32′ horse trailer with living quarters pulled by new GMC 2500 diesel.[/caption]
Script from my talks in 2018 to Bear Valley Springs horse clubs:
- I’m going to talk for about ten minutes and then I’ll take questions so I’m not boring you with stuff that you aren’t interested in.
- This slide show is a small sample of the over 6,000 photos that I took while on the trip that I’m about to talk about.
- The small painting is an example of the 43 studies that I did while on the trip and the rectangular oil, an example of those that I did afterwards in the studio. The large square one belongs to Irene and was commissioned by her sweet husband for her recent birthday.
In 2013, I left on a journey with my two horse, Dreamy and Wildflower, my yellow lab, Tucker and my cat, who had stowed away in my bedding dufflebag. I named trip SHLEP, which stood for Soul searching, Home searching, Liberating Equestrian, Party, which were all the things I was looking for back then. I planned on staying in each state for a week and taking a year to complete it. I also planned to do a painting of my horses in the landscape of each state.
I had never driven a big rig before, in fact my previous trailer was a two horse that I pulled with a BMW X5. My new rig was a 3 horse with a 12’ short wall living quarters goose neck, that I pulled with a GMC 2500 diesel with a long bed. My dad financed it for me, saying that I deserved happiness and that I should do it before I got too old.
- I’d never gone horse-camping before.
- I didn’t have a planned route.
- I was 58 and trying to recover from a toxic marriage that I’d left the year before.
- My therapist told me that the trip would be therapeutic.
I took a test trip that summer with my 21-year-old son. I had numerous problems and then on the way home, damaged the trailer on a gas station apron, ripping off the ramp and bending the rear C frame. A kind man offered to help and drove my rig back to his property a mile away. He bent the frame back into place with his tractor and loaded the detached ramp into the hayrack. His entire family came out to help and offered my son and I lemonade and snacks. When I was ready to go, he wouldn’t take any money from me. I was blown away! His kindness was in stark contrast to the home life I had left and I found the experience inspiring; that the world was a nicer place than I’d thought it was.
While the dealer waited on parts to do the repairs, I took private truck driving lessons and practiced in the Rose Bowl parking lot every day. My confidence got better and I got more comfortable driving it.
The woman that I’d planned on taking the trip with me, after hearing what had happened, backed out and I had to face the fact that I’d be going solo. I hadn’t been alone in over 24 years and was terrified at the prospect, but I couldn’t afford to live in LA anymore and felt that I had no other options.
Before I left in September, my friends threw a sendoff party for me at the Flintridge Riding Club. My talk here today kind of bookends the story nicely I think, thank you for inviting me.
I wanted to be in Florida by Christmas and spend some time with my dad who was battling stage 4 prostate cancer. My dad was my biggest supporter. He not only lent me the money for my rig, but also for my hay and divorce attorney for the past year. I had three months to get there.
My first camp was in Utah in a national forest and it was primitive. I was the only camper there and I had a lot of fear. I only had one horse pen and if I put one mare in a different site, they went nuts. Keeping them together was a problem because one bullied the other. They were ok until the last night. Dreamy lost a lot of hide but wasn’t seriously injured.
My next stop was Idaho, where my daughter’s horse had been retired. The rancher had offered to spend some time with me to help me understand the workings in the trailer. He had me get all new truck tires, a gun and alfalfa cubes for feed consistency. He also suggested that I not have a set route, but keep a check on the weather and decide state by state as I moved because winter was blowing in early that year.
In Colorado, I met up with a nanny that we’d had when my kids were young and I hadn’t seen in 20 years. She showed me the night life in Boulder and rode with me. She validated me and made me feel young again.
I stopped at an overnight in Kansas where I met Jane, who was recently widowed. She was very excited to meet me and hear more about my trip. She talked me into joining her the next day to haul to 4-J in Missouri for a fall colors ride. This was a private campground on the edge of the forest and there were over 100 rigs there. I hadn’t known that horse camping was so popular nor that places like that existed. It opened a world of possibilities for me. I found out about a Facebook group, Horse Trails and Camping Across America, that gave me a wealth of information and advice when I posted questions. I learned of a good website, HorseCampgrounds.com that rated horse campgrounds. It made my planning, which I’d found tedious and confusing, much easier.
On the last day there, my new women friends asked if they could pray for me, it was the first time anyone had ever asked to do that for me. They formed a circle and spoke to my every need.
In Arkansas I shod my barefoot horses. The rocks in the last four states had been awful and even though I booted for rides, they were sore. I got lost on a ride and was rescued by a horse whisperer named Frankie. We hit it off and rode a few times together.
