Why I Didn't Work at McDonald's (and maybe why I should have)

When I was 15 my instructor took me aside one day at the barn and asked me to teach a riding lesson to a new 8-year-old student. I was totally caught off-guard and didn’t know what to say except, “Are you sure I can do that?” I had been riding since I could walk. It was completely natural for me. But teaching? At that age, that was a level of intimidating I would have ranked with talking to boys (i.e. completely paralyzing).

I fumbled through that first lesson and a few more after it. After a dozen or so, I realized I actually really enjoyed teaching and (SHOCK) had a natural affinity for it. I ended up leaving the barn I was at and starting my own lesson “program” in my backyard. I had a large round pen and a handful of ponies thanks to my mom’s hobby farm that raised Welsh. My mom rounded me up my first students. One was the adorable 5-year-old daughter of a woman my mom met in her sewing group, and the other my 6-year-old niece. I was incredibly lucky to have my own place to teach and ecstatic to be able to do something I loved. I dubbed my “barn” Valley View Equestrian School and drew myself a logo with Microsoft Paint.

Me at 15 with my first student-my neice Heidi. She’s riding one of my mom’s welsh ponies, Cookie

Me at 15 with my first student-my neice Heidi. She’s riding one of my mom’s welsh ponies, Cookie

My first logo (Paint skill level-Master)

My first logo (Paint skill level-Master)

Then came the struggles.

And the opinions, and “advice”.

“You should get a real job.”

“I heard McDonald’s is hiring, you can make wayyy more working there.”

“But what are you going to do when you grow up?”

 

Once my mom even woke me up at 6 in the morning and told me I needed to go apply to work at the cherry plant down the road. It was something kids my age regularly did and, to be fair, they made decent money.

 

I, meanwhile, was working ponies and teaching a few lessons a week (at $15 per lesson). I started a pony and spent the entire summer getting bucked off, ran away with, stepped on and dragged around (that pony was an absolute gentleman). I was also studying for my Pony Club ratings; learning every bone and muscle in the horse’s body, learning how to recognize and treat illnesses, lamenesses, and diseases. I had to know every type of bit, saddle, or any other piece of tack, learn how they’re used and how they function. I had to longe correctly, bandage legs perfectly, identify toxic plants by sight, and be able to tell the age of a horse just by examining its teeth.

 

While my peers were working at McDonald’s or the cherry plant and learning the “value of hard work”, I was getting up early in the morning to feed, water, and tend to 15+ ponies. I would work in the heat of the day to train horses, muck stalls, teach lessons, and repeat the same morning barn chores in the evening. I’d finish it all off by studying for hours at night for my ratings.

With my leased thoroughbred, Scout, making final preparations before the rating. P.S. I have NO IDEA what is happening with his mane!

With my leased thoroughbred, Scout, making final preparations before the rating. P.S. I have NO IDEA what is happening with his mane!

I eventually passed my ratings and, after years of teaching and training, built up a clientele. I wish it was as easy as typing that sentence!

My years of hard work were finally paying off. I had pushed through opposition from both the people who didn’t care about me, AND the people who actually did. To be honest, I can see how from their point of view they were trying to help me. Trying to spare me from the never-ending work, frustrations and disappointment. Maybe I should have taken that job at McDonald’s. I do love those fries…

But if I would have, I wouldn’t be able to look back from where I’m standing now. From here I can look down from the top of the mountain and see the trails I blazed and the undergrowth I cut through to get here. I can see the many, many times I wanted to give up and head back to the wide, clear path where there weren’t so many damned vines and bushes.

I haven’t reached the summit of my life yet… not by any means. But the view from the peak is good. I see my students succeeding, my instructor protégé’s getting better at teaching, and my barn becoming the safe, happy place I fought so hard to make it.

 

I am enjoying the view.

Kate HealeyComment