Turning Point Ranch reigned in the right facilities coordinator when they hired Cantrell Haley.
Haley, a recent graduate of the Facilities Management program at Meridian Technology Center, had been a volunteer at the therapeutic riding center since he was 14, so Executive Director Rachel Royston already knew Haley was great with the horses and that he had the heart needed to help riders with challenges.
In light of that, Royston wasn’t surprised at how instrumental his dedication and skills were in protecting the facility’s 13 horses during the recent history-making winter weather.
When predictions turned to negative-degrees temps, Haley understood what was at stake for the animals and facilities. He knew that cold weather meant pipes could freeze, heaters could go out, ice could break tree branches, and, most importantly, members of the Ranch’s feed team may not be able to travel to take care of the horses.
That’s why he approached Royston and the board with a proposal – he wanted to pack up his personal belongings and move into the classroom for the duration of the frigid weather. Staying on-site would ensure he could quickly tackle anything that might go awry.
Royston was overwhelmed with relief at the idea. “It wasn’t like I said, ‘Cantrell, can you move in?’” she recounted. “He stepped up.”
Haley’s survival supplies included a twin mattress, a cell phone charger and enough food to last a week. For the recent high school graduate, that included an extra-large container of cheese balls, his favorite snack food.
Having the Ranch’s facilities management coordinator on-site provided some much-needed relief for Royston and the board.
“Do you know how stressed out I would have been?,” she asked. “I live 40 minutes from here. He probably saved three years of worry off my life. It takes a special person to come out in a blizzard.”
Once the storm set in, Haley got the tractor ready to clear the snow and waited. Ultimately, his biggest issue at the Ranch became managing his downtime – something he had a lot of since there were no significant issues.
Preparation and providing peace of mind is something that Haley is known for.
“This isn’t the first disaster he’s saved us from,” Royston recalled.
In 2019, when the Ranch was covered in water from the historic spring floods, Royston arrived and found equipment and supplies floating across the facility’s front pastures. Haley jumped into action, moving the tack, feed and supplies from a flooded barn. Haley’s creativity and quick thinking kicked in and he used a kayak to collect floating ground poles and a roping dummy that were swept away in the floodwaters.
“He gave us a good laugh on a bad day,” Royston added.
Thankfully, handling natural disasters isn’t a part of his regular duties at Turning Point. Most days, Haley spends time ensuring the facility is ready for riders. That might include working on tractors, mowing, light janitorial duties and working his way through a routine maintenance schedule for equipment.
“Every day is different, and that’s one thing I like about it,” he said.
Using His Resources and Skills from Tech
Haley credits his training at Tech for his wide range of skills. The Facilities Management program focuses on the day-to-day maintenance and operation of a commercial property. Content in the one-year program includes learning a mix of skills needed in construction, electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, masonry and tile work. Time is also spent learning basic appliance repairs as well as exterior maintenance.
Farm equipment and heavy machinery weren’t covered in the program, but Haley has become an expert at finding out what to do. “I go to YouTube University quite frequently,” he joked about his digital search skills.
Royston added that between YouTube, Google and the industry network that Haley developed at Meridian, he is an invaluable team member. “I can’t tell you how often we have to yell, ‘Cantrell,'” she said with her voice trailing off. “Every time something happens, he’s there to fix it.”
“The most important thing that I learned in the program is to know what you can do and what you need to call a professional for,” Haley added. “I know what limits I have.”
Haley is currently expanding his skill set. He attends Tech in the morning as a student in the school’s Masonry program and then spends his afternoons working at Turning Point averaging 20 hours a week.
Staying true to his start with the Ranch, Haley is frequently found assisting in the Ranch’s programming. That might be organizing a service project for an agriculture leadership program or encouraging first graders at Highland Park Elementary School through the Ranch’s HorseTales Literacy initiative. In its ninth year, HorseTales uses horses to deliver books to students. Students are then invited to read to horses at a field day with 16 activities, including a relay race where students race to dress a cowboy in western attire.
That’s where Haley’s heart really starts to shine, according to Royston. “He’s like a real-life Woody from Toy Story,” she said. “Students love him.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Haley. He describes the field day as “the best day of the year.”
Turning Point Ranch has genuinely been a turning point for the Stillwater student. Before volunteering in his teens, he had no experience with horses. He wasn’t sure about his career path when he enrolled at Tech, but he knew he liked fixing things and working with his hands.
“I never thought I would be working in maintenance; then I started working here,” he said. “You can’t come out here and not leave with a smile on your face.”
Contributing to the Community
Turning Point Ranch is one of 900 members of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. There are 12 PATH centers in Oklahoma and Turning Point Ranch was the first facility to earn the premier accreditation designation. Located on Country Club Road in Stillwater, the Ranch encompasses 21 acres of pasture and training arenas. The Ranch partners the magic of horses with the tools to build productive futures for individuals facing physical, mental, emotional or socio-economic challenges. Offering therapeutic riding, a horse-themed literacy program, mobile mini-programs and programs for at-risk youth, Turning Point serves more than 500 people each year.
Haley’s position at Turning Point Ranch is partially funded through AmeriCorps, a federal grant that connects members with public service organizations to meet community needs. Launched in 1993, the program provides an opportunity for individuals of all backgrounds to impact their community. Haley is one of 270,000 AmeriCorps members serving 40,000 communities across the country.