Internship helps finalize post-graduation plans for SAU student
Meaghan Nedow, a Therapeutic Horsemanship Management Business Major at St. Andrews University, spent the summer of 2013 doing an internship with H&H Stables in Empire, Mich., a trail riding, boarder and equestrian training facility. It was a comfortable fit as it was the same place she had worked since she was 17.
"I had just moved to the area and I saw an ad in the newspaper looking for guides," Nedow said. "I was only 17 at the time but I called to apply. I pestered him and pestered him until he let me come out to ride."
That ride started a working relationship that saw Nedow working each summer, moving up to manager after two years. In year three, the owner shared that he was looking toward retirement and hoped to work out a deal to allow her to take over.
"We got a lawyer to draw up a contract about what horses I'm getting and how the lease of the property will work as well," said Nedow. "(The owner) and I had to sit down and figure out exactly what the deal was going to be and what we were both concerned about. It was great to finally get a real set up for May so I can start mentally preparing for it now."
That mental preparation truly started during the internship sessions according to Nedow.
"During my internship I was involved much more with the aspects of hiring and firing staff, scheduling rides and workers, ordering feed, answering the phone and many other general horse care activities," she said. "I also was involved a lot more with the training of our own trail horses.
"I think that every task that I undertook taught me more about the business that I didn't know beforehand and definitely opened my eyes to many different aspects of the business," Nedow continued. "It can be hard with so much stuff going on to manage every single thing between the people and the horses. It takes a lot of organization and communication to allow the business to function smoothly."
This new perspective, as an owner in training, also meant being more at the front of the business in making decisions.
"One of my proudest and also saddest moments while on the job had to do with the unpredictability of horses," she said. "We had two horses colic over the course of two days. I had both horses show me signs of colic so I pulled them out of the rides and checked their vital signs. I had never had actual experience with that at all until that point. I did, thankfully, learn a lot about horse sicknesses in one of my classes at St. Andrews so I was able to apply that to the situation."
Unfortunately, despite Nedow's quick action and the work of the staff, one of the horses had to be put down.
"I was also involved in the choice to do so, which, again, I had never had to face. I had never actually seen a horse be put down or had to deal with the death of a horse that I really cared for. It was very heart breaking."
Not all the leadership decisions were as heart wrenching. Nedow also took the lead on the marketing for the business. She served as the liaison with the website developer, taking and sending pictures in a timely manner.
"I thought a lot about what Jackie (Dwelle, instructor in Equine Studies) talked about in the equine business management class about the visual appeal of a website and pictures," Nedow said. "It helped me think about what would be the best setting for the pictures and what would work the best.
"The website is a very vital part of our advertising so it is one of the main things that people look at when seeking out information so it is important that it looks good and the wording makes people want to come to us for their riding."
But Nedow learned an important lesson with marketing during the summer. With work on the website taking a large portion of time, the print brochures distributed to local hotels and businesses did not arrive until later than usual in the season.
"I learned how important it is and how much advertising can really boost a business," she said. "We didn't have enough brochures out for people to see so business was slow. About two days after we put out brochures, business picked up a lot so it is very important to do that in a timely manner."
Nedow also did more on the training side, taking it upon herself to work with one of the boarder horses.
"I started riding Blue at least once every day," she said. "I started to see improvement after just the first week of riding. After a few weeks he had calmed down so much that I decided that I could put other guides on him. He ended up becoming a real asset to the rides and was a great guide horse. It was very rewarding for me to be able to compare the old horse to the new and improved one and see just how far along he had come in the first month and then over the course of the summer.
"This really boosted my confidence in my ability to train horses and create good trail horses," she continued. "I know now that I can do it so the idea of purchasing a new horse for the program later won't be as scary because I know that I can train it well enough."
Nedow also became much more aware of the need to delegate and trust the people around you.
"I have a tendency to want to do it myself because I know exactly what I want done and how I want it done and don't always know if other people will be able to do it that way," she said. "Having to do group work at St. Andrews helped me to learn to trust my people and check in. We all need to have a game plan to focus our thoughts."
As she takes over the business, one big piece of the game plan is to start up a therapeutic horsemanship program.
"I originally just planned to major in therapeutic horsemanship, but I needed to add the business to really do what I want to do with my life," Nedow said. "Being in a school that offers so much hands on experience really helped."
Nedow has already started on a business plan with a goal of having the therapeutic horsemanship aspect of the business up and running within five years, although she is aware of the challenges and decisions ahead.
"It is a small barn and we do not have the resources to start up right away, but I am already looking at grants and networking," she said. "I will also have to work with the trail horses to get them used to certain kinds of mounting and equipment that is used in TH."
Nedow's initial plan includes focusing on those with physical disabilities within the program. She is also going to begin building a volunteer and staff base to support the program while trying to decide if she will go the non-profit or for-profit route.
With all of this waiting for her after graduation, Nedow is appreciative for the groundwork that was laid throughout her education and particularly during this internship experience.
"(The owner) really let me take the lead on everything and would offer insights and advise based on what he saw and constant feedback about what was going good and what needed to be fixed," she said. "I think I learned a lot more this way that I would have if he would have just told me what to do and how to do it. I got to really develop my own way of doing things and my own style of management and what worked for me as well as how everyone else responded to it."
Nedow was forced by the internship requirements to do a greater amount of reflection on a regular basis than she would have if it was just another some of work. It proved far more valuable than she appreciated.
"All of the events and issues that happened really helped me realize that if I can make it through all of that, then I can handle a lot more than I thought," she said. "I never really did much self reflection in previous years of working there, but when I look back on what I faced in just this past summer and how much I have grown and learned, I am amazed.
"I think that everything that I have learned at school has helped me develop my style and opened my mind to different, new possibilities. I am very proud of all I have accomplished and think that I will greatly benefit from the self reflection and will continue to reflect upon my work experiences to great develop myself and my abilities in the future."