Passion for Animals
Our passion for animals and interest in serving others inspired my decision to become an equestrian and professional breeder. Together William and Crystal Shepard founded WillStar Riding Academy in 2012.
In 2010 William and Crystal united in marriage at their home with their family and beloved animals.
William a successful business owner is a jack of all trades. He is incredibly hardworking and dedicated to his wife and family. As a child he worked along with his family at their family metal recycling business in Bemidji. Will manages the business for his family now. Will enjoyed riding horses owned by family friends. He had always enjoyed horses and set a plan to own at least one in his lifetime.
In 2009 Will and Crystal met and immediately hit it off and were soon inseparable. Sydney and Wyatt, Crystals children loved Will and that sealed the deal. In 2010 they were married in an outdoor wedding at their home now WillStar Enterprises. Along with their family and friends including all the horses and dogs the pledged their loved for each other and tied the knot.
Crystal is a certified equestrian riding instructor for western and english disaplines. She has been giving lessons since 1996. That included founding a therapeutic horseback riding program.
In 2012 together they opened WillStar Riding Academy and WillStar Tack and Feed. The "Will" for obvious reasons, and the Star are letters in Crystal's name. The business was an immediate success and they had up to 25 horses and 4 riding instructors teaching at the facility.
In 2014 Crystal underwent a weight loss surgery. She is diagnosed with a genetic liver disease Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency of genetic type ZZ at birth. After years of no knowledge of the severity of this diagnosis Crystal has a cirrhotic liver, spleenomegaly, thrombocytopenia and causing several imbalances and many other diagnosis that make weight management very difficult. Because of the severity of her conditions at the time of surgery she had unfotunate complications. An excruciating pain 6 days after her surgery sent Crystal to the emergency room, and later the next morning an emergency life flight to the U of M. Crystal spent 3 days on life support in ICU followed by 1 month in the hospital. She had internal sepsis from a leak. She could not eat or drink for a month. Feed only by IV fluids. A special surgical team performed a complicated leak surgery to repair the stomach. Will never left her side, he cared for her every step of the journey. 6 months of hospital stays off and on and 16 additional stomach surgeries.
Being hospitalized for that length of time and being encouraged not to move unless necessary, Crystal had severe muscle atrophy. She couldn't walk on her own. She had to learn to walk again and regain the strength she lost. Little by little her strength increased.
All the time she stayed positive and up beat. She always commented that it was harder on everyone else. She had great care from Southdale Hospital, excellent surgeons and loving supporting husband. Family and friends went out of their way to help her and Will through the process of healing.
When was she able to ride again?
In May of that year was the first time she got to swing a leg over her horse Pumpkin. He was stabled and was going through his own doctoring after a serious shoulder wound in the dead of winter. This happened the same day Crystal got to the hospital before her surgery. Family friends made emergency vet calls, and transferred him to Legacy Stables in Brainerd. If wasn't for the crew at Legacy Stables making special accommodations for his care Pumpkins quality of life would not be the same. (soon we will post all about Crystal and Pumpkins story).
Together they healed. After the healing was finished it was time to get back to business. It was difficult and challenging for Will and Crystal. Will had more demands at the family business. Crystal had less strength and coordination than she was used to. A minor surgical stroke caused some loss of memory, left side weakness, making her gait a little unstable. She went to physical Therapy 6 times a week. Until she was strong enough to walk and function on her own.
2015 They took the tack and apparel store on the road. Setting up at MN fairs, rodeos, and barrel races. They did this until 2018. In 2016 they found out after an audit that their had been some major accounting and inventory discrepancies that only could be explained by multiple thefts. It was too much to continue on. Crystal hired some wonderful riding instructors to take her place. They closed the tack store onsite location and just went on road.
So where do the dogs come in?
In the summer of 2015 both the family dogs Ripper a beautiful brindle pitbull and Betty Lou a gorgeous St. Bernard were poisoned. This same thing had happened to several dogs in the area. They were just the unfortunate ones to get targeted. Ripper unfortunately didn't make it and was laid to reset in July. Betty Lou being younger made it through. Although one snowy evening she was waiting at the end of the driveway for her boy Wyatt to come home. A car lost control on the icy roads and hit her resulting in her unfortunate death. This was another devastating blow for the Shepard family.
Weeks later a friend gifted them with a corgi puppy named Thor. They didn't have any plans to start a breeding program. They were so grateful to receive such a kind gift, breeding was the last thing on their mind. Being new to corgis Crystal enjoyed the challenge of training a breed that was new to her. He had incredible train ability and was so happy and willing to please. Even as a young pup he had a good mind and was natural herder. He started herding the family chickens while tagging along to do chores. He was quiet and gentle with them. Circled them until they all went in their pen then sat at the door while they ate their chicken feed. Seeing this, it was clear he was something special. So in October 2017 Will and Crystal bought an older female named Doty that was ready to breed. She had 6 pups and that was the beginning of WillStar Canine.
The pack has grown to 7 now with 5 dames and 2 sires. The family breeds high quality beautiful Registered Pembroke Welsh Corgis and Cowboy Corgis. A designer breed mixing Australian Cattle Dog and Corgi.
After that the summer of 2017 Crystal fully retired from giving lessons. The other instructors taught until summer of 2018 and they downsized the herd of 25 to now 5 family horses. WillStar now is a boarding facility and they have riding events & open arena during the summer. It is much quieter around WillStar now. The horses enjoy their days playing in the pasture and going for an occasional trail ride.
Where are the kids now?
Will and Wyatt work together at the metal recycling center. Wyatt is a senior in high school and graduates spring of 2019. Crystal and Will are soon to be empty nesters, their daughter Sydney moved out in 2017 to start her adult life. She currently lives in Bemidji and works at a local office supply store. Wyatt is planning to go to a technical college for Welding in the Fall of 2019.
Crystal is also going to school to receive a Liberal Arts Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Physiology. She hopes to go on to Graduate school to achieve her doctorate.
Will helps take care of the horses and the outdoor chores along with Wyatt.
Will and Crystal put on barrel racing series from 2012-2017. They took a break in 2018 to complete some facility projects and upgrades. They are looking forward to putting on some possible events in the near future.
Will and Crystal enjoy traveling several times a year to all over the United States. Will is still working his families business and Crystal dedicates most of her time to her kids, school and the pack of dogs. They love that they get to enjoy their family, dogs horses everyday.