The Why

I have to admit, this idea sounds a little crazy, even to me . . . I don’t know a thing about horses or farming, but I am going to start a horse farm to bring Americans back to land.

How I Got Here

I am retiring this August from 20 years in the Navy. I’ve traveled the world, led hundreds of people, and flown six different planes. My current job is to teach fighter pilots how to fly. Yet I’ve sat on a horse about ten times in my life and I’ve never done so much as feed one.

What gives!?

First of all, I’ve had enough of flying. I love to teach and I am great at it. I’ll probably always fly in some capacity, whether it’s recreationally or to teach the people I love. But I cannot stomach the idea of going to the airlines, even if it would make me $300,000 a year.

I have also had enough of working for someone else. My plan after the Navy was to continue serving, but in an academic capacity. I wanted to get a PhD in Public Policy from Duke University, and then either get into the think tank world or start teaching the next generation of policy-makers. In that world, I would surely have a boss, but I would also have a lot of freedom to work on policy projects and problems that I think matter.

Just two weeks ago, my stomach was in knots waiting to hear whether I got accepted into the PhD program at Duke. I was looking for houses in Durham and trying to convince North Carolina think tanks to take me on as an intern. Nothing seemed to stick. I couldn’t get excited about the area. I still don’t know if I got into the PhD program.

But it doesn’t matter anymore. Between all the waiting, wishing, and worrying… I had an epiphany. After watching the Pixar movie Soul and reading an article about hacking the informal job market, I could not ignore it any more: I was on the wrong path.

There is a difference between purpose and passion, and it is possible (in fact preferable) to make a living on passion. While getting a PhD in Public Policy was a formal path to what felt like my purpose in life, “policy” is not my passion. And I’m kind of tired of formal anything.

The Spark

My passion – my spark, as it is called in the movie Soul – has always been people, animals, and outdoors. There is nothing I love more than being up before sunrise and spending time outside as dew burns off the grass. There is no sweeter thing in the world to me than watching people who have been stuck indoors exhale a sigh of relief as they reconnect with nature. For me, there is no more natural companion than an animal, and no more beautiful place than a well-kept stable or farm.

These are not just ideas in my head. I know these things because I lived on a farm for a short while, and I’ve spent a good bit of time with horse/farm people. I love both the land and the people with my whole heart.

Horse & Farm People

I met Jim & Mamie Forbes when I drove by their little farm, and I met Debbie Montoya shortly after I fell in love with her son. These are the salt-of-the-earth, wholesome, full-of-life people who gave me the insight about where I wanted to end up.

While flying for the Navy in Whidbey Island, Washington, I bought a fifth wheel to live in full-time. I searched high and low for a place to park it, eventually settling on a small family farm a few miles from the Navy base. Jim and Mamie were a wonderful couple who owned a restaurant on Orcas Island, and their plot of land was pure heaven. I convinced them to install power and water hookups, and I watched their home while they were away at the restaurant or salmon fishing in Alaska. Living there, I felt more like myself than I ever had, and I spent hours walking the hills with my dog Bo. I loved the stillness and the quiet; the bonfires with friends; the constant reminders to just slow down and “be.”

The same feelings resurfaced the summer I met Martin & Debbie Montoya. Their son was a pilot in the Air Force who had been one of my partners in multi-engine flight training. His mom trained horses for a living, and meeting her was a revelation for me. Deb was shorter than I am, with long blond hair and a big, bright smile. She was an impressive combination of quiet and fierce. She didn’t mince words. Things didn’t work out with her son, but she remains prominent in my mind because she issued me the compliment that means more to me than any other in my life . . .

“You sit a good horse, girl.”

Deb Montoya, horse guru

Horse and farm people are different from others. There is a grit to them, a no-nonsense, take-charge attitude. But there is also the gentleness, humility, and wisdom that come from a deep understanding of their smallness in the scheme of things. They are my favorite people in life – and I’ve been lucky that they seem to take kindly to me.

I am one of them. I’ve got the heart and the boots. Now I just gotta learn to ride a horse . . .