Paige Gilster’s passion for horses and horse racing quickly flourished from a childhood passion to profession in a matter of years.
Riding horses for pleasure in her early years on Kenyon trails, Gilster developed an interest in horse racing through annual Father’s Day trips to Canterbury Park in Shakopee and realized horse racing was something she wanted to take on as a career while in college at Iowa State University.
Today, the 2013 Kenyon-Wanamingo graduate resides in Lexington, Kentucky, as an assistant manager of Timber Town Stables. Through developing a thoroughbred (a breed of horse developed in England for racing and jumping) horse breeding business under the name Blu-Sky Stables since November 2014, with the help of a partner and her father, Jeff Gilster, she was led through a roller coaster of emotions and a rewarding experience in being connected to a horse (Finnick the Fierce) nominated to race in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby (originally scheduled for May) was held the first weekend in September without any spectators. Gilster said she is fortunate to have a good relationship with the owners of Finnick, describing them as a second family to her. Luckily, they had a ticket to give her so she could attend the race. Since many racetracks were shut down from March to May, Gilster says it was difficult to enter Finnick in a race, due to there being too many horses and not enough races. For an industry that depends on the horses to pay them back by racing, the pandemic took a huge hit on both the industry and owners.
A great accomplishment
Through working at Canterbury Park for one summer while in college, she met a state veterinarian and established business with him to find her first mare. Gilster said the vet sent her a couple of options and ultimately chose one named Southern Classic. By February 2015, the mare was in Iowa at college with Gilster breeding her with a stallion, and she had her first foal in March 2016. Although that foal wasn’t fond of racing, it was athletic and enjoyed jumping over obstacles. Southern Classic had her second foal in 2017, Finnick the Fierce, and after that, she experienced fertility problems and has since stayed in Kentucky with Gilster. Southern Classic is now at Timber Town with Gilster in foal to the stallion Honor Code. Gilster says she is due at the end of February 2021.
After Finnick was born, they noticed he had a rare genetic cataract which left him blind in his right eye. While Finnick could race just fine, buyers are typically looking to get the best “bang for their buck,” meaning they prefer two eyes over just one.
Given this information, Gilster decided to sell him privately to track veterinarian Arnoldo Monge, who said he’d make the horse a stakes race horse, which adds a little bit of value to the mare. Currently, Finnick is trained and owned by Rey Hernandez.
“We thought we hit it on the head,” Gilster said. “The stallion was extremely hot the year Fin was born and the babies were bringing three times the stud fee, but then we found he was born with a bad eye and my heart sank.”
This year has brought many emotions for Gilster and Finnick. Initially, the sale of Finnick was supposed to pay off Gilster’s college loans. Since the gestation of a mare is 11 months, Gilster said they usually don’t sell until the foal is 1 year old. The tricky part of the process is predicting what the horse markets will look like at the time of selling.
With high expectations for the low level state grade 1 races, hearing the news that Finnick would be racing in one of the top races in the world was a dream come true for Gilster. Due to the lameness seen on Finnick, meaning he didn’t look the greatest on his four legs, more specifically on one of his feet, the owners decided to scratch him from the Kentucky Derby.
“It definitely defied my expectations and was the whole jaw-dropping-moment. I found out on my birthday [that he was nominated for the Kentucky Derby] and it was absolutely wild. I decided to pray everything goes right the next few months, but for him to scratch 12 hours before, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Gilster said. “At the end of the day, his health comes first and he already defied expectations. He’s obviously in this for the long run, and it’s very exciting to know we can compete at the top.”
After being looked at by one of the top orthodontist veterinarians in the world, they found a small portion of Finnick’s tendon that was inflamed. He’s now receiving top-of-the-line therapy and will take some time to recoup, and hopefully begin training again at the end of October. Depending how that process goes for Finnick, they hope that he will be healed in time for Breeders’ Cup races in the beginning of November, but that is ultimately up to Finnick.
“That’s what the owners are aiming for, but the horse will tell us when he’s ready,” Gilster said.
A blooming passion
While at Iowa State University, Gilster majored in animal science with a minor in business and got involved in the equestrian program. In November 2013, Gilster went down to Kentucky to bring the college’s mares to breed with the thoroughbred stallions. While on that trip, she fell in love with the Lexington area and the opportunities available.
“That was when I realized I’d move down there, and that spring I knew what I wanted to do as a living,” Gilster said.
