Quit Your Job and Buy Horses - Success in business - Live your dream
Hi. I’m Zachary Leyden. I’m a veteran, a college graduate and the owner of a business that makes my heart sing. I made my personal dream come true. It took a while, it wasn’t easy but I’m writing this to tell you, if I can do it, you can, too.
When I left the military, I felt I’d lost my identity. I’d served in a special operations unit called LRS (Long Range Surveillance) since the age of seventeen. Military life was all I knew. I was depressed. I felt I had no skills. I certainly had no sense of direction.
Fast forward a few years and everything has changed. I have a business I love, I know where I’m going and the depression that held me back is long gone.
The difference is in the dream. Without a dream to follow and the leadership skills to complement it, I’d never have got where I am today.
Let’s be clear. I don’t have a father with a million dollars, or a fancy Ivy League education. I started out with nothing and that’s important. It means you, no matter your circumstances, can do what I did. You can follow your dream.
In this Straight-talking Guide to Business Success I outline the steps I took. What you won’t learn is how to synergise this, leverage that, push the envelope, take a helicopter view or examine anyone’s business paradigm.
What you will learn is what it takes to make a dream come true, simply explained and without jargon. We’ll talk about hard work, determination and, above all, leadership.
What’s your dream?
How to Create Your Dream.
You might be thinking, if it’s so easy to live your dream, how come so few people do it? I truly believe anyone can, but I’ll admit there’s an element of luck in my story. My military background gave me a head start. I’d learned a lot about leadership and the importance of a team. That knowledge helped me avoid a lot of mistakes.
Defining Your Dream
Where military training didn’t help was in finding the dream in the first place.
You might think defining your dream is the easy
part. It’s not true. Dreams can go unnoticed if
you don’t pay attention. Trying to tie down your
dream can seem like trying to tame the wind.
Every time you reach out it twists out of your hand.
The thing is, dreams aren’t like the wind. You don’t need to grab them.
They’re already beside you, you just can’t see them.
Why should you try to define your dream? Because otherwise, you can’t make it come true.
My dream was to work with horses.
You might imagine I’d been brought up with them. Owned a horse from an early age. You’d be wrong.
My first encounter with a horse was aged five when I went on a trail ride with my dad. After that, my grandparents took me on trail rides when they could, but I had no ambition to work with horses. Aged 15 I got horse riding lessons from a girl at school. We rode often, I’d go to the stables with her and we’d ride out to the lake and swim, but still, I had no ambition to work with horses.
Instead, I went into the military.
Dreams don’t fall, fully formed, from the sky. They develop slowly, over time.
When I left the army I went to college. While there I fell for a girl who loved horses and she gave me even more lessons. We even bought a horse together. When we broke up I took up cross country riding. My love for horses was now well established, but I still had no ambitions to work with them. Not until my friend Dan showed me how to train a horse, from the ground up.
I learned to slow down, think before I made a move and make sure to have a precise plan before darting in. I found I was rushing from work to work with horses and that was when the idea struck. How great would it be to work with horses for a living?
I asked Dan for advice and he shook his head. The only way to make a small fortune working with horses (he told me) was to start out with a big fortune.
I felt sure he had to be wrong. That’s when my campaign really started.
The essence of any good military action is to gather intelligence before you act.
I questioned everyone who had a horse business and would listen and asked them how they made it. Most advised me to get a good job and keep horses as a hobby.
I did more research. I traveled to horse businesses. I took lessons, went on hourly trail rides and multi-day pack trips.
I learned I didn’t know enough about horses to start a business giving lessons.
I also learned that the businessmen in the guided trail ride business don’t actually like horses. I needed to change this!
At first it was discouraging. The message was clear. Working with horses is a specialist job and I didn’t qualify.
There again, maybe I did.
I’d spent years in a special operations long-range surveillance unit of the infantry. I had a professional understanding of land navigation, survival and problem-solving. Add that to my love of horses and what you get is a unique knowledge-base directly applicable to pack trips!
At last, I had some plans, a direction, and a mission: I was going to change an industry. By taking the widest possible view of my dream and doing as much research as I could, I’d found the sweet spot. I'd found the point where my skills and my dream overlapped.
Step 1 - Gather Intelligence. I planned to find people in the horse packing business and learn everything I could from them.
Step 2 - Scout the location. I planned to find an area in need of a high-quality horse packing business.
Step 3: Set new standards in the industry. Horses are not just equipment, they are a part of the team and should be treated like the star players!
