Abby Ryan: Flexibility Brings Opportunity

Abby RyanBy Abby Ryan

My name is Abigail, and I’m a homeschool graduate. I loved being homeschooled. Because of a flexible schedule and my parents’ encouragement, I was able to make the money and community connections that allowed me to pursue my passions.

Like most homeschooling families, my family wasn’t made of money. We lived in a suburban neighborhood in the quiet corner of Connecticut, with enough land to play epic games of flashlight freeze tag, but not enough land to keep a pony—much to my chagrin.

We were the only homeschoolers in the neighborhood, and everyone knew we homeschooled. Not only because we were the kids who caught and returned their dogs when they escaped during the day, but because my folks made an effort to engage with our neighbors. We hosted block parties every now and then, and were usually the first to welcome the new families who moved in. It was common to go out to get the mail and take an hour coming back in because a neighbor was out for a walk and stopped to talk.

This openness led directly to jobs for my older brothers working in one of neighbor’s small businesses, as well as a variety of pet sitting jobs for me. I was once paid to play with kittens while their owners were at work. Yes, please!

Opportunities tend to snowball, and mine started with a local afternoon paper that was delivered every day between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. With the longer and longer hours spent at school and afterschool programs, paper routes for teens were already becoming a thing of the past when I donned my canvas sack and set out. I was only 11 when I started, and rather than send me door-to-door alone, my parents took the time to walk with me. I was crossing yards and going up driveways, and one or both of them would stroll the road to keep pace.

The paper route provided me with disposable income, which, of course, I immediately spent on horseback riding lessons that my family could have never afforded otherwise. There was a little four-stall farm five minutes away, and I became a regular. Just a few short months into riding lessons, my favorite horse—an old master named Quinn—had a little too much fun in the field and pulled a ligament.

I was offered the chance of a lifetime when my instructor asked me to groom and walk the old boy a couple times a week while he was on stall rest. My mother, saint that she is, drove me out twice a week in the middle of the day to supervise while I played with a horse.

After a few months, I was offered a job mucking stalls twice a week in exchange for riding lessons. After a year or so of that, I switched to taking full care of the horses one day a week in exchange for one riding lesson a week. Eventually, I was caring for the horses for weeks at a time when my instructor was on maternity leave or vacation—and being paid with money, not just riding lessons.  I was even paid by one of the boarders to keep her horse in work throughout the cold northeastern winters. Easily my favorite job ever.

Horses have stayed important to me, though I eventually spent my paper route savings on college instead of a horse of my own. All the experience I gained as a kid working on horse farm has continued to afford me opportunities to ride and train horses. It has even led to jobs and careers I wouldn’t have imagined otherwise. I’m currently keeping a foxhunter in shape for his owner and working in residential real estate for a broker who I met because she needed someone to work her pony.

Abby Ryan

My parents’ willingness to engage with the community, and their support and encouragement in the job opportunities we found there, gave my siblings and me the connections we needed to pursue our passions and get a good start in the world. They also gave us the skills to keep making connections wherever we go.

Did I mention that I loved being homeschooled?


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