There is a horse in Crawford that Wilson Sanchez is determined to ride.
She was broken years ago, but it has been so long since she had a rider that she has forgotten how to handle one. So Sanchez leads her to the pond and lets her wade into water. Then he jumps on her back.
“She’s the only one big enough to hold me,” Sanchez said.
Teaching a horse how to take a rider again — not to mention learning to ride himself — are just two of the hundreds of new tasks Sanchez has taken on in the past year. The Atlanta native moved to a farm in the Crawford area, sight unseen, last spring to work for a friend of his grandmother’s.
“I found out Ms. Marsha needed a farmhand and agreed to do it before I even knew it was in Mississippi,” he said. “It’s not a choice I regret any day.”
“Ms. Marsha” hired Sanchez — a self-professed “city boy” — to help her take care of the landscaping and animals on her property.
As it turned out, the location of the farm scarcely mattered at first.
“I moved down here in March. Things shut down (due to COVID-19) two days later,” he remembered.
While entertainment options in the area were limited, Sanchez still had plenty to do, keeping busy with work and school.
A day’s work is anything but an ordinary day at the office.
“There were a few warm days this winter that confused the mallards,” Sanchez said. “So we had some ducklings that were born in the middle of winter. I raised them from hatchlings. I kept them in a water trough, but they outgrew that within a week. So I built an enclosure in the garage for them. I had never raised ducks before.”
Just as surely as he has taken to the farm life, the farm life has taken to him.
“There was a horse who would come up to me and intentionally scare me when she first got here. Everybody told me, ‘She can smell your fear,’” he said. “She is the feistiest horse here, and now she lets me clean her hooves.”
While earning the trust of the animals during the day, Sanchez is furthering his education at night. He is enrolled in University of Phoenix online and has earned a certificate in information technology. He plans to continue working toward his bachelor’s degree in hopes of starting his own furniture refinishing business.
By the grace of God
It’s not the first time Sanchez has reimagined his future. In 2014, he was in a car accident that nearly cost him his left arm.
“A car T-boned me on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “It is the only accident I’ve ever been in.”
The surgeon who operated on Sanchez’s arm was surprised by his range of motion when the dressings were removed.
“The doctor was shocked when I moved my arm this far back,” Sanchez said, demonstrating the motion, “but that’s as far as I can do it. It’s by the grace of God that I have a left arm that bends.”
Although Sanchez considers his recovery miraculous, it did not leave him completely unscathed. Because he no longer has full range of motion in his left arm and wrist, he is considered medically disabled.
But that didn’t stop Sanchez. His grandmother, Mariela Ayala, was not surprised that he kept moving forward in difficult circumstances.
“I’m proud that despite any challenges he has faced, he has not let that deter him from his goals and dreams,” Ayala, who primarily speaks Spanish, said in an email through an interpreter. “I admire his tenacity and drive to succeed.”
The art of the craft
Sanchez’s injury did make it impossible for him to continue doing his job — restoring furniture — in the ways he had been doing it. That limitation was especially difficult for him to accept because refinishing furniture is also one of his passions.
“I love refinishing because it’s a type of art,” he said.
Sanchez learned his art quite by accident.
“I was 21 years old and thought (my new job) was a regular delivery job,” he said. “But more and more furniture refinishing jobs started getting mixed in with the deliveries.”
Today, Sanchez can handle nearly any type of furniture refinishing work, from rebuilding portions of a piece to minor touch ups.
“I could break a chair to pieces on the ground and then put it back together so you’d never know it was broken,” he said.
And it’s not just the restoration aspect of the work that appeals to Sanchez. He also appreciates the history behind the piece.
“I love history, so I love antiques and the stories behind them,” he said.
He has even discovered a bit of history himself.
“The most interesting piece I’ve ever worked on was a Louis XVI chest of drawers. It sailed on a ship from Europe to get to the United States. When we pulled the drawers out to restore them, we discovered the words ‘vive Napoleon 1817,’” he said. “Even the owner didn’t know about that.”
Those kinds of experiences got Sanchez hooked on the craft. After he was injured, the typical pace became too much for him to handle.
“I spent some time coping with PTSD due to the wreck and the idea that I now had a disability,” he said. “Finally I decided to do something about it.”
That “something” began when he returned to school in 2018. It continued when he moved to the farm.
These days, he has his eye on a different sort of future — one that combines his love for restoring furniture with his love for helping people. He wants to start his own furniture restoration business, allowing him to continue his craft at his own pace and on his own terms.
“This job gave me the opportunity to progress in my education and have a chance to start my own business,” he said. “Coming out here was probably the best thing ever.”