ALL THROUGHOUT COLLEGE, I was groomed to enter the 9-to-5 workforce the moment after I walked across the stage to grab my diploma. My peers and I were taught in a special class how to write the resume, nail the interview, impress the big boss. All the professionals were brought to clue us in to all the big secrets. All the knowledge we needed to succeed and finally enter the grown up world was in the palms of our hands.
Well, I walked across that stage, grabbed my diploma, and faced the world, ready to land that job that would finally make me into an adult. But nothing worked. For months, nothing worked. Nothing I wrote on resumes worked, nothing I said in interviews got me anywhere, and I didn’t impress any big boss. The professionals I’d learned from were wrong. Nothing I was taught did me any good.
I was angry for a long time. While I job searched and worked through my anger, I volunteered at Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary, the horse ranch I’d been volunteering at for five years at that point and the place that was my second home. To make a long story short, I helped a few other incredible people hold the ranch together that summer after I graduated until its owner returned from a much-needed retreat. I cherished every single one of those days, half-dreading the day I finally got something right and joined the official, grown up workforce of button down shirts and heels and air conditioned offices.
But then, as summer faded into fall, I figured out why I hadn’t found a job. All the rejections I’d received over the summer made perfect sense when the indescribably amazing lady that had run the ranch in the owner’s absence contacted me and told me she had to resign since she was having a baby. Although the ranch had two part-time employees – without whom the ranch wouldn’t have run smoothly, if at all, over the summer – there was no one else that could be there full time. Would I do it?
I cried. I felt guilty for all the months I’d been absent from the ranch earlier in the year to go to school while others were there consistently. I didn’t feel worthy of such a position. Not to mention, I’d volunteered there for years. But running the place? That was a whole other story.
I told a volunteer once that horses turn you into someone you never thought you could be. And that is what I am thoroughly convinced each horse at Tierra Madre attempted to do when I told the lady yes.
‘Ranch director’ sounds so prissy and arrogant. It’s too fancy a title, in my opinion. It’s a title that should be shared with every other person that has willingly come to work and volunteer at Tierra Madre. I may run it, but I couldn’t do it without my team. But I do love to tell people I’m a rancher who works at a horse sanctuary. Most of the time, people are very interested and want to know more. And boy, do I have lots to tell them.
Some jobs go beyond description. Mine is certainly not one that I could accurately sum up in neat bullet points on a resume or reasonably describe in an interview to impress any big boss.
All I can do to describe my job is describe exactly what it means to be a rancher.
Working at a ranch means working with animals that are ten times heavier and a thousand times stronger than you.
It means outsmarting them when they want to be stubborn and plant their thousand pounds of force firmly to the ground when you need them to move.
It means knowing what to do when they spook and use that same insane amount of force to launch you in one direction at the speed of light. It means jumping in front of charging thunder when someone is loose and running free as fast as they can.
It means knowing how to approach, halter, and lead a horse that has put five people in the hospital without being seriously injured on a daily basis. It means knowing how to approach, halter, and lead a horse that has been mistreated by humans and still spooks around them.
It means lifting up 50-pound bags of bran, 80-pound bales of hay, and hooves that are attached to horses that are pissed at you for touching their feet.
It means going home each day with a new bruise or scratch or aching muscle. It means getting slammed into fences and nipped and having your feet stomped on.
It means wrestling with Bentley when you’re trying to dig an abscess out of his hoof and dealing with Wild Bill leaning his entire weight onto you as you scrap pebbles out of his frog. It means standing your ground when River and Suze charge at you when you’re standing guard over Solo eating his bran mash in the field.
It means knowing what to do when you’re getting the seven wildest horses out for their playtime in the arena and you’re bringing the last one in while the other six are gathered around at the gate, running back and forth, rearing and snorting and blocking your path while the 1,000 pound horse at the end of your rope dances in circles around you.
It means working outside, rain or shine, in 20 degrees or 120. It means shivering in the rain when you’re trying to put hay in 30 feed buckets and sweating in the sun when it’s beating down on you while you wave lunge whips, push heavy wheelbarrows, and muck poop from stalls.
It means watching your best friends grow old or sick. It means having the strength to fulfill the promise you make to them when they first enter through your gates. It means staying with them as the vet sends them to their next adventure.
It means holding them until the very end.
Being a rancher? Being a ranch director? It means being responsible for every human and every horse on the property and having everything upright, intact, and alive and well by the time your boss gets back at closing time.
It means hearing three different people talk at once – from a volunteer with a fundraising idea and a volunteer with a general question and a volunteer calling from across the ranch about a horse that’s limping – without losing your mind.
It means knowing and accepting you are never going to make everyone happy.
It means overseeing every aspect of the ranch – from getting 30 stalls mucked and water tubs scrubbed and re-filled and getting the necessary horses out in the arena each day and on schedule and getting the right mashes with the right medicines to the right horses and watching for colic or abscesses symptoms every second of every minute of every day and scheduling farrier visits and vet visits and hay deliveries and writing checks and planning fundraisers and brainstorming improvements and answering emails and answering the phone and answering questions and giving lessons and giving tours and telling visitors no, you can’t get free horse rides and no, we’re not a petting zoo and no, you can’t just stop by without supervision and no, you can’t touch that horse or that one and probably not that one.
It means making split-second decisions and making new plans and readjusting the plan and saying to hell with the plan. It means taking the hit when things don’t work out the way they were supposed to.
Sometimes it means driving home in tears feeling like an utter failure.
But being a rancher?
Being a rancher also means watching your horses follow you when you move to leave their stalls.
It means watching them light up and whinny with excitement when the arena is empty and you walk their way with a halter in hand. It means watching them run and buck and rear and roll and kick and gallop and play in the arena like foals every day.
It means seeing the gentleness in their eyes and feeling the warmth of their breath on your face as they nuzzle your forehead.
It means knowing who just whinnied and who likes what place scratched and who eats where and who dunks their hay and who needs medicine and who likes to be left alone and who needs extra discipline and who needs extra love. It means watching them thrive under your undivided attention.
It means loving every single one of your volunteers with all your heart and all your soul. It means loving every single one of your horses with all your heart and all your soul.
It means taking the lead rope from a kill buyer and leading a horse through the gates not 24 hours before she was to be sent to slaughter. It means looking into her soft eyes and realizing if it hadn’t been for you, she wouldn’t be there.
It means getting stripped to your core every single day and being reminded that barriers do not exist in the equine world. It means learning something new in every single moment.
It means going home every day with hay in your hair and mud on your jeans and dirt in your pockets and sweat on your face and fierce joy in your heart.
It means knowing who you are. It means being proud of who you are.
It means knowing that despite how ornery and stubborn your horses are, they are grateful for you and you for them. It means knowing their love for you is unbreakable and unconditional.
It means knowing that if your horses believe in you, then there is absolutely nothing on this Earth that can and ever will get between you and your dreams. It means knowing that no matter what demons from the past still arise unpredictably, if you are strong and brave enough to be a rancher, then you. can. do. anything.
At the end of the day, I didn’t have to write the resume, nail the interview, impress the big boss. My job is not the one I was taught to do.
My job is the one I was born to do.