Before filling the role of assistant manager at Timber Town Stables, Gilster built a strong foundation in the horse racing industry by taking part in Kentucky Equine Management Internship (KEMI), a six-month internship that throws participants deep into the industry. Gilster said each participant gets matched with a host farm where they live the remainder of the internship, and go through the day-to-day process of farm work as well as job shadowing and volunteering at other places throughout the area.
“It’s a top-notch program, and when you graduate employers know that you know how to work hard and know the right amount of stuff in the industry by stating that you’ve taken part in KEMI,” Gilster said of the internship. “A majority of participants are extremely successful because of the foundation they built.”
Gilster is not quite sure what her next steps will be, as she’s already taken on a lot of different jobs such as a vet tech and a barn foreman at a large farm. She noted she enjoys serving as assistant manager at the stable and the people she works with. One possibility in the future may be a bloodstock agent, who is hired to buy and sell horses for breeding and racing. She also would like to go overseas, but due to guidelines from the pandemic, that isn’t an option for her right now.
“I just take things day to day, and my long-term goals are three months out,” Gilster said of her next steps. “There’s a lot going on, and we’ll see what the future holds. As long as I feel fulfilled here, I will stay. Once I feel ready to move forward, I will take the leap and try something else if I feel I can.”
Throughout the last several months, Gilster has enjoyed involving more people in the horse racing industry through updates about Finnick.
“This experience is exciting because there’s a lot of people I’ve been talking to who aren’t ones to watch horse racing or go to the races,” Gilster said. “I’ve been able to bring attention to the sport, which is my goal in life … it’s the coolest sport ever. You can’t convince [the horses] to [race], they run because they love to.”
Among the list of items on Wanamingo City Council’s Sept. 14 agenda was a resolution discussing the use of the Community Center, adopting a policy requiring water shut-off valve combinations when two or more town home lots are combined and bringing awareness to the installation of a new utility pole.
The community center was closed from the first part of April through early July. Since July, Mayor Ryan Holmes used his emergency powers to allow for groups whose numbers didn’t exceed 50% capacity to utilize the Community Center. The council affirmed Holmes’ action at the July 27 City Council meeting.
There has since been requests to open the Community Center back up to civic groups like the Lions and Honor Guard, and nonprofits like the wood carvers and the bluegrass music group for regular use. The use of outdoor facilities and slowed meetings of civic groups in late spring and summer worked out well, but as it gets colder, City Administrator Michael Boulton says these groups wish to be inside and on a regular basis. The custodian has been and is willing to continue disinfecting the Community Center weekly at a minimum and after each use.
The council approved opening the Community Centr to civic groups and nonprofits at 50% (or less) capacity, or 60 individuals.
MERC pole installation
Wanamingo residents will soon notice a new addition of a utility pole in the center of town. Boulton said the MERC (Minnesota Energy Resources) has asked to install a 35-foot utility pole with antennas within Wanamingo city right-of-way.
Instruments on the pole will read local customers’ gas meters. Once installed, MERC will no longer need to send workers on foot to manually read gas meters throughout town, said Boulton. The proposed location of the pole would be near the center of town (the alley right-of-way behind 313 Third Ave.) with enough elevation to read all the gas meters within Wanamingo.
Boulton and City Consulting Engineer Brandon Theobald have been working with MERC contractors on the proposed pole, radio and antenna placement.
Identified concerns included not exceeding the maximum height in the r-w Residential District of 35 feet (including antennas), avoiding current poles and overhead wires, avoiding underground city utilities and keeping the placement near property lines in order to allow maximum access to adjacent property owners.
MERC’s contractors originally wanted a 43-foot pole and antenna combination. MERC has made the maximum height of 35 feet work for their utility pole and antennas. Boulton said the pole location was originally intended to be in the right-of-way behind 329 Third Ave., next to an existing Xcel Energy pole and overhead wires. MERC agreed to move the pole to the right-of-way on the 313 Third Ave. near the property line with 329 Third Ave. The city water and sewer lines are in front of the properties and not in the rear of the properties near the alleys. The proposed pole installation will not interfere with water/sewer mains or services.
The adjacent property owners understood the need for the pole, reasoning for the placement and were happy to be consulted after speaking with Boulton. After review, recommendations and adjustments, Boulton provided permission for the installation.
City staff thought it best to write up details of the request, review and revisions to share with the council in case if there were any questions.
