GALENA, Ill. — Cathy Wolfenden knows that she cannot hide where she has been.
The biggest giveaway is her choice of words. No Galena native would refer to the trunk of a car as a “boot,” or say “mum” instead of mom.
However, Wolfenden, born and raised in Galena, cannot help but utilize the vocabulary that she acquired during her 16 years of living in New Zealand.
“I think terminology and the words I use to communicate things are the biggest giveaways,” Wolfenden said. “After so much time in New Zealand, that’s just how you get used to saying it.”
Luckily for her, though, the one thing that is seemingly shared between New Zealand and the Galena area is a love of horses.
It was on that mountainous Pacific island that Wolfenden spent many years learning the different methods of equestrian riding and horse care, and now she has returned to use that experience as the new coordinator for the Shenandoah Riding Center in Galena.
“Horses help bring out the best qualities in people,” Wolfenden said. “I’ve found that to be true no matter where you are, and I want Shenandoah to be a place where all aspects of that can be explored.”
Wolfenden was first put on a horse when she was 2 years old on her parents’ farm in Galena. It was on the 200-acre property where she first learned to ride and tend to horses. Over time, she developed a deep passion for the animals.
That passion would continue through high school and even into college. While earning degrees in business management and education in St. Paul, Minn., Wolfenden still took part-time work exercising horses at local stables.
While working with horses in Minnesota, she was often joined by her husband, Tom, a native of New Zealand, who in turn would take her to visit his home country.
After living in Minnesota for about 10 years, Wolfenden and her husband made the decision to move to New Zealand.
“We originally only planned to stay there for a few years, and he could be closer to his family” Wolfenden said. “We were looking for a bit of a change.”
The couple initially settled in the city of Auckland, where they continued to work with horses and ride trails in the surrounding area. After about five years, Wolfenden and her husband purchased an equestrian facility located an hour north of Auckland.
For Wolfenden, the experience took adjustment; she had limited experience with the country’s British inspired riding style and had to learn many of the country’s practices.
“It was an equestrian world that was quite different from the Midwest,” Wolfenden said. “I was used to raising and riding horses for ranching and things like that. This had a lot more dressing and eventing to go with it.”
What initially was intended to be a short time spent in New Zealand turned into 16 years. The country became home to her, her children developed New Zealand accents and she continued to work with horses on the island.
“I became attached to New Zealand,” Wolfenden said. “The people are so wonderful, and it’s a truly beautiful country.”
Eventually, though, Wolfenden and her husband made the decision to return to her hometown. Last year, she moved back to Galena, and, while re-acquainting herself with the community, she stumbled upon the old Shenandoah Riding Center, a place where she had grown up riding as a child. She had heard that the Galena Territory Association was considering closing the facility down.
“It just struck a chord with me because I grew up with Shenandoah, and I loved it there,” Wolfenden said. “I went home that night, and had a family meeting. I asked them what they would think if we got our hat in the ring at Shenandoah, and they said go for it.”
After 15 years of being leased out to different management companies, Shenandoah Riding Center came back under the Galena Territory Association’s control, with Wolfenden at the helm.
“You can just tell that she is very passionate about horses,” said Steve Wyland, general manager of the Galena Territory Association. “She has so much experience to offer. We’re really excited to have her on board.”
Wolfenden said she plans to utilize all of the experience she has gathered over the years from working with horses throughout the world to make the riding center an exceptional facility.
It’s been a long journey, but she’s glad to be home.