Today marks the four year anniversary of when my husband Jeffrey and I purchased 24.96 acres and an garage with an apartment. We had been married less than a year when I found the place through LandandFarm.com. I had had a particularly rough day at my job. I had been teaching and to deal with the stress I started wondering what it would be like to be off on my own somewhere. A quick map check on the property versus Fort Stewart, where my husband was stationed at the time; it was only 19 miles away. Literally right out the back gate. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I mean, who just buys property in a state they don’t even live in? Is that even a thing? How the heck would I afford to build anything on it?
Ever the optimist to my pessimist, Jeffrey decided to take a gander at the place on his weekend off. A quick twenty minute drive out the back gate, make one right hand turn and boom, there he was. Staring at a raw piece of land with a rather large metal garage looming somewhere in the back. He took several pictures and then several more with a real estate agent and we started talking rather than dreaming. A quick weekend jaunt to Savannah gave me an opportunity to tour the place.
The property was breathtaking. I grew up in the north. Southeastern PA to be exact, with rolling hills, short scrubby trees and a neighbor right over there. Oh, and another and another. Land was sparse and VERY expensive. Then I spent seven years in West Virginia where the mountains could take your breath away, as well as the prices to excavate land just to have a piece flat enough to pop an outhouse. Here, however, this perfectly flat parcel was surrounded by the tallest trees I had ever seen (at the time). I couldn’t see another house at all, even though we have a small subdivision on the west side, and a private home on the east side. It was PRIVATE. I value my privacy, I enjoy not seeing another human some days and to me this could be a haven. I could envision the individual paddocks, larger group pastures, the arena. I could see it all. Everything fit nicely into the cleared portion of the land. The apartment was modern, clean and fairly hassle free. The garage portion (which is now our 6 stall training barn) was going to need the most work if it was to actually become a barn.
Once again, I panicked over how does anyone buy land and build on it? There is so much money involved. I was and still am desperately afraid of being in debt and couldn’t fathom how we’d ever be able to afford it all. What if I bought this place built it up and not a single person wanted to ride with me or keep their horse with me? What if, what if, what if? My mother, ever the voice of reason, told me to believe in myself and go for it. And we did. Five days after our one year wedding anniversary Jeffrey and I closed on what is now Gallifrey Farm. That fall through winter, JR and his amazing, kind, giving and crazy talented friend Jon built the frame work of what was to be our stalls. I had given my notice and was coming home the weekend after thanksgiving with my three horses. It was a big job and I can look back now and see how much work those two men put in to getting three stalls done for me in just under two months. But back then I was panicking and rather a brat about it (sorry guys).
With the help of some amazing friends the weekend before thanksgiving I moved down with almost all my worldly goods in a 1972 International Horse Van named Vera. The weekend after, I finished the move with 3 horses in tow. It happened, I had done it. I made the biggest leap I think I ever had made in my life. I had three horses, one wheel barrow, 11 bales of hay and a trash can full of corn. Little by little, things started coming together. My husband actually found our amazing hay guy in the local pizza joint, I found our vet whom we love (and who now works for himself) and oddly enough I found one of the best farriers I had ever met through Craigslist. I still remember that day, he brought a Marine buddy of his and I had my Army husband and his Army friend just in case. Because you know…it’s Craigslist!
Eventually the fencing was put up, the arena blocked off and I could officially take in horses. First off a former student of mine from WV who had trusted my skills enough to send me her darling boy for many months while she was working in D.C. and some overseas. Then my BFF, turned assistant, turned groom, turned amazing bodyworker, turned life coach, turned editor took the leap to follow me down with her two horses (I don’t know where I’d be without her). Then soon I had working students helping on random days for lessons who turned into wonderful friends as well. Then I had lesson clients calling. Then training horses. I had officially “opened” for business in March 2014 and by July I had a waiting list for training clients and a contractor working on a second barn. A hitch in the plans, however, was my husband getting orders to transfer duty stations from Fort Stewart to Fort Riley, Kansas in the fall. I have been doing this dream on my own without my partner since the end of 2014.
I have learned so much since then and am still learning today. When I first opened, I would teach anyone, any age on anything in any saddle, anywhere. I would take in training horses that were going to be trail horses, or needed tune ups or were quite literally trying to kill me. It didn’t matter, I needed money and to get my name out there. Eventually as business picked up and people started to recognize my name or at the very least the farm name I was able to streamline my business plan (that’s right, I had and still have a business plan to this day. Thanks MM business class!) to what I currently have today. A private Dressage facility where I only focus on training, showing and private lessons. I have learned to come out of my shell, put on the happy voice, making phone calls to strangers and write checks for huge amounts of money because we need things like hay, shavings and feed.
Clients have come and gone and where as before I would stay up for days wondering what I did wrong, I now have small anxiety attacks and let it go. The biggest thing that has helped was finding other professionals in whom I can confide and they in turn offer me advice or stories of similar crazy clients who up and leave. I’ve gone through working students just as much and just like with clients over time I have streamlined my expectations, contracts and communication. All of this hard work and painful growth spurts continues to pay off, however. I have a barn full of fabulous clients and their endearing ponies. I have an incredible team whom believes in me, and I in them. I’ve gone from just Mikki, William and I alone at horse shows not talking to anyone, to taking groups of five or more clients and meeting with horse show friends almost everywhere we go.
This past year has been the biggest eye opener. You know that moment in the Steve Martin film, The Jerk, where he gets the new phone books and looks himself up? Then he runs around shouting, "I’m a somebody! I’m a somebody now!" Well, thats me right now. My phone book has come in and right there…there is my name.
What does the future hold? Who knows, I’ve stopped expecting things to happen or not happen and let them form naturally. A house is hopefully next, then my husband returning home from the U.S. Army would be ever so great. After that, let’s see where this ship steers. I trust my crew and occasionally myself.
Cheers to four years at Gallifrey Farm and to many, many more.