NEVIS, Minn. — Haley Sue Crandall’s wish of having a horse that will be her friend came true last week at Straight Rail Ranch, near Nevis.
Haley, who was born with three heart defects and had her first open heart surgery when she was only 2, grew up loving horses.
She was not given permission from her doctors to ride until after they surgically moved her pacemaker up toward her shoulder.
“Now she can wear the gear needed to protect it,” her mom, Tricia, said.
So when Make-A-Wish Minnesota contacted 10-year-old Haley in August of 2020, she told them she wanted a horse.
“If you wish for a trip, when it’s over you’ll just have pictures and memories, but with a horse you’ll have a friend who will be with you for a long time,” she said. “A horse is very therapeutic for me. I feel so happy and much more calm around horses. I am very grateful that there are so many people that wanted to help me.”
Make-A-Wish calls children whose wishes they grant “Wish Kids.”
“When I told Haley her wish for a horse would come true, she was so excited she jumped for joy,” Tricia said. “It’s miraculous. Haley is being blessed beyond our wildest dreams. I’m so happy this wish is bringing hope to her life after all she’s gone through with doctors and hospitals.”
With family and friends watching from the bleachers Wednesday, May 5, Haley finally met Fancy. She was told not to peek as her mom took her by the hand and led her into the middle of the arena while Fancy was brought in from the boarding area.
Haley’s first words when she looked into her horse's eyes and stroked her mane were a soft “I love you,” while Fancy gently nuzzled her cheek.
“Oh, my goodness, the whole evening was so touching, especially meeting the horse and seeing Haley’s smile and a tear come from her eye,” Tricia said. “It made my heart happy. This little girl needed it so much. It was so sweet how they bonded right away.”
Haley and Tricia first visited Straight Rail Ranch last year.
When Make- A-Wish contacted the ranch in August about Haley’s wish, they made it their mission to find just the right horse for her,” Tricia said.
Since Haley’s goal is to eventually be able to compete in the show ring, they wanted to find a horse that was both good with kids and able to be trained for competitions.
After a nationwide search, with help from National Cutting Horse Association trainer Greg Coalson, they found the 5-year-old quarter horse in Texas. The ranch owns Fancy and will pay for her food, board and veterinary bills, but she will be Haley’s to ride whenever she visits the ranch. She will also receive free riding lessons.
Like a fairy tale
Working with Make-A-Wish and the ranch, many businesses and individuals in the area donated money to make sure Haley had everything she needed to make her dream come true, including a protective vest and helmet, western boots, hats and jackets and all of the gear and grooming accessories for the horse.
Haley went on a whirlwind shopping trip this winter to pick out riding clothes and accessories.
“I was very shy at first,” she said. “After I picked out my saddle, I got more and more excited as I realized my wish was coming true. I couldn't believe I could get so much stuff. It was so amazing!”
Haley loves dance and swimming, but her heart issues limit her participation.
“She was unable to dance any longer after she started going into heart failure last year,” Tricia said.
Since last year, Haley has been homeschooled because of COVID-19.
“It’s been very lonely for her, so having a horse will be an amazing experience,” Tricia said. “Hopefully, she will be able to meet some other kids at the ranch. It will be outdoors and easier to distance, so it will be safer.”
Haley will eventually need another surgery to totally replace three valves in her heart.
“Her cardiologist feels she is stable enough to wait for valve replacements until she gets a little older,” Tricia said.
For now, Haley is looking forward to spending time with the horse that made her wish come true.