At this point, I stepped off the precipice, quit my job and worked on my dream full time. No-one in the horse packing industry was hiring. I took on ‘internships’, working unpaid for trail horse business owners. Most were keen to exploit what they saw as cheap labor and I learned a lot. One owner, in particular, took me everywhere. I learned where he bought cheap horses, how he got his hay and how much he paid for it. I learned how he approached marketing. I saw his smaller businesses fail as he diverted attention to a new, bigger stable he’d opened in a nearby town. His neglect for his horses disgusted me, but I learned a lot from it and kept moving forward.
His business had problems.
I planned solutions, but I still had no plan to build a business. My next step was to build a team.
Building The Team
I would not be where I am now without the team that makes my business work. The same is true for you.
Whatever you do, wherever you do it, you need a team behind you. When you’re all committed to the same ideal, it's surprising what even a small team can achieve. So long as it’s the right team.
After months and months of working 16 hour days for no pay, I decided to take a little time to reflect. I invited my friend Kalea, the best horse trainer I’ve ever met, to come on a trail ride with me. From that day on she never left. She is my best friend, life partner and soon to be my business partner.
Kalea Bell is truly amazing. Her enthusiasm for working with horses knows no bounds, but Kalea is more than an enthusiast. Introduced to horses by her grandmother, it was Kalea’s mother who recognized her talent. Over the years Kalea has worked with some of the best horse trainers in the business. She also volunteered at the Santa Ynez Therapeutic Riding Program. There, her own dream took shape: to run a Therapeutic Riding Center of her own.
Although Kalea shares my love of horses, she felt my plan was lacking. She also knew I was eating through my savings. How did I plan to bring in revenue?
Together we built a plan to take action. I loved the plan, I was also in love with Kalea. With her beside me, I knew we would succeed. I went to the man I worked for (for free) and asked if I could take over one of his failing businesses, a kids camp contract. In payment, I would work for him for free for another six months.
He agreed, the plan was set and Kalea never left. I went along on the kids camp pack trips, learned everything and made my own notes on what needed to change. We were on our way, but there were still problems.
As the time to take over the contract came closer Kalea and I looked in more detail at the project numbers. Our conclusion was simple, we needed more manpower.
I called my brother Tyler. I don’t know anyone who’s more reliable. I offered him part of the business if he’d come to help, but Tyler turned me down. He was more than willing to help but he has his own dreams and was only willing to put it on hold to help me for a short period of time. Tyler quit his job and knowing there would be no money for quite some time, he joined the team. With Kalea and I as joint owners and Tyler fully on board, Trail Brothers was born.
A kids camp had never been part of my plan and the man I’d been working for didn’t make it easy for us. It almost seemed like he wanted us to fail. Instead, we had a great time doing something we love. Our clients, the kids, loved it too. So did their parents. The result? A new, bigger contract for the following year. At last we were in business. We were a great team and when I say team, I include the horses.
The Rest of the Team.
Many equine businesses treat their horses like pieces of equipment. We knew from the start we couldn’t work that way. Our horses are a part of the team.
Rosabelle, also known as Rose: Shy, soft and kind to the core, Rose can put any rider in a calm, relaxed state of mind. She's a Kiger Mustang, a breed known for outstanding Rose is ideal for our beautiful forest trails.
Willow: Raised and trained by Kalea, Willow is a very talented horse. she has never let us down
Dakota: Knowledgable and patient, Dakota has something to teach riders of all levels. He is our lesson horse and Kalea’s personal show horse in both Reined Cow Horse and Cutting events. He is a gelding and seventeen years old.
Jr.: The gentle giant of our herd, Jr. is a Draft mix, the perfect steed for any knight in shining armor. Not only strong, confident and independent, Jr. is most of all intelligent. He is the leader of our herd and loves to be in the front of our string. A fantastic horse to ride out on the trails, Jr. will always get you where you want to go.
Pandora: Pandora is a loving, athletic 20-year-old Rocky Mountain horse. She's the mother of one of our other Rocky Mountains, Mocha. Her caring attitude makes her the perfect horse for a beginner. She's invaluable on longer trail rides and pack trips.
Maggie May: Maggie is a full sister to Pandora, as gentle and very sweet. She is twenty-two years old and the gentlest horse at the stables. She cares a lot about her riders and loves children.
Mocha: Mocha is Pandora’s son. He’s nine years old and very like his mother with the same big, expressive personality. He loves to be out on the trails as often as possible.
