Nearly 20 years ago, a traumatic event invaded the lives of Paula Bowers and her then 9-year-old daughter, Emily. Months following the tragedy, a mutual friend introduced Paula and Emily to me, knowing both needed horse therapy. Emily was instantly inflicted with incurable horse fever when she met my horse, Brio. Two years later, Paula gifted Emily with a horse of her own, Alex, who is now 33 years old and remains the love of Emily’s life. There is, however, competition for the number one spot in Emily’s heart, according to her husband of six months, John Carpenter, who claims, “It depends on the day if I’m number one or Alex is.”

Emily riding Alex on wedding day

John, a native of Bailey, and Emily, a Kittredge native, unknowingly lived parallel lives, with one exception: John wants nothing to do with horses. “My parents bred, raised and trained American Paint Horses. We always had a herd of 30 or more that I had to feed and care for. I am over horses, which I told Emily from the beginning,” John explains. So, how did Emily—longtime member of Westernaires, 2009 Evergreen Rodeo Queen, founder (with her mom) of Sweethearts of the West drill team, and current secretary and royalty coordinator for the Park County Fair—fall for a man who has a disdain for her passion? It’s because of Paula’s determination that their shared traumatic event would never define or hinder Emily, and because of that, Emily gained strength, courage and confidence, and through Alex, she learned the meaning of compassion and trust.

Paula’s determination and love now defines Emily. “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for my mom. She enrolled me in sports camps, piano lessons, and anything else I was interested in. Knowing I loved horses, my mom’s boss knew Alex’s owner, and miraculously, they offered him to us for free. The irony was, neither of us knew anything about horses, and like me, Alex had had a rough life. He definitely wasn’t a horse I could get on and ride. At the beginning, all I could do was brush him. I was fine with that. Alex became the therapy I needed to heal. Over time, he restored my mental health. I did the same for him because we bonded by trusting one another,” recalls Emily.

“When I pulled the line in, a humongous fake engagement ring was attached to the hook.”

Boarding Alex with two of Emily’s horse-owning friends was challenging. “My friends could hop on their horses and go for a ride. This I couldn’t do because Alex spooked at everything, but I wasn’t going to allow that to defeat me. I went to the stable every day after school and spent even more time with him on the weekends. I didn’t miss a day. When I finally had my fill of brushing Alex, I figured out how to saddle him. That went well until I tried to bridle him. No matter how patient I was, he roughly hit me in the face with his face. My patience ran out. I was done. I told my mom, ‘I want you to sell Alex.’ Wisely, she suggested, ‘Give Alex one more chance. If it doesn’t work, we’ll sell him.’ I gave Alex one more chance. My dream to ride became a reality when Alex lowered his head and accepted the bit. We became and remain a bonded team,” Emily says.

While Emily was growing up in Kittredge, John spent his childhood showing sheep, cattle, pigs and steers through Park County 4-H and Park County Fair. Adam Shirley, whose father, Ed, founded Shirley Septic in 1972, is president of the 4-H Livestock Committee. Ed’s a longstanding member of Evergreen Rodeo and Parade, and it was Kristi Shirley, Adam’s wife, who played the role of Cupid that united John and Emily.

John reveals his first encounter with Emily: “Mutual friends were on our Facebook feeds, and I was instantly attracted to her. She accepted my friend request, but days later, she deleted me.”

Emily reveals her side of the story: “That’s John’s truth. I have no recollection of that, but 12 years after I supposedly ghosted him on Facebook, our paths crossed at Park County Fair when I was chatting with Kristi. John walked by us and said, ‘Hi Kristi, hi Emily,’ and kept walking. I was instantly smitten and asked Kristi, ‘Who was that super cute guy?’ When he finally asked me out, our attraction was instant because we’re both family oriented and outdoorsy.”

After 21⁄2 years of dating, John reveals, “I knew I wanted to marry Emily because she puts up with me and we like the same things. Not many girls like to ice fish, but she did.” It was while ice fishing, John proposed.

Emily picks up the story: “John’s birthday is February 25. When I asked how he wanted to spend the day, he immediately responded, ‘Let’s go ice fishing.’ No big surprise. I suggested we invite several friends to celebrate his birthday with us and he agreed. With our poles baited and set in icy water, John left the group to check our lines to ensure they remained baited. Returning, he said, ‘Emily, I think you have a fish on your line. Go check.’ Giving a tug, I knew the bait and supposed fish were gone. When I pulled the line in, a humongous fake engagement ring was attached to the hook. Turning around, John was down on one knee holding a gorgeous engagement ring that he designed.”

John and Emily

John claims, “I married my best friend. We always support one another, and I admire how close Emily is with her mom. They talk on the phone multiple times every day. I’m close to my family, but not like that. Emily is always compassionate and understanding, and when we argue or disagree, we resolve it by saying, ‘This is the life you choose for yourself.’ I wouldn’t have it any other way”

Emily’s passion for horses remains, and John supports her by hauling horses to any and all events and doing whatever needs to be done, as long as he doesn’t have direct involvement with a horse, but there was one exception. Emily rode Alex down the aisle on their wedding day with Paula at her side, a sight John claims “was the most beautiful and unforgettable moment of our entire wedding.”

Emily and wedding party