Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Alison Kratish Has Made A Bold Left Turn

This amateur rider gave up a high-profile New York City career to follow her passion.

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This amateur rider gave up a high-profile New York City career to follow her passion.

Last winter, Alison Kratish would sit in her office in New York City, gazing out the window and dreaming of horses and horse shows.

This winter, she’s going to have a much different view. Kratish, 38, quit her job, moved to Gainesville, Fla., and
started a new business of her own—the Pooch Paddock. Starting in January, she’s going to provide doggie day care
at horse shows.

“It made sense to me, and it gave me a reason to make a little bit of a left turn in my life,” she said. “When I was in New York, I was always distracted and thinking about horses. Even if I’m not showing, I do love to be at the horse shows. It gave me a reason to make a big change in my life that would put me right smack in the middle of a world I really love.”

Kratish had spent more than a decade in New York, working first in the hedge fund world and then as sales and marketing coordinator for a high-end residential real estate developer. “I gave up everything in New York to do this. It’s exciting and nerve-wracking,” she said.

“I’m excited because I’m finally getting to do what I want to do. Now, I never have to give up time with my dogs. If it’s feasible, I can show. But also, the honest truth is that I’m a little scared because I really don’t know how well this may or may not be received in the horse show world.”

Accompanying her in her transition to full-time horse show resident will be her own two dogs, Lille and Cody. Lille, a 15-year-old Blue Heeler mix, is the survivor of a brain tumor last year. Cody, a 15-month-old Welsh Corgi, is Kratish’s newest companion and the mascot for the Pooch Paddock’s logo.

“She is really passionate about her pets,” said Kim Land, Kratish’s cousin. “I think this lifestyle is going to suit
her much better than when she lived in Manhattan. This is a way for her to nurture her passion for animals and
provide a service for others at the same time. She’s going to be great at it.”

It’s In Your Blood

Kratish’s story will sound familiar to many amateur riders. An avid rider in her youth, she showed on the hunter/jumper circuit until she left for college.

“I got hurt pretty badly when I was 17 but was able to ride my last junior year,” she said. “But my parents weren’t ever really the same about supporting the sport. When I started college, they said, ‘Why don’t you sell the horses
and just do school.’ I didn’t ride for 17 years—it was a long break, but it’s in your blood and it stays there. I thought about horses all the time.”

Throughout the years, Kratish had closely followed the growing riding careers of Land’s two girls, Taylor and Frances. She’d check in with them for show reports and travel to watch the girls ride whenever she could. Every winter, she’d spend a week in Florida with the Lands at the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, just enjoying the show.
In 2006, Kratish found herself spending time in Gainesville, Fla., visiting her mother. There, she started
taking riding lessons at a barn just down the road from her mother’s house.

“I wasn’t even planning to show, but I got sucked back into the whole world; once you’ve done it once, just going and taking lessons isn’t really enough,” she said.

Last year, Kratish bought a green horse, Tartufo, and began riding with Tinker Tindley at Rolling Acres Farm in Alachua, Fla., so she could get back into the show ring.

Their first show together was during the Jacksonville Winter circuit in January. “I did the long-stirrup division at the first show, which was kind of humiliating! It’s hard to get back into it after being off for so long,” Kratish said.
“Then, we did the 2’6″ pre-adult hunters the next weekend, which was a complete disaster. We did two weeks of 2′ pre-adults at HITS Ocala and we were OK; we got some good ribbons and won one class. My horse was green, and I hadn’t shown in so long.”

Unfortunately, Tartufo went lame over the summer, and Kratish is hunting for a horse to lease and show for the winter circuit.

“She’s really dedicated to it, and she loves the horses. She’s coming back and getting it all back together again,” Tindley said. “It was a little tough for her in the beginning because she was in New York, so she’d only get to ride for about one week out of every month, so it was hard for her to get her leg strength back. Now that she’s living down here, I’m sure she’s going to keep developing so much faster.”

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A Complete Epiphany

As she became increasingly immersed in the horse world again, Kratish began plotting strategies to make a big change in her life. “I had visualized myself in New York forever, until I started riding again,” she said.
   
“My mother kept saying, ‘I see that you’re distracted. Find something to do in the horse world.’ I even went out
and bought a book about careers with horses, and not one of them appealed to me. I was coming up with all kinds of scenarios, but nothing really lit a fire under my you-know-what. And the minute I thought of this, there was nothing else. It was like a complete epiphany.”

At a horse show last summer in Atlanta, Ga., Kratish was talking with a fellow competitor about how to handle traveling to horse shows with dogs.        

“Someone suggested putting my older dog in doggie day care near the horse show grounds. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, it’s perfectly sensible that doggie day care could be provided on the horse show grounds.’ There are so many dogs there; horse people are inherently dog people,” she said.
   
Kratish began researching the possibility of setting up a mobile doggie day-care business. “She’s never been able to be around the horses as much as she’d like. She’s figured out a way to support herself and have the lifestyle that she wants, which I think is really admirable,” Land said.
   