Huckleberry: A true Mustang. We rescued him from the
BLM holding facilities two months after he was brought in from the wild. Huckleberry loves attention, but to us he seems more like a labrador.
Sweetie. We saw an ad on Craigslist, a man selling the wild horses that lived on his property. We decided to help him
because the horses deserved better than living in his junkyard. He told us there were 10 horses in total but he hadn’t seen one of the babies for a while and assumed
the poor animal was dead. We threw on our muck boots, stormed through the debris and found this poor
baby trapped under some junk. The owner said we could have her. He didn't think she’d make it through
the night but she did. We took care of her, cleaned her up and made sure she ate well. Now she is one of the
best horses in our herd!
Ollie, Oreo, Quincy, Fritz, PJ, and the others are no less important and i could go on all day talking about my horses but that would be a blog in itself!
With the whole team in place we still had one big problem. The business wasn’t big enough to sustain us all. To get to a point where the business could support Tyler, Kalea, me and thirteen horses, we'd have to do more. We had achieved a great deal, What we didn’t know was that the next stage was even harder.
Leading the Team - What I learned from Horses
It’s one thing to build a team, it’s another to lead it. Fortunately, I’d had the best leadership education in the world. Serving in the military gives you a respect for teamwork and the chain of command. You learn what leadership is and why it’s important. Living and working with horses you learn how leadership works.
With one contract in hand, we had a model to work from. We spent our time looking for other facilities in need of the services we had to offer. In time we found several ranches interested in using our business to run overnight kids camps.
Again, we crunched the numbers. We took on more work and made it through the year, learning a lot as we went along. The income we brought in still wasn’t enough for us to break even. The horses ate like kings, the humans, not so much.
As a leader, I had to take responsibility. I took an active job in the army reserves to support the growing business, but we still had problems.
We’d rented a house with a beautiful pasture, but while I was away the house was sold. With only thirty days notice we had to move our thirteen horses, four goats, and two dogs. We had nowhere to go and very little money.
I came home to try and sort things out and that’s where something extraordinary happened. I met another young entrepreneur who’d bought a campground nearby. He had a hundred acres, but only used twenty, what’s more, he had two mobile homes on the property.
All at once we were back. Our trail ride business would run from their property. We’d take a commercial lease on a small part of the land, they’d get a small slice of our tourist season revenue. We’d even get one of the mobile homes.
It was a winning deal for both of us, a product of many of the lessons I’d learned from horses. Lessons about awareness, communications and above all, positivity.
Without those attributes our business would have folded. Without those attributes our business would never have existed.
That opportunity was a great stepping stone into bigger and better opportunities. We now have Trail Brothers Camps and trail rides at 3 different locations! The newest one being Gibson Ranch Park in Elverta California.
Building The Dream
Building the dream is all about putting what we learned into practice. Trail Brothers, our business, has grown a great deal since we started. We’ve built a stable and have an established trail ride business that is changing the industry. We've also established our expertise in kids camps and horse packing. Our services are sought after and available at more and more locations. Our next venture is to work on Kalea's dream and start a therapy program. We aim to help veterans and those with special needs.
Why Do People Learn from Horses?
We’ve faced obstacles, overcome
them and gone on ahead. A great
deal of what we’ve achieved is due to what we've learned from horses.
Horses have been helping us achieve our goals since history began. These days they're not used as beasts of burden, they don't form a major part of the transport network. Scientists and others have had time to go beyond those more obvious uses to see why horses are so special. Many animals are used in therapy. Certain breeds of dog (Newfoundlands in particular) are extremely effective in therapy programs. Horses, however, have some unique characteristics.
Horses are Incredibly Aware
Horses are prey. They survive by paying attention to the world around them. Leadership involves the same process, awareness of surroundings. You have to know where you are and why if you aim to work out where you’re going.
Horses Mirror Your Emotions.
Human’s don’t always know when they’re reacting to non-verbal cues. We try not to display our emotions, especially in a business setting. Horses don’t. A horse reacts to what your whole body says. They may not understand your exact words, but they do understand how you said them. If you’re not in the right mindset, a horse will let you know. If you’re angry, afraid, not paying attention, if you don’t care, if you’re a bully, the horse will know. You might fool a human, you can’t fool a horse. Working with horses you learn what they see. It can surprise you.
Horses are Immovable Objects.
A light horse can weigh upwards of 1000 pounds. A draft horse can weigh twice that much. If you want the horse to move, you’d better make sure the horse wants to move because otherwise, you’re going nowhere. There’s no better way to learn the importance of motivation and the subtleties of trust.
