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Employment experiment

• VocationVacations lets career changers try their dream jobs for a few days

This is Berit McClure's day job: She stands in a corral, holding one end of a long rope.

On the other end, running in a circle, is Geronimo, one of only 12,000 Peruvian horses in the United States. Outside the corral, a filly and her mother munch grass, and McClure has only to turn her head for a panoramic view of Portland and Mount Hood.

'OK, now stay behind him and push him with your left shoulder,' says Mary Folberg, owner and trainer of Geronimo, as she leans against the fence, watching McClure work.

McClure drops behind Geronimo and almost instantly the gelding breaks into a smooth, even stride that brings out his Spanish breeding and even temperament. His coat gleams in the sun, while Folberg and McClure smile over the view, the day and this experience.

'We've got ourselves a horse trainer here,' Folberg says with a laugh.

For many, it might seem like McClure has a dream job. And she does Ñ but

only for today.

McClure is enrolled in a VocationVacations program at Four Mountains Ranch in Northwest Portland where, for one day, she gets to live the life of a Peruvian horse trainer.

VocationVacations stints are 'an opportunity to give your dream job a whirl,' says owner Brian Kurth. The travel agency finds the ultimate jobs 'for the individual who's looking for something different. It isn't Club Med. It's for the Type A, I-want-to-climb-every-mountain kind of person.'

VocationVacations are just what they sound like: part vacation, part career counseling.

With so many people switching careers here Ñ either by choice or due to the slumping economy Ñ it's a fun, fairly inexpensive way for them to try their hand at their dream jobs.

'Instead of paying all this money to a career consultant, you can jump right in and see if you like it,' Kurth says of the $500 to $1,000 experience.

Typical VocationVacations last two to three days and offer in-depth, hands-on career experience without having to quit your day job. Current options include raceway manager at Portland International Raceway, brewmaster at Full Sail Brewing Co. and professional gardener at Oregon Garden.

Kurth hopes to keep expanding options to include other careers, such as radio disc jockey, musher and bed-and-breakfast operator.

The person is paired with a mentor, someone who is passionate and knowledgeable about his or her chosen profession. Mentors don't get paid for their time and energy but do benefit from a dose of publicity and vacationers' word of mouth.

Then, the person gets to live out a day in the life of whatever vocation they've chosen, right down to the nitty-gritty details.

Dreams need not be deferred

Kurth, who worked for the Chicago telecom company Ameritech before moving to Portland, says he came up with the idea for the business while commuting.

'I was thinking, 'I hate my life,' because I was spending two to three hours commuting,' Kurth says. 'And I thought, if I were to just opt out, what would I really want to do?

'And I started asking people, 'What would you do? What's your dream job?' '

Kurth found the answers were all over the board, from fishing boat captain to bartender, but the one thing that most people had in common was the belief that, whatever their dream job was, it was out of reach. So, he set out to change that by offering people a safe way to explore their career options.

In addition to the on-the-job experience, the price of a VocationVacations stint also includes lodging at a variety of hotels, including the Hood River Hotel, the Governor Hotel and 5th Avenue Suites. Eventually, Kurth hopes to expand the company enough to take care of all the details for customers, from buying the airplane tickets to making restaurant reservations.

Kurth also hopes to eventually offer VocationVacations packages to Europe and other more exotic locations.

But for right now, he feels that Oregon, and especially Portland, is the perfect place to be. 'This idea fits the mind-set of Oregon,' Kurth says. 'People think out of the box here. I could not have started VocationVacations back in Chicago.'

And, often, Kurth says, people will quickly realize that the land of their dream job might be fun to visit for a day, but it's not a place they want to live. 'For example, there are a lot of people who think they want to be a B & B owner,' Kurth says. 'But it's really an amazing amount of work.'

For McClure, the day spent training and riding horses reawakened her passion for the horse world. McClure and the owners spent the afternoon hitting the trails on the ranch's 37 acres of land.

'It was fantastic,' she says. 'They're just such wonderful people and so passionate. Rich and Mary are veritable encyclopedias of knowledge on the subject.'

To McClure, the Folbergs are living her dream job. 'And I got to experience it for a day,' she says.