong points. I’m petite and terrified of big horses – so God showed me to build a business out of schooling good ponies. I’m a nervous rider – and I’m a good coach of nervous riders because I’ve been there.
As a manager or coach or trainer, you don’t have to be able to do everything. You just have to be able to do some things very well.
2. Delegate. Please do this. Employ the right people, treat them well, serve them with your words and actions and then give them stuff to do that they can do. You do the things that only you can do because there will be many if you’re any good. Don’t overload yourself with work you can delegate – the yard will be better for your focus on managing and not mucking out.
3. That said, always stay in touch with the basics. It’s amazing how much small things can affect horses. Grooms that don’t get along with them, or feed that’s just a little too sloppy – these things matter. Be there for feedings. Have a few horses you groom yourself, especially the challenging ones.
4. Own that paranoia. Your grooms won’t always like it, but your horses will. Details make a difference between good management and brilliant management. Be OCD and make sure the little things are perfect – even if your clients don’t thank you for it, your horses will.
5. Have a little fun. Being perfectionistic and hardworking and conscientious gets dry and tiring really quickly. Instead of losing those qualities, indulge your harmlessly quirky side. Wear bright pink socks. Buy yourself a rainbow coloured grooming kit. Put horse stickers on your phone. Plait ribbons in your ponies’ manes. Go on bareback outrides with your teenagers and giggle with them. Your clients might think you’re a little odd, but you don’t live your life according to what they think of you. Serve them with kindness rather than self-important decorum.
6. Always remember the things you love about this crazy business and do them. I love doing the rounds at sunset when the horses have all been fed and peace descends on the whole yard. I walk slowly from paddock to paddock and feed them all cookies and rub those amazingly soft noses and smell that smell. It reminds me that despite the challenges, I’m blessed right out of my (bright pink) socks to be here.
7. Obeying God’s commandments goes a long way for your business rep, too. Of course, this isn’t why one should do what God says, but it’s an unexpected perk. Honesty, joy, peace, kindness, patience, temperance, sobriety and diligence all tend to attract the right sort of clients.
8. Look after yourself. Burnout isn’t cool – it’s as irresponsible as working when you’re really sick. Nobody will die if you take a few days off when you need them – most of the time. If you’re sick, ask the doctor to book you off if you can. Don’t eat junk. Do eat chocolate. Get your five-a-day and your eight hours. Go for chiro every two months. Your yard needs you functioning as well as possible, not tired, grumpy and sleep deprived. And always have some reserves to draw on for those times when you just can’t take time off or find time for lunch – because those times will come and you will need to put yourself last and miss out on some essentials. Take extra good care of yourself so that you can be there for those that need you during those times of crisis, like outbreaks (or pony camp).
9. Appreciate good support, good employees, and good clients. They’re few and far between, so hang on to them and appreciate them. They’ll tide you through all the struggles with bad employees and bad clients, and your visible contribution to their successes will rebuild your confidence after every hit (and it will take a lot of hits).
10. Always, always, always draw your strength from God. Never neglect to spend time with Him first because He called you to it and you just can’t do it alone. It doesn’t matter what’s going wrong out there, you shut yourself up in your room and get yourself on your knees until you’re ready to go deal with it. You need Him like air. Read your Bible, go on long walks in the woods with Him, and talk to Him always. His plan will prevail – and if you stay in touch with Him, He’ll make you an incredible part of it. He’ll give your little yard an eternal value in the things that matter. Because at the end of the day your stables and arenas and money and reputation and ribbons will all pass away in the blink of an eye. All that really matters is what’s eternal: God and souls. So focus on them.
Glory to the King.