Sausage-Making — Starting a Business that “Can Never Work”

I’m sitting at my kitchen table.  The house is positioned on a little knoll such that the majority of property (and horses) can be seen from the dining room window or deck just outside.  I can see 11 horses in the field in front of me — feeding from the giant hay bunkers, milling around, dozing with a hind-foot cocked.  It’s my favorite view in the world.  

The horses enjoy a little nap in the dirt.

The horses enjoy a little nap in the dirt.

When I was 17 and just graduated high school I cashed in what little I’d saved up, sold my beat-up truck, and went on a modern-day ‘walkabout’ — to Oregon, Wyoming, and ultimately New Zealand.  I experienced resistance, mostly from my family who wanted me to stay.  My worry-stricken grandmother called to talk me out of doing it, scoffing, “You’re just a dreamer!”  I thought, “That’s the POINT!”  

It seems like there was a movement that became trendy in the 90s – ditch everything and follow your dreams.  The temptation is strong, and the justification is easy enough — if you can just live on ramen noodles for a few years until your business takes off, things will be fine.  

I’m asked frequently “what made you think of this” or “what made you decide to do it?”  I’ll admit that starting the trail-ride business was an idea born of equal parts frustration and dreaming.  Frustration with my job, frustration with the constant ticking of the clock, frustration with the gap between “the dreamer I was” and “the static person I am.”  The dream was to replace all those frustrations with the things I dreamed of – riding horses, writing, and being my own boss. I could have stepped instantly from my existing job into my new life as writer, horsewoman, business owner if I’d only cashed in my retirement and taken the huge gamble.  I’d done it before and looked back without regret.  

Temptation ran high.  Especially when everywhere around you people encourage the “slash and burn” approach to life change, and when you are often described as “adventurous”.  

Who knew?

Who knew?

In 2010 my mother died after 2 years with ALS.  As we cleaned her house we found a box labelled “travel”.  It was empty.  I knew that mom dreamt of travelling to Ireland, Italy, Sweden.  She never left the U.S.  Since her death I’ve had this niggling anxiety that I too might die with an empty box labelled “dreams”.  I still have this anxiety — to stop waiting for the perfect time, perfect idea, perfect launch point and get busy living.  

Still, I knew very few “wildly successful” small businesses, and even fewer “wildly successful” horse businesses.  Honestly I was probably the biggest nay-sayer whenever I’d take a friend riding out here and they’d say, “You should start a business doing this!  You could charge for it!”

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a series of blog posts with you about how the trail-riding business came to be for me, some lessons I’ve learned along the way, and how the business has grown and changed.  I think it’ll be of interest to you if you a) have ever wanted to start a business, b) think your business idea is doomed for failure, or c) you just are curious about the inner workings of a small business.  I think a lot of what I’ve learned from the first 3 years is applicable to any start-up.

The first blog post will be about why I didn’t choose to cash everything in to launch the business.  It’ll be about the power of networking, support, and a steady paycheck that comes from keeping your job.  It’ll also be about the reality of cashing everything in.  

Thanks and Happy Trails!


good Bye!

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