Here’s to you, Candy

We’re aware of the big decisions that steer our course, such as choosing a mate or a career, but if you think back, what was a minor decision you made that ended up being life-changing?

For me, it was getting a horse of my own; a horse I would name Candy. It was the late 80s and my daughters and I had been taking riding lessons at Bev Gaedke’s ranch on Highway 23 in the Dells. Thinking about how I could afford a horse led me to investigating adopting a wild horse, which one could do for $150. That knowledge led to many questions. What if I was able to adopt a pregnant mare and I got a foal too? How hard would it be to train a wild horse? If this horse had once been out on the harsh Nevada plains, would it be possible for us to bond?

Finding answers to those questions led to my first published book, Whinny of the Wild Horses, which led to my first presentation to a large audience, to my first flight, train trip, radio interview, and column in The Dells Events. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finding out all the requirements of owning a mustang, such as the need for higher fencing, made me realize adopting wasn’t in the picture. But the dream didn’t die. I bought a quarter horse, Candy, for $500 and she turned out to be wild enough for me.

She bucked me off in the April snow and in the May mud. She was still out-muscling me and heading to the gate in June, but by July, with the help of Bev Gaedke’s guidance, I could steer her around the arena, canter her, and I learned how to jump. We competed in an event where we did dressage, stadium jumping, and cleared eight cross-country jumps. Although I was tired and hadn’t signaled her properly, she cleared the last jump, proving we were now a team. When we got to do the victory gallop, my many new horse friends joined in applauding us, a moment I’ll always treasure.

With new confidence, I stretched boundaries and, in honor of "Pioneer Day," I dressed in calico and rode her to the school where I taught. (See photo.) I also rode Candy alone in the woods. I loved those solo rides and would dream up plots for new books. When my main character, Kayla, found out someone had kidnapped her newborn cousin, she rode her beloved horse to the suspect’s trailer in the woods, where she found a human skeleton. (This became the book Eye of Truth.) In book two, Thirty Pieces of Silver, Kayla rides out on the Wyoming range and discovers someone has been slaughtering the wild horses. Books 3-5 include more adventures involving Kayla and horses, some based on true events since our adventures with horses continued.

Candy was instrumental in our purchasing a second horse (they don’t like to be without a buddy) and we trailered Candy and Shaton a whopping 200 miles to our northern Wisconsin cabin where we could ride them on logging roads or down deer paths. It was there that we found out we still had much to learn. When my husband and I decided it would be nice to let the horses enjoy a lush meadow, he drilled a hole through two enormous blocks of wood. He tied the horses to the wood. Candy could move it, and the scary, thudding sound spooked her, leading to her bolting. She ran off, dragging the log at a full gallop. The rope wore off on the blacktop road and the log finally fell off, thus allowing her to gallop away from it. We spent many scary hours tracking frayed bits of rope through the wilderness until we found Candy quivering near the wooden bridge she hated to cross.

Candy was also the reason we had to hire a northern Wisconsin horse trainer after we couldn’t get her back in the trailer. When the woman, who weighed about 100 pounds, and her young daughter showed up, we were skeptical. But the trainer showed us how the simple technique of wrapping a chain around Candy’s muzzle could make a difference in showing her who was boss.

The horses allowed me to meet new people, including 4-H friends and others involved in shows. They inspired stories which led to my getting to know fellow writers and readers. They prompted memorable adventures with my husband and our children.

Candy was born on March 17th. This St. Patrick’s Day, I’m going to raise a toast to Candy, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, set me on a course I could never have predicted, but one I’m glad I took. Here’s to you, Candy.

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