Not just horsing around: CPA finds fulfillment with two careers

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By Amy L. Welch, Director of Communications, Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants

Her license plate frame reads, "I'd Rather Be Trail Riding," and though passer-bys may believe it's wishful thinking, for Ann Cole, CPA, it's an after-work routine.

"I can't live without them," she said of her horses. "It's stress relief."

For Cole, it's also a job.

She and her husband, Tony, own and operate Four Hoof Drive Adventures, a business that teaches trail riding but specializes in teaching the ropes to first-time horse owners.

"There's a whole gamut of stuff to know," Cole said. "If you decide you want to own a horse, you have to know how to feed it, groom it, take care of it ... it is not a cheap hobby."

Cole said the majority of her clients at Four Hoof Drive Adventures are women over 35-years-old who just bought their first horse.

"Everyone knows how girls want ponies when they're young. Well, these women are successful in their careers and are now living out their dream of owning a horse," she explained.

Cole knows the feeling.

"I always wanted a horse," Cole said. "I bought my first horse for $600 when I was 13 and I didn't have anyone to teach me anything. I kind of learned through the school of hard knocks."

As a student at Norman High School, Cole entered a work-study program with a racehorse barn, where she worked until the summer, then moved on to a show horse barn.

"I did odd jobs," Cole said. "I groomed them, cleaned stalls, galloped the race horses, exercised the show horses, ... anything to be around horses."

The trend continued until Cole went to college at the University of Oklahoma.

"One of my first office jobs was as a night auditor at a local motel," she said. "Approximately three times a week, the CPA would stop by and talk with me and pick up the accounting records.

"I really liked her and thought she had a great job, assisting a variety of small businesses with their accounting needs. It sounded interesting and rewarding. As a result, I decided to major in accounting."

As an assurance manager with Grant Thornton in Oklahoma City for the past two years, Cole specializes in nonprofit, government, insurance, and employee benefit plans.

"We serve a wide variety of clients here at Grant Thornton, so every day is different," Cole said. "That's one of the things I love about my job."

Cole began her CPA career as an accounting and finance manager with the office of the secretary of state in Oklahoma. About three years later, she joined the state auditor and inspector office, where she stayed for 11 years.

"Government is highly structured," she said. "I'm enjoying the flexibility I have now in public accounting.

"I love the variety of the work, our clients and working with so many talented people. Our partners are great and encourage open communication and feedback. It's a great team at Grant Thornton."

Cole's passion for her work bleeds into her second career as a teacher and trainer for Four Hoof Drive Adventures, including her love of working with various people.

"You would be very surprised how many different kinds of people are into trail riding," she said. "Our clients range from truck drivers to surgeons, from CEOs to secretaries."

As a teacher, Cole is enthusiastic, yet patient - something she had to learn while waiting for her own turn at taking classes. Though she has a minor in equine studies, it wasn't until Cole became a CPA that she was able to devote more time to horse learning.

"I started taking all the horse classes I could take," Cole said. "My career as a CPA allowed me to cultivate my passion for horses."

However, she didn't immediately grab the reins of entrepreneurship.

"My husband and I have been around horses most of our lives and have learned a lot over the years," Cole explained. "We noticed that when we would go on organized trail rides or go horse camping, we would see people making mistakes with their horses and getting hurt.

"I was actually on one ride where a lady was riding a fresh horse, rode out the gate, and the horse reared up and she fell off and broke her neck.

Cole said because she and her husband knew horses but also consider themselves people persons, they thought they might be able to help new riders.

"In March 2000, we held our first trail-riding clinic," she said. "The clinic filled up, and we ended up turning people away. We had so much success with that first clinic, we just kept doing them."

Though being a CPA allowed Cole to pursue her love more intently, she admitted that having her love gives her the therapy she needs to stay calm during chaos.

"During a busy season, I come home at 10 o'clock, turn on the lights in the arena and ride for 30 minutes," Cole confessed.

Of course, she found additional benefit in parlaying her two professions.

"Being a CPA has helped me understand what I need to do to make my business successful," Cole said. "And, as a bonus, I'm able to do my own taxes."

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