A Horse for a Prince
At 60 she turned a prophecy into a business. Now it looked like a big mistake.
By Jackie Wilson, Edmond, Oklahoma, As appeared in Guideposts.
Sunday evening at Church on the Rock in Oklahoma City. Soft music filled the sanctuary. I stood near the altar, my attention fixed on the two women facing me, their heads bowed in prayer. They were prophetic ministers, there for our Apostolic and Prophetic Conference. For those who were open to it, the women would relay words from the Holy Spirit, words they hoped would have an impact on our lives.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. A few years earlier, a different set of women at the conference had told me they saw me in business. “Use your gifts in the marketplace,” they urged. At the time, I’d been a busy stay-at-home mom while my husband, Randy, worked as a geophysicist.
I spent my rare free time carving wooden rocking horses—a skill that came easily to me. One that people said was my gift. But I hadn’t had much luck selling them (most went to friends or relatives) and rarely made them anymore. Starting a business just didn’t make sense.
I leaned in closer. What would be said this time? Finally, one of the women lifted her head. “Jackie,” she said, “You have a gift that you’re not using.”
“I’m getting that feeling too,” the other woman said. “A talent that you’re meant to share with people. In the business world.”
Not again! I thought. This business thing? I loved handcrafting the old-fashioned horses, but if I had to practically give them away, why would I open a store? Especially at my age? I was almost 60. I’d dreamed of spending more time with Randy once he retired.
Clearly these women were off their rockers!
I ducked into a pew and prayed. Lord, I know you gave me a talent for making these horses, but people just aren’t buying them. What do you want me to do? I’m so confused.
About the only thing I was sure of was that God outdid himself when he created horses. They’d entranced me since I was 12 years old, growing up in Roselle, Illinois. That’s when Dad came home with Chiquita, a stunning pinto horse, for my older sister and me. I was in heaven! I’d blow through my homework and even things I liked doing (like tinkering with wood projects in Dad’s workshop in the basement) just so I could have more time with her.
My love of horses had only grown stronger by the time I married Randy. We moved to Oklahoma and I became pregnant with our daughter. One afternoon I thumbed through an issue of Early American Life magazine. An article practically galloped right off the page: “How to Make a Wooden Rocking Horse,” with step-by-step instructions.
Horses and woodworking? Perfect! I thought.
“I’ve got to make this for the baby!” I told Randy.
“If anyone can do it, you can, Jackie,” he said. “And I bet yours would be even nicer than that one.”
I got to work. I bought some wood: pine for the horse’s body and red oak for the legs and rocker. I thought I could do better than the magazine’s pattern, so I tweaked it a bit.
I hand-cut and shaped the pieces with the band saw in our garage, using the skills I’d taught myself in Dad’s workshop. I glued the horse together, then meticulously chiseled and sanded the head and body. Finally, I painted its coat a dappled gray and added a small saddle. All in all it took about a month of working on it for several hours a day.
“Wow! That is something else, Jackie!” Randy marveled. “You should really think about making these and selling them.”
“You’re crazy!” I told him. “I don’t know the first thing about any of that.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “Not every child can have a real horse like you did, but you could create almost the next best thing—something that can be passed down through generations.”
Building a horse for my own child was one thing. Building them for sale was another. They were labor intensive and never meant to be mass-produced. But when I began to consider making another horse, this one for our son, Justin, who arrived two years later, I asked myself, Can I really do this for other children? Or is it a hopeless dream?
I made six new horses, taking about a month to do each one. They turned out better than I’d dreamed! I even used real horsehair for their manes and tails. I priced them at $600 apiece (a fair price, I thought, considering the hours and hours of labor that went into them) and set up a booth at an art fair.
I sold one horse.
For less than half price.
The kids grew up, yet I couldn’t stop making rocking horses. It was like a compulsion. I tried selling them at different craft shows but hardly anyone bought them. It was no use! I finally put my tools away.
Now, as I left our church’s conference, the words from the prophetic ministers kept playing over and over in my mind.
Had God given me this insatiable urge to make rocking horses because I was meant to open a store? Would they sell better once they were all set up in a shop, on display for everyone to see?
I raised the idea of a store with Randy. “I’m all for it,” he said. “People need to see these horses, Jackie.”
In 2011, I found an affordable lease in a building right on Main Street in the heart of downtown Edmond. I put my best horses in the big picture window and hung a sign out front: Wilson Rocking Horses. I had a website set up too, so folks could order from home.
At first, there was excitement over the new shop. Families bustled in, kids hopping up on some of the horses to play. But the economy was in bad shape. Most parents were struggling to get through Christmas and birthdays. People couldn’t afford a handcrafted rocking horse. And not one order came through the website.
“What should I do?” I asked Randy when the time came to renew my lease.
“I’m so sorry, Jackie,” he said. “I know you’ve poured your heart and soul into the shop…but it’s just not making a profit.”
It broke my heart to hear those words, but deep down, I knew he was right. I had to shut down the business.
The day I cleaned out the shop, I think I cried the whole time. I ran a soft cloth over my worktable, watching wood shavings fall to the floor. I thought about saving them, the way I’d saved the locks of my children’s first haircuts.
How had this happened? I had heard those prophetic words—not once, but twice. I had prayed for God’s guidance and I thought I knew what he wanted from me. Lord, am I a failure at being your servant? On top of being a business flop?
Still, soon enough, i found myself back out in the workshop behind our house, designing a new horse. Who cared if I could sell them? I loved making them. One afternoon, I had just stepped inside to grab a soda from the fridge when the phone rang.
“I’m from the State Department,” a woman said, introducing herself. “Do you have time for a few questions?”
I swallowed the cold fizz and coughed. “What?”
“I was on your website and I’d like to talk to you about your rocking horses,” she continued.
The website. I’d forgotten about it. I’d meant to shut it down.
“Sure,” I said. “How can I help you?”
“My job is to purchase gifts for dignitaries and I’d like you to make a horse for us. It will be a gift.”
“Who is it for?” I asked.
“I can’t say,” she said. “It’s classified.”
I jumped at the chance, no charge. This would be fun. A secret rocking horse! We talked about the design. The specifications were elaborate. It was by far the most intricate horse I’d ever attempted. I made the horse and shipped it off.
About a year later I was out in my workshop using the band saw, making yet another rocking horse, when a text popped up from Justin. Mom, answer ur phone! it read. I called him back right away.
“Turn on Good Morning America!” he said. “I think they’re showing one of your horses.”
“That can’t be,” I said, running into the living room to fetch the remote. But as soon as I clicked on the channel, my mouth dropped.
They were showing off a rocking horse that the President of the United States had sent to Prince George! So that was the big secret! My horse had gone to an heir to the English throne!
Randy was so proud that last summer he flew us all over to London to see the horse in person in a display at Buckingham Palace. There, among other extravagant gifts, was the rocking horse I had made. My business’s name was engraved on a bronze plaque as the creator, along with the President and First Lady’s as the donors.
Several orders came in through the website after that, then slowly trickled off. That’s okay, though. I’m still making my rocking horses, finding joy in simply exercising the gift God gave me.
Horses, real and wooden, are Godgiven. Yep. He really outdid himself on that one.