By Candace Dantes
Photos By Kevin Dantes and DJ Pearson
Communication disseminates through the hands. Then the body. For turning, shoulders and core. The reins perform little work. Horseback riding helped me form meaningful connections to nature as a kid. It taught me how to speak without using a lot of words. Instead, my frame and mutual trust did the heavy lifting.
I wouldn’t consider myself a horse whisperer, but I do engage in weird baby babble with any steed. “Good booyyyyy” and “Who’s a sweet girl?” go a long way in my horse talk world. It’s how I’ve communicated with our family horses for decades in rural Georgia. Barn animal policy during my ’80s baby childhood: Anything cute and fluffy deserved gushy-wushy treatment. Extra apples if I could sneak them in between chores.
Candace atop her favorite voguing horse Big Sexy
Here and now: I’m an award-winning ag journalist. Outdoor industry marketer. And a fourth-generation cowgirl who stewards centennial family land. As a writer, I celebrate people, places, and things. My stories live at the intersection of agriculture, travel, and outdoors. My goal is to inspire readers to contribute to land, water, and wildlife discussions.
Growing up on Edward Hill Farm outside of Milledgeville, Georgia, sowed a field of creative seeds that led me to become a professional communicator. Great-grandma GG’s front porch conversations and sensationalized church news played like a movie in my youthful mind. Horseback trail riding with Daddy, flower garden cleanups with Momma, and backwoods mountain biking with my siblings and cousins made life worth daydreaming even bigger.
In my Deep South home, agriculture also fueled my early-morning habits. I’m a stickler for time and accuracy, which helped in 2021. I became marketing and communications manager at Outdoor Afro, a not-for-profit organization based in Oakland, California that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. Outdoor Afro offers a cornucopia of outdoor recreation, education, and conservation programs nationwide. I help tell the story of how these programs and activities—like backpacking, swimming, dog sledding, and fly fishing—strengthen relationships to nature and improve our health and wellness.
Candace hiking through undeveloped farmland
After a year, I elevated to Outdoor Afro’s inaugural communications director. From my time at Outdoor Afro, I’ve discovered newer stories throughout the outdoor industry. Where Black people and nature meet, Outdoor Afro is a beautiful platform to recognize more Black contributions to the outdoors.
Outdoor Afro is also where I figured out just how serious a “hike” is for some. Hiking through a flat hayfield to check livestock or property lines is completely different from hiking Machine Falls Loop Trail in Tullahoma, Tennessee. That 60-foot drop is something else, as the elders would say.
For me, the countryside was less about traditional hikes than it was about spending time in nature via horseback. As a Western rider, rodeos are a natural part of play for me and my family. Curious, I’ve since branched into English riding. Summer 2023 dressage training at Marigold Stables, an equestrian center in Forsyth, Georgia, dotted my weekday morning calendar. A total leap from my upbringing. Gritty to graceful. Training continued to develop my handling knowledge and riding tapestry. And with this horseback changeover, came distinct fashion requirements. Out of my Justin boots. Into my Ariats.
Western riding beside Marigold Stables’ English head trainer Carmen Mesbergen
In the reporting field for Outdoor Afro, my style shifted to yet another course, namely to outdoor gear and equipment. I expanded my horizons past Bass Pro Shops, which had been my go-to as a Southerner for everything ag, fishing, and hunting. My Outdoor Afro post introduced me to REI Co-op. Brands like The North Face, Patagonia, Cotopaxi, and prAna gradually squeezed into my closet within the past year. I call it a healthy shopping addiction. Thankfully, each offers functional fits for my cowhand, travel, and nature lifeways.
Covering the 2023 Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo in Atlanta, Georgia
Those good-ol’ front porch stories back in the day have paid off, and 2023 has been a big content creation year. I earned a first-place writing award from Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA) for my digital feature “Made Together: Outdoor Afro + REI Co-op.” The piece explored how Outdoor Afro co-created a hike collection with REI that addressed unmet design needs of contemporary outdoor enthusiasts. I’ve also experienced writing career wins for my coverage of the Deep South and cowhand culture. Then I received the rare opportunity to serve as a judge of Outdoor Retailer’s Inspiration Awards. Food and beverage agency Dina Diaspora named me one of 31 “Black Women in Food” honorees out of 600 applicants. Whoa. Nelly. Talk about full circle moments of Southern successes.
Outdoor Retailer Summer Show 2023
The good news: The fun hasn’t stopped. The power of the digital pen has opened doors for me in agritourism. A pitstop at the White House for Earth Month. Visits to unfamiliar spaces to unlock overlooked nature stories. In my 17 years answering the call of communications within both the ag and outdoor worlds, much has happened. And I’m still trying to figure out 21st-century blueprints for the next generation to continue this joyful work.
Ironically, I frequently plan and brainstorm some of my best story ideas while horseback riding. Where communication flows through simple gestures, guiding substantial results in the saddle.
Photo by DJ Pearson (@dp_filmz)
Candace Dantes is a fourth-generation farm girl and award-winning journalist based in the Georgia Black Belt Region. Currently, the print-to-digital storyteller serves as communications director for national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro. She previously served as a project manager of a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant project and content creator for Wrangler. She also contributes American South stories to footwear brand Justin Boots.