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Melanie Wilhelm

For the Love of Horses

A former school teacher trades in her textbooks for tack, and turns a lifelong passion into a small town success story.

“No one trains horses this far out in West Texas.”

That’s what Melanie Wilhelm was told her whole life. Nazareth always seemed too far from the shows, too focused on cattle and too void of opportunity for Melanie to pursue those dreams, so she followed her grandmother's advice and became a teacher. But horses always seemed to find their way back to Melanie.

“Ever since I was a little girl I rode. When we got married, we were broke and I couldn’t have horses. Eventually people started asking me if I would take in their horses. So I started riding other people’s horses.”

The dirt road that leads up to her sprawling training facility is reminiscent of her humble beginnings. Her first operation was a small chicken barn on the same piece of land, where friends and neighbors would bring in their ranch colts to be trained out in the surrounding pastures.The horses took to her quickly and their owners told their friends. Soon, word began to spread that something was happening out in Nazareth, and Melanie became a hot commodity. The chicken barn needed an upgrade.

“When I built the stall barn people felt more confident to send their better horses.”

She found herself taking in more and more show horses, and finally knew she had something real. She needed to commit to the horses full-time, so she quit her teaching job. You can’t train reining horses just anywhere. They need a specific ground and a controlled environment. She couldn’t keep closing up when it rained. Melanie needed to build an arena.

“People thought ‘Oh my gosh, she’s building that big barn out there and it’s not gonna work. She lives in Nazareth, Texas. There’s not a lot of people around here looking for a horse trainer.’ And my husband Wayne used to always joke that if it didn’t work out, he could park his equipment in there.”

But it did work out. When she approached Centennial BANK the first time, she admits all she had was a passion for horses and a stable of loyal clients. When the bank showed little enthusiasm in her vision for lack of a business plan, she got right back up again. Determined and driven, she came back with a plan.

“I was actually turned down the first year but I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I came back. They watched me work hard and I proved that I could retain customers and I was committed to what I wanted to do.”

With a loan from Centennial BANK and a fire in her belly, Melanie built a 100’x150’ arena, which opened the doors to explosive growth. People across Texas heard what she was doing and started coming from far and wide.

“I got bigger than what I wanted to be for a while. Sometimes what you think you want is not what you want. It was 24/7. It almost seemed like I turned my hobby and my passion into a J-O-B there for a while.”

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She felt herself being stretched in too many directions. She was on the road showing horses a week at a time; not able to spend the time she needed with the horses she left at home. The facility needed more expansions, so an office and more stalls were added on. In search of balance, Melanie pared down.

“It’s taken me awhile to figure it out but I’m in the perfect spot in my life. I got it scaled back to where it’s perfect. Almost the amount of clients that I started with, but with a nice facility that I can enjoy. I’m not into the whole dog-and-pony show. To me success is not winning things."

The awards and the recognition were never the goal. It was always about doing what she loved and helping others to do the same.

“It’s about the love of the horse here.”

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