How are you handling things? A Q&A with Alumna Maddie McCandless

Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2020

Maddie with a horse.

*** Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing a series of Q&As featuring OAC community members to showcase how people are coping with our uncertain - but collective - state. We’re hoping these will help connect and support our community (in a small way) during these isolating and challenging times. Look after yourself and those around you. ***

Maddie McCandless is Ridgetown Campus’ Equine Facilities Coordinator. She graduated from the equine major of our Bachelor of Bio-Resource Management degree in 2013 and has been working in the equine industry since. She typically works from the REACH Huron location in Clinton, Ontario, managing Ridgetown’s teaching barn and horses, but recently transitioned to working from home. She chatted with us from her home in Minden, Ontario.


What’s your current situation?

I am currently learning to adapt to these unexpected circumstances. I have had some difficulties with this transition, which is to be expected. Once the University had cancelled face-to-face classes, we had to send the 18 horses home from REACH within a two-week period. The horses used in our equine programs are leased from owners in Ontario, anywhere from Huron County to East of Toronto. This resulted in a totally different schedule, with a shorter timeline, to close up the barn and increase biosecurity measures. I am very thankful to the staff and students who used their absolute best biosecurity practices to ensure horse care. My gratitude to the horse owners is ever lasting, as these owners were extremely kind and professional, and we are extremely lucky to get to use these spectacular horses! By the end of March, our teaching barn was empty and I transitioned to working remotely. I have had some personal difficulties over the last few weeks, including moving twice. Juggling work with a couple of moves was stressful to say the least, but I am lucky to have an amazing team who assists where they can remotely. I am settling in at the new place, and I am finding a new normal.

How are you spending your days?

I am currently working towards finding appropriate work/life balance. We are all working hard to maintain our physical and mental well-being, while trying to be productive as possible. Sticking to a morning routine has helped to ensure productivity when working from home. I am thankful for the added time to edit documents, create new protocols for emergencies, and ensure a smooth transition back into the barn come September. When I am not working, I keep busy by walking the dog, reading novels, and trying my best to stay active.

What are some ways you are staying in touch with friends and family?

I am currently located quite a distance from my friends and family. I am maintaining relationships through technology, for the most part. Daily phone calls keep me going. I check in regularly with family members to ensure everyone is doing well mentally, physically and emotionally. I have only recently started video chatting with friends and family, and it has helped to alleviate the loneliness.

How are you finding social distancing?

I am now a few weeks into the practice of social distancing and to be honest, it is hard! I am an extrovert, who thrives on human connection. At first, I found it hard to maintain relationships over technology. I am working on that, and it makes the world of difference. I am currently isolating on my own, and I find times I feel quite lonely. I have picked up different methods of coping with the boredom and hope to find more as this month goes on. To be completely honest, I miss the horses and I miss seeing the interactions between students and our equine teachers.

Let’s talk about that. You went from working with horses every day, to not at all.

This has got to be the biggest change with the most impact. I am an equestrian. I spend every day in the barn, with horses, and a routine. This transition has had both positive and negative impacts on me in the last few weeks. Once the horses were removed, I was able to take a few vacation days and relax. This was needed in stressful times! My daily tasks are very hands-on. Moving to working remotely from a computer, is the complete opposite. I am thankful that working in the equine industry and post-secondary sector have taught me the importance of adaptability, because I have found that skill extremely important over the last few weeks. Difficult times like these have made me appreciate a full barn, of happy, healthy horses and students. It has made me appreciate the village of staff and students who make our equine programs and teaching barn one of the best in our nation. I appreciate the frenzied work that goes into running an elite teaching barn, and shockingly, I miss it all.

What’s brought you the most joy over the last few days?  

The first is nature. I am lucky enough to live on the waterfront in cottage country. I have spent the last week watching the ice on the lake melt. It sounds boring, but it serves as a great reminder that we are moving forward and will continue to move forward through this pandemic. In the back bush, there are so many animal tracks. The moose are out, bears are coming out of hibernation, and I have even seen a few otters swimming in the thawed part of the lake. This is also a little reminder that staying home is creating a better environment for both ourselves, and the wildlife in our communities. The second is kindness. Humanity. Compassion. Teamwork. Watching our nation come together to help the compromised. From hearing of a co-worker getting groceries for an elderly neighbour, to seeing the dairy farmers work together so that everyone loses a little, but no one loses their livelihood. Seeing all of our essential workers going out in uncertain times to ensure our community continues to thrive to the best of its ability. How our nation has come together is something we should take a moment to appreciate and remember.

Do you have any advice for your fellow alumni during these uncertain times?

Stay home, take care of yourself, make time for the people you love, and wash your hands. These are hard times, and they are taking a toll on our wellbeing. Slow down, make time for yourself, and find an appropriate work/life balance. Reach out to friends, co-workers, or industry contacts who may be feeling the same way. And most importantly – BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER!  “At the end of the day, remind yourself you did the best that you could, & that is good enough.” - Lori Deschene

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