Tindley pointed to an incident at the Devon Horse Show (Pa.) last May, when a spectator’s Whippet got loose and chased Liza Towell and Scout around the ring during a green conformation class, as the perfect example of why Kratish’s business makes sense.
   
“I think it will take off. I think a lot of adults who ride will take advantage of it because I think a lot of them don’t bring their dogs to the horse show because they don’t know what to do with them,” Tindley said.
   
In October, Kratish took the plunge, quit her New York job, and moved to Florida to complete preparations for launching the Pooch Paddock at Jacksonville, Fla., in January 2009.

New Challenges

Kratish has purchased a recreational vehicle and modular fencing and rented a tent to create a safe, entertaining environment for the dogs in her care.

“I’m getting all the paperwork together and getting some ads out there,” she said. “It may be difficult for people to come around to a different way of thinking, where they’re not just tying the dogs up in the tack room or letting them run around loose. I look at this as a win-win-win. It’s good for the dogs, the exhibitors, and for the show managers. It seemed like a bright idea all around. I was astounded when I really delved into it that no one had thought about doing this before.”

Kratish hopes to be back in the show ring within a few weeks of the start of the Jacksonville circuit, after the Pooch Paddock is up and running. “The whole point is to be in the horse world and ride and work at the same time,” Kratish said.

“Alison is very responsible and passionate,” Land noted. “When she does something, she does it 100 percent. I have a lot of confidence that she can do whatever she wants to do and do it in a very positive way. She’s educating herself about dog interaction and behavior. She’s really approaching this from the standpoint of being educated about it and doing it professionally.”


More Bold Left Turns…

Nancy Seybold 
Washington, D.C.


Q: What was your former career and what do you do now?

A: I was the editor/manager for a website for the National Cancer Institute. Like many mid/upper-level federal employees, I was expected to work well beyond the official workweek as needed and traveled a fair amount to attend conferences and give presentations; now, I’m an independent consultant specializing in web-based health and public health projects.

Q: What inspired you to make a big change?
A: Initially, it was a desire to be my own boss and shape my career. My job was moving from an exciting “startup” phase to a more mature “maintenance” phase, and it seemed like a good time to try something new. I formed a small company with two college friends. After two years, it became apparent that we had pretty different life goals; I was getting more serious about my riding, for example, and I really wanted more flexibility in my schedule. So the second big change, going from a three-person company to solo practitioner, was largely inspired by my desire to ride more.

Q: How has your life been enriched and/or made harder by making a major career change?

A: I would find it very hard to go back to a traditional job with traditional hours now. I’m truly spoiled by the ability to spend not just more time, but the time I want (daylight hours, for example, especially during winter) working with my horses. I think I’m less stressed and more balanced, most of the time.
       
But it can be very lonely professionally, and as a consultant I’m always teetering between too much work and too little work. It’s hard to do any long- or medium- range planning, either financially or in other ways. I don’t know how much work I’ll have in six months, and therefore I don’t know how much income I’ll have. This can be pretty stressful in and of itself!

Q: How has making a career change affected your riding life?

A: I’ve gone from being a typical working adult rider to a much more focused and consistent rider. I now own two horses, ride five or six days a week, and am able to put in the time to really advance competitively with the older horse and bring along the green horse myself.
       
I would say, though, that the change is as much about my ability to be a horse owner as it is a rider. I can generally make choices about their care. I’m the one who feeds them, who looks at the hoof while the farrier is working, or the ultrasound as the vet is taking it, and who knows how they felt or behaved yesterday and the day before. I’m not sure I would have appreciated how rewarding this is before I had the opportunity to do it, but now I think I get just as much pleasure from that enhanced relationship as I do out of meeting my competitive and skill goals.

Susan Lucas Collins 
Bethel, Conn.

Q: What was your former career?
A: I worked as a senior marketing executive for a global medical device and software manufacturer. It was the typical corporate gig—lots of travel, long hours, longer commutes, lots of late nights and weekends. I enjoyed the challenge, but it didn’t allow for much in the way of personal time. I lost count of how many family or other social events were cut short or missed because of work obligations, many on pretty short notice.

Q: What inspired you to make a major change?
A: I actually made the decision one day on the way home from Chicago after a long and difficult week at a customer site. I was newly married at the time and was dying to get home to spend some time with my husband. My Blackberry rang as they were closing the door to the plane. It was late in the day, and I didn’t answer, figuring I could pick up the voicemail after I landed.
       
When I got off the plane, [the call was from] my boss saying I was needed in Chicago early the following morning for another presentation. I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to go back to the same airport, fly to Chicago, and see the same people I had been with all week. At that point, I realized that continuing that job was going to mean very limited time with my family, a lot of ongoing stress, little control over my schedule and almost no time to ride. It was clear to me that I needed to find another option.