Horses Teach People to Care
Horses live in herds in a matriarchal society. The good of the herd prevails over the good of any individual. Remember what Mr. Spock said? “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one!” Teams succeed or fail as a whole. Horses understand that far better than people do.
Horses are People Too.
Once you’ve learned to influence a horse you can use the same skills to influence people. Trust, consistency of action, an understanding of motivation and a caring attitude are all key skills for a team leader. It doesn't matter whether the team is equine or human. The difference is that humans pretend, they cover up their feelings. Horses don’t.
Learning from Horses is Painless!
Horses make great teachers because they’re not human. They don’t judge, they don’t preach and they don’t
lecture. You can’t take offense at what a horse teaches, you can’t be jealous, humiliated or threatened. He's not going to take your place and he doesn’t want to steal your promotion.
What You Can Learn From My Experience
My hope is that having read this short book about my experience, you’ll consider following your dream
Here's what you should take away from my experience.
Don’t wait for your dream to be fully formed before you act.
It’s OK for your dream to be vague at first, in fact, it’s required. You might want to be your own boss. You might want to work with children. You might think you’d like to teach or simply work from home. There are many ways to achieve these goals. If you wait for your dream to be fully formed that's all you'll do. Wait.
Take the widest view you can and keep an open mind.
Look at all the possibilities and see how they fit together. Children’s camps were not my first idea when I decided I wanted to work with horses. They not only got the business started, they’re also a lot of fun!
Do your research, find out everything you can.
If I’d simply listened to other people, I would have given up way back at the start. Everyone told me to stick to my 9-5 job, make money to enjoy my horse riding hobby on weekends. I put in the time and effort to find out for myself. People see opportunities in very different places.
Take a realistic look at your own skills, strengths, and weaknesses.
The important word here is realistic. Find the point (any point) where your skills and your dream overlap. Everyone has skills.
If you’ve been a mother, you have key skills. If you’ve dealt with an elderly relative, you have key skills. If you’ve worked in a team, or run an office you have key skills. If you work in sales, IT or healthcare, whatever you do, whatever you’ve done, you’ve acquired skills in the process. Write them down. Take a good look. How can you apply them to living your dream?
If your dream requires a new skill, find it!
There are two ways to do it.
Add a new team member with the required skills.
Increase your own skills through learning.
We've done both. Kalea brought her amazing skills as a horse trainer as well as her knowledge of equine therapy programs. All three of us have or are studying for a degree in Equestrian/Equine studies. You can acquire most skills as long as you’re willing to put the work in.
Build Your Team.
Bring in people you trust with skills complementary to your own. If you have a family, start there. Making your immediate family part of the team can save a lot of heartache.
Keep a positive frame of mind.
For me, a positive frame of mind is linked to the idea of taking responsibility for your actions. Admit your mistakes and view them as a way to learn important lessons. Don’t pass the blame onto others, don’t blame your tools, the economy or your clients. Be positive and you won’t want to blame anyone!
Learn to recognize opportunities, even when they’re not in your plan.
Kids camps weren’t in my mind when I started out, but I’ve found one opportunity leads to another. Don't reject an idea until you've thought it through.
Use your research and new skills to build your confidence.
Any new venture means feeling uncomfortable some of the time. Your new knowledge and skills will give you the confidence to do things you’ve never done before.
For many people the problem is sales. They seem intrusive, even somehow dirty, but without sales there will be no business. Believe it or not, your new skills and research have made you an expert in the niche your dream occupies. Use that confidence to reframe the sales problem. Is your product or service good? Of course it is, otherwise why do you bother? In that case it’s your duty to tell people about your business. You're doing them a favor. They need to know!
Take the leap! Build your dream. Take action!
Even the greatest dream is worthless if it stays a dream. Most people regret opportunities missed, not things they actually do.
There's an old saying that goes something like this: 'If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your
life.' There was a time when I didn't understand what that meant.
Doing what you love doesn't mean it's effortless. It doesn't mean there won't be problems. It doesn't mean there won't be bad days when you can't see which path to follow.
What it means is that every day you'll know what you're doing is worthwhile. You'll know your work has value. You'll tackle problems with determination. Your sense of achievement will outweigh the stress of owning a business. You'll wake up looking forward to the day. I don't know if you'll live longer, but I do know you'll have a lot more fun.
If you can do that, and help a few people along the way, isn't that what makes life worthwhile?