When it comes to helping SAFE succeed, there are a lot of different ways that volunteers can make a difference. Most of our wonderful volunteers start out by devoting one morning or afternoon a week to their favorite horse rescue, and their dedication to our horses ensures that everyone is well fed and well cared for. For some people, that weekly “horse fix” is enough, but for others, it’s the start of something that soon becomes a significant part of their lives. They each tend to have a particular talent or something they really enjoy doing, and together we find a way to make that talent work for SAFE. Each time this happens, the organization becomes stronger.

So when it comes time to select a volunteer to honor as our Volunteer of the Year, we will look to those individuals who have really made their mark on this rescue through hard work and dedication. This year, there was one person in particular that we felt had taken her role to a level far beyond what we thought was possible. That person is Candace Carlson, the Queen of all things Tack here at Safe Harbor Stables.

An enormous amount of tack is donated to SAFE every year. Were it not for Candace, that donated tack would probably take over every inch of this 11 acre farm we call home. In 2016, she took it upon herself to bring order to chaos and turn mold into gold. Candace sorts through bags of donated tack each week, and divides into into items we need for our own horses, and items we can sell to raise money for them. She cleans and restores tack that’s been neglected, she researches the value of some of the items we’re given, and she prepares it to go to tack sales or be sold here at SAFE. Her efforts have paid off spectacularly. In the three years she’s been in charge of tack donations, she has raised more than $23,000 for the horses at SAFE. Mold into gold, indeed!

When asked about herself and her volunteer work with SAFE, she had this to say:

Candace and Jewel

I grew up in Bremerton, but have lived and worked in downtown Seattle for many years. In 2015, I retired from Metro Transit where I managed the 7‑agency ORCA fare payment system. I first learned of SAFE from a news article several years ago which featured Bonnie’s horse rescue efforts.  I was hooked. Through my work site’s Employee Giving program, I was able to support SAFE with annual donations. On retiring, signing up as a SAFE volunteer was a high priority. Like most of us, I’ve always loved horses, but living in the city with a crazy work schedule is not conducive to horse ownership. I ride Western and am the product of horse camps, treks, lessons, and lease horses. A lot of good horses in that mix! I enjoy my SAFE job handling tack donations. We get amazing donations. SAFE horses get the best to meet their needs and we sell the rest or pass along to other rescues. On a few occasions, people donating their tack after their horse has passed will include the most heartfelt notes. They have lost their horse and it gives them comfort or a kind of closure knowing that a SAFE horse will use their gear. I have cried with some people, shared their loss.”  Candace feels it helps people to know we can honor their horse’s memory by putting their used tack to work. Without Candace’s help, we would not be able to do so much with these donations. Used tack donations represent a a consistent source of income for SAFE, helping us diversify our revenue. Not only that, but she was instrumental in helping Kit to distribute over 90 blankets this year for our Blanket Bank.

When asked about her favorite SAFE horses, she says “Who can resist babies?” She thinks Nova and Rae are adorable. However, she spends most of her time in Tack Central, away from the bustle of the barn. Tack Central consists of two large stalls on the southeast corner of the main barn, an outside row, which is often used for quarantine and recuperating horses. Last fall, Valor spent a number of weeks recuperating in a stall next to Candace’s headquarters and she developed a soft spot for him. Valor would swing his head as far toward Candace as he could to see what she was doing. To keep him company and make him feel important, Candace would show him bits of tack and let him give his opinions. Valor’s sweet demeanor won her over, and she is looking forward to him finding his forever home. She thinks he’s a gem.

As Katniss Everdeen, during the End Hunger Games at SAFE

Although Candace doesn’t work on a regular team, her amazing attitude and dedication does not escape the notice of other volunteers. Thursday AM crew member, Debbie Meyer, reflected on what it is like to work with Candace: “When I was looking for more areas in which to help at SAFE, I was thrilled to see Candace was looking for a Tack Queen Assistant. Even though I didn’t know anything about tack at the time, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about horses. Even though I hadn’t worked with Candace before, I had previously observed her commitment and focus on those days when we were both at the barn. I knew I would enjoy working with and learning from her, given her calm, kind, patient demeanor; and I was right!  Candace is dedicated to helping SAFE raise money on tack sales and has raised a significant amount, mostly on her own with her organized and professional approach! Her compassion for the SAFE horses and perseverance with tackling the challenges of the 4H, SAFE and online tack sales have fueled her success.  SAFE is lucky to have her.”

Weekend Barn Manager, Lexee Navarre had this to say about Candace: “I always know when Candace is at the barn because it’s usually in the middle of the day during my “quiet hours” that I hear her little radio playing classic tunes as she works away sorting all the new donations and pulling out merchandise for potential buyers. We usually catch up while I complain about how tiring school is and she always smiles and laughs at my stories. It’s always a pleasure to see Candace and watch the immense amount of work she puts in for SAFE’s tack sales. It’s definitely her niche and she just does it so well! It’s so nice walking into those tack stalls, where I can always stumble in and am able to find what a client is looking for. The organization is just incredible, and leaves me in awe.”

Our 2018 Volunteer of the Year recipient was announced at our holiday potluck celebration, an event Candace hadn’t planned on attending until a couple of her fellow volunteers cajoled her into coming. SAFE’s Executive Director Bonnie Hammond made the announcement during her year-end presentation, and Candace was quite surprised when she realized that the volunteer being honored was actually her!! She said later that she had expected to be one of several people given a Starbucks Card or some such gift. We were happy to spoil her with some lovely flowers, tickets to Heart of the Horse, and her name on our Volunteer of the Year plaque, which hangs in the SAFE offices. And an inflatable crown, a fitting gift for the Tack Queen herself!

Candace, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for being part of SAFE. You have made such a tremendous difference for our horses!