Q: What do you do now?
A: I’m now the chief marketing officer of a mid-sized private radiology practice. In addition to the typical marketing and advertising activities, my groups provide a lot of education on imaging technology to patients and to referring physicians, and we work closely with the other medical providers in the communities we serve.

Q: How has your life been enriched and/or made harder by making a career change?

A: I definitely relish the opportunity to be closer to the actual delivery of patient care. From a personal perspective, I really love the work-life balance I have now and the opportunity I have to spend more time with my family. I feel like I have a life now, not just a job.

Q: How has making a career change affected your riding life?

A: I have a really nice horse that I wanted to ride and show myself; I’d bought him as a coming 5-year-old and didn’t want to just be a weekend warrior. I wanted to be the one in the tack as he got made up; I didn’t want to just hand him over to a professional to ride. I routinely ride five or six days a week, and get a very generous amount of vacation time, which allows me to do a fair amount of showing.

Jacqueline Greener 
Easton, Pa.

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Q: What was your former career and what do you do now?
A: I was an operations and specialty manager for a large home-improvement warehouse; now I’m a customer service representative for a large flooring wholesaler.

Q: What inspired you to make a big change?
A: For me, my job was becoming extremely stressful. The anxiety I was feeling just pulling into the parking lot was palpable. I was being called all hours of the day and night and sometimes would have to work an additional 12 hours. My husband and I became roommates at best. My health was suffering and my riding was hit-and-miss.

Q: How has your life been enriched and/or made harder by making a major career change?
A: My life has been terrific. I work a 40-hour week with set hours and no weekends. My husband and I are better than ever. My health is on track, and my dogs now recognize me when I come to the door. If there were a down side, it would be the pay cut. But, you make changes in your life. You decide what’s more important, having stuff or having a life. My choice was living my life instead of passing time.

Q: How has making a career change affected your riding life?
A: My riding has done a 180-degree turn. I ride six days a week, and I love it. For the first time in many years I showed, and for the first time ever, I showed dressage. I earned my first and second level scores for my USDF bronze medal and, horse willing, will work toward my third-level scores for the 2009 show season.

Laura Blankenship 
Sioux Falls, S.D.

Q: What was your former career and what do you do now?
A: I was an estate-planning attorney; now I work as an independent financial advisor.

Q: What inspired you to make a big change?
A: The irony of becoming successful in my law career was that I finally had enough money to ride and show my horse, but I had absolutely no time. My blood pressure was high, I had frequent headaches and no matter how hard I worked out at the gym I just felt unfit and unhealthy.

Q: How has your life been enriched and/or made harder by making a major career change?
A: My blood pressure went down to normal, I lost weight, and I have more time for family and friends. However, owning your own business has its own challenges—I no longer have that regular paycheck—but now I have unlimited potential. And I still work with wonderful clients! I have no regrets.

Q: How has making a career change affected your riding life?
A: I can now carpool with others to the barn after work so I get to spend more time with my riding friends and save on gas! Before, I really struggled with motivation because my “hobby” was just another demand on my time, which I resented, and I had to pay a trainer to ride my horse for me because I didn’t have time.


Some Things To Think About Before You Make A Major Career Change…

•    I think it’s important to discuss it with your significant other (if applicable) and look at how a change will affect the whole household. –Laura Blankenship

•    If the job requires an adjustment in income, or in benefits, my advice is to practice living within those
constraints for at least four to six months before you make the change. It’s a good idea to test drive that reality before you make a permanent change—you may find out that living without certain amenities has more of an impact than you anticipated. —Susan Lucas Collins

•    The more obligations you have in your life, whether it be family or simple financial commitments, the more cautious you should be about making this choice. I was young and healthy and able to carry my own health insurance. Health insurance is a necessity that you have to think about. I carry insurance on my horses for the same reason; I no longer have the income to absorb thousands of unplanned dollars in a vet emergency. —Nancy Seybold

•    There may be income-tax ramifications from changing your career, and you may lose the employer contribution to your retirement account and your employer paying for business memberships, continuing education fees, and insurance that you may need to keep in place. —Laura Blankenship

•    You have to consider the impact of this choice on your career and life options in the future. Will this decision derail your career track if you change your mind a few years down the road? It is really important to think about your long-term goals and make sure you have considered what you and your family will want and need in the future. —Susan Lucas Collins

•    Don’t underestimate the toll that leaving a more traditional career might have on your own self-esteem. If you have worked toward a professional degree or have worked your way up the ladder in a career, you may find it hard to step aside from that. —Nancy Seybold

•    I believe in writing down goals and spending time regularly considering how to continue to move toward them. It can be easier to just keep doing whatever you’ve done in the past. Change takes effort, and especially in the current economy, can involve some calculated risk. Don’t assume that your skills and interests lock you into a traditional path—there are probably lots of ways you can apply your skills creatively to come up with a more satisfying life balance. —Susan Lucas Collins

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