By Kate Norris

I flung myself into the world of horses, first by riding and grooming a rubber Hippity Hop Mickey Mouse bouncy toy. With Mickey quietly hitched to the dresser pull in my bedroom, I lovingly groomed him between rides with a nail brush I stole from my mom’s manicure kit. A few years later, I finally was the proud owner of a $500 pony.

By contrast, I stumbled backward into to the field of natural resource conservation 12 years ago. After walking around my parent’s five-acre horse property with a conservation specialist, I told her I thought she had a pretty cool job, talking with horse people all day about mud, manure, and pasture management. She then told me about a conservation specialist employment opportunity in a neighboring county and encouraged me to apply. After a successful interview with the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, I was hired–my employers promised to teach me all about conservation if I could unravel for them the mysteries of horse people.

Over the next few years I learned about natural resource conservation without stepping into a classroom. My co-workers and area farmers became my teachers. In my journey to learn more about how horse farms could impact ponds, streams, and the nearby Chesapeake Bay, I drew upon my knowledge of horses and stable management from a typical horse person background. Those years between receiving my first pony and my new role as a conservationist had been filled with Pony Club, a bachelor’s degree in horsemanship, and various positions as a vet tech, groom, instructor, trainer, and barn manager–a foundation that still keeps me look