MERRILL (WAOW) -- Sharon and Wayne Jahnke are lifetime horse lovers. Their farm, Blue Haven Stables in Merrill, bares the name of Sharon's prize winning horse Blue Haven Houdini. In their hay day the pair won 7 World Championship titles in pole bending and barrel racing.
Sharon said, "I started with one and worked into a lot with raising and training."
Three decades later 47 horses now roam the 140 acre property. Many casually graze near cars and visitors-and there are a lot of visitors. Each year dozens come to the farm to learn how to get into horses.
"It doesn't matter what the breed is. It's just a matter of getting attached to them, getting acquainted with them," said Wayne.
The staff is as big a part of the production here as the Jahnkes are. Josh Wurster has his own story to tell. So does Linda Predeth. They are stories of how they fell in love with horses and had a knack for handling them, both shaped by Sharon's nurturing. Sharon and the staff teach camps throughout the summer. Some adults attend, but mostly kids make up the group. Kids who are trying to convince their parents.
"They most of all want to get a horse. That's their goal in life-to get a horse," said Sharon.
"A lot of kids will do it two or three years in a row. This is a way to prove to their parents that they are willing to take the responsibility of raising and taking care of a horse," said Wayne.
The responsibility is considerable. Many of these animals live into their 40s. During the three hour a day camp there's emphasis on bridling, walking and brushing. They are skills that need to be taught the right way.
"It's not a toy. It's something that they really have to take care of. It's a life."
The most importance is placed on developing a relationship by finding a horse-person connection.
"People don't pay attention to horses very much. Horses talk to people all the time. Not every horse is for every person. Horses pick people just like people pick horses, but they have to pay attention," Sharon said.
Sharon rattles off memories of those she's helped get on the right path. She shares loving details of the perfect match that is once in a lifetime for owners and horses. Some of those she teaches end up with horses and some don't. Either way, in the end, most are grateful for the Jahnkes' help and advice and the way they touch so many lives.
"We get lots of letters from teachers and parents about how their kids have changed. How they treat other kids after these programs and how they treat animals after these programs," Wayne said.