Water shut-off valve combinations
The council also approved a policy requiring water shut-off valve combinations when two or more town home lots are combined for construction of single-family homes. Due to the abundance of town home lots the city owns, Boulton said there was been a desire to combine two or more town home lots, especially in the Emerald Valley addition, in order to construct single-family homes. Since combining multiple town home lots and constructing single-family homes leaves extra water shut-off valves and service lines underground, more leaks could occur in the future. At the time of Prairie Ridge Estates re-plat, Theobald recommended multiple water service lines be combined, leaving one remaining water shut-off valve.
Boulton said city staff and Theobald recommend the continued practice of combing water service lines where town home lots are combined for single-family homes. This requirement was adopted as a city policy, so when combing town home lots for single-family homes, there will be a requirement as part of the building permit process.
Although it’ll look a lot different than it has for the past 39 years, Vang Lutheran Church members aren’t about to let tradition go by the wayside.
Instead of the usual sit-down meal, the church’s 40th annual lutefisk and meatball dinner will be curbside to ensure the safety of both volunteers and lutefisk lovers.
Nordis Estrem, who’s helped with the lutefisk supper since it started, said this year volunteers will do different tasks than they have before given the change in the way the meal will be served. Those who usually wait on tables during the supper will deliver meals, as organizers expect even more orders for delivery than take out.
“Our workers will not be working next to each other, there will be a limited amount of [volunteers], and the ones making the food will be kept 6 feet or better apart, and may be in different rooms. They will be wearing masks, and if they aren’t feeling good, we will be asking them not to show up. We’re following all the guidelines.”
Given the slight changes, the meal will still include lutefisk with melted butter from Olson Fish Co., Norwegian meatballs (with gravy) from Lorentz Meats, mashed potatoes from Bridget’s Cafe in Zumbrota, corn, cranberries, coleslaw, fruit soup, lefse, Norwegian baked goods and special to this year, a commemorative 40th anniversary water bottle.
Estrem has been a member of Vang Lutheran since 1963 and it is also the church where her husband was baptized. She remembers the early years of the supper when they peeled and mashed the potatoes by hand. At that time, only the women worked in the kitchen. Since the number of attendees has increased to include others outside from Vang Lutheran’s congregation, Estrem says high school students and all members of the church (both men and women) come to help.
In the first year, there was about 400 attendees. Although organizers don’t expect all 1,000-plus to drive out and pick up a meal, Estrem says she hopes to get about half of the typical crowd or better. Some attendees, Estrem recalls, were from Norway visiting St. Olaf and upon hearing about the dinner, wanted to attend. Although organizers don’t expect all 1,000+ to drive out and pick up a meal, Estrem says she hopes to get about half of the typical crowd or better. Meals are delivered to those in the local areas of Kenyon, Dennison and Nerstrand, as well as to farmers in the field.
Each year, Estrem notes the number of community volunteers who take time off work for the day to help at the supper, as well as small businesses who close up shop for the day. Even if the sun is shining that day, farmers and farm families give up that whole day of farming to lend a helping hand.
“Normally we have a lot of community volunteers, [those] that come say it’s a lot of fun and they meet new people and enjoy the [company], they have a good time. [Normally] the waiters and waitresses aren’t all members and in order to to do something like this we have to have community involvement. We appreciate all members who work.”
Carol Lozon, president of the Kenyon Viking Sons of Norway, said she’s attended various lutefisk dinners in the area, including Blooming Prairie, Kasson and Zumbrota. Lozon hopes Vang Lutheran can still be successful and meet the needs of the public given the change in format
“The fact they’ve been able to maintain that for 40 years says it all,” said Lozon of Vang’s annual supper. “They do a good job, people feel welcome and they get full when they leave.”
Lozon, who has been immersed in Norwegian heritage for quite some time, says a lot of area residents have Norwegian ancestors, but encourages all to try lutefisk and lefse, adding that they are always good things to have.
“You don’t have to be Norwegian to enjoy all those products,” said Lozon.
Estrem urges those who are interested in trying lutefisk to have to have an open mind the first time they taste it. Estrem, who was born into a German family, learned to enjoy lutefisk and how to make lefse and different types of cookies from her mother-in-law. Now, she serves the traditional meal for her family at Christmas dinner each year.
“The first couple of times, I was like OK, this is kind of different,” said Estrem. “If it’s cooked right, it’s a firm, flaky fish. It’s just something you acquire a taste for.”