TWENTY-ONE year-old Michaela McFarland is bucking the trend by staying in Fermanagh and setting up her own business.

With extensive experience of working in prestigious riding schools in the West Midlands and Holland, the young business woman had had enough of “making money for someone else” and decided to set up on her own.

A real passion for horses encouraged the entrepreneurial horse riding instructor to open Kay’s Equestrian Riding School in March with five clients. Only seven months later and Michaela has 30 children on her books and 13 horses to care for.

It takes ambition and drive to get this far, she has found. Michaela got things underway with a Credit Union loan (as there were no grants available for her venture). “The Credit Union was unbelievably helpful. They have been very supportive in me paying them back. The Credit Union invests in the person,” she finds.

As well as financial support, emotional support from her parents has been invaluable. “It’s hard work. You could have two good days and then a few really bad days where you could cry, but it’s definitely worth it,” she tells The Impartial Reporter. Advice from Fermanagh Enterprise pointed her in the right direction. She is also grateful to her aunt who gave her a pony and two cobs to get started. “I had Pelly (the pony) and two cobs to make a living off,” she recalls. “I was thinking: ‘How do I pay the all the bills including the horse dentist, farrier and physio?” However, once the business got a name for itself (mainly through word of mouth), she has managed to keep on top of things, and to purchase a total of 13 horses.

Some of the horses are working livery (meaning the horse owner pays a discounted livery fee so that the riding school has the right to use it in lessons.) Others are used in lessons by Enniskillen College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.

Based at her parents’ home in Lack, Michaela’s riding school features modern stables (complete with a hot shower and heat lamp to dry the animals off), a mechanical walker (to ensure they are exercised all week, not just once a week during lessons), a show jumping course and a pony club cabin, where the children learn all about caring for horses.

Michaela finds that a lot of children have the ability to be a good rider, but their parents cannot afford a pony or a horse. In addition: “Some kids think that a pony is only for one hour at pony club on Saturday, but while they are here the pony will be there sole responsibility.” She is determined to foster the same passion that she has for the animals in her young clients, therefore she set up a Pony Club on Friday and Saturday, as well as riding camps throughout the year.

The children will learn how to care for their pony including cleaning it out and feeding it. “This is such hard work and sometimes their little arms are sore, but there’s no mollycoddling here,” Michaela states. “The children love it and it is becoming more popular with young boys, who realise that horse riding is a physically demanding sport, rather than the stereotypical girls hobby. This isn’t My Little Pony,” she adds.

Following her National Diploma in Equine Management at Enniskillen CAFRE College, Michaela undertook a placement in an eventing yard in Downpatrick. She travelled to England, aged 17, to work in Radway Riding School in Warwickshire. “That was the best decision I ever made,” she states. Under instructor Maggie Boswell, Michaela gained a deeper understanding of teaching children and treating the animals like “little athletes.” She gained her British Horse Society UKCC Level 1 and 2 coaching qualifications there, before moving to a riding school in Oxford.

There she acquired another skill-set, specialising in jumping horses. From there, she spent two years at a dressage yard in Basket Heath and Edge Hill.

At the end of 2011 the opportunity came up to work with competiton horses in Holland. After gaining such a range of valuable experience, Michaela decided it was time to out her skills to good use locally.