Tucker was more than just my dog, he was a therapy dog for me. My vet had found a grapefruit mass in his abdomen that summer and I’d repeatedly emailed her asking, “How will I know when it’s time.” She kept answering to me, “You’ll just know.” I now knew. He’d stopped wagging his tail and wasn’t eating, the two things that defined him. A sweet old vet took care of Tucker’s passing. The campground owner’s family dug a grave in a pretty meadow with their backhoe and placed a boulder on top. I painted Tucker’s name on it with a little heart.
In South Carolina, I made friends with a couple from Virginia that invited me to their private campground when I got there, and in the spring I did. It felt like visiting family, the kind I’d always wanted.
I got to Florida by Thanksgiving. Crossing the border, I got quarantined for two weeks because my health certificates had expired. I could proceed to Jupiter Farms and it wasn’t really a big problem, but I felt foolish and didn’t let that happen again. I spent four months there with my dad. He’d started chemo and I wanted to be with him for his first round. I’m grateful that I got to have this extended quality time with him. I made some friends and rode mostly along the canals that are abundant in that area. The wildlife was crazy for the horses. Wild pigs darted out of the woods, alligators dozed on the shore, large wing spanned birds took flight from the water, turtles dropped off branches and plopped into the canals. Dirt bikes zoomed around blind turns. But it was fun and the people there were fun too, trail riding there was more like a party, with saddlebags full of beer.
In January I hauled to Mayo for a Best of America by Horseback ride. I used to watch this show on RFD and it was one of the inspirations for my trip.
Just before Easter, I got baptized. The people that I’d been meeting, those that continued to offer me prayer, state after state, had revealed to me a more loving and forgiving God than the one I’d grown up with. Getting dunked in a pool by Pastor Barry, was my personal commitment to follow that God.
I planned a route for Leg 2, getting me to NJ by June, where my mother’s health had begun to fail. Before I left, I adopted a Jessie, a black lab that had lived on the streets of Palm Beach for the first year of his life. He turned out to be a great trail dog and was very protective of me and the trailer.
I traveled through the south and into Texas to see my daughter at TCU, overnighting at the Fort Worth Stock yards where my horses were stalled among reindeer, camels and longhorns. In Oklahoma, I painted my phone number on their butts and they braved a frightening tornado watch storm. In Maryland, I saw a dear old friend that I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. In Delaware, we were eaten alive by mosquitos.
When I got to NJ, my mom had just been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, Kidney failure and dementia. I helped Liza, my younger sister, with decisions about treatment and then hospice and my mom died six weeks later. She was cremated and I took her ashes with me to bury next to her mother when I got to Wisconsin. My non-horsey sister asked to come with me for New England and although I was surprised, I said yes. We’d grown close in the past six weeks and we both enjoyed now having a sister.
In Rhode Island, a boyfriend from my wild 80’s days in NYC, came to camp and did his 12th step to me. He thanked me for saving his life when he’d OD’d. I barely remembered what he was talking about, it seemed like a life-time ago.
We went to Acadia Maine, which was built by Roosevelt for carriage driving. It’s on the spectacular Maine coast and very beautiful. We wandered through the rest of new England together until Liza fell off Dreamy and broke three ribs in Massachusetts. When I dropped her at the airport, I’d asked if she’d learned anything about herself on the journey. She said that she learned that she hated pain. I cried till I got to my next camp.
But she met back up with me in Minnesota and finished the trip with me. By then I was feeling almost normal again and this part of the trip was my favorite part. I loved the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana the most. I decided that I was going to settle down in Ten Sleep, Wyoming but I had to go back to California for a few years first. Leaving had made my two youngest children think that I’d abandoned them and my son had failed all his classes since I’d left. Additionally, I needed to find a more aggressive divorce attorney because nothing had happened in that arena since I’d left and I wanted closure.
In Montana, I ran over a bolder trying to get out of the campground, ripping the generator wiring, tearing off the septic system and bending the axle. At this point I decided to quit. I’d done 43 states and I felt like a whole person again.
I dropped Liza at the airport, the mares at my rancher friend in Idaho and the trailer at a repair place in Idaho Falls. I rented a house in Pasadena and my son and daughter moved in.
- My dad died the next month.
- I started painting the oils from the studies that I’d done on the road and had my first show.
- My divorce settled two years later.
I lived in Pasadena for three years. My son that went on the test trip with me, the one that was failing school, is now in his final year of college and getting straight A’s.
My daughter had transferred to LMU and came home often. She graduated last spring and is working as a graphic artist in Los Angeles. She begged me not to move to Wyoming, saying that she wanted me to be a part of her children’s lives once she found the right guy.
So, I looked at real estate in Pine Mountain, and although I wanted to have all my horses on my property, I started getting used to the idea that it might not be possible.
Then, about a year ago, my best friend, asked me if I wanted to go explore Tehachapi. I said I’d never heard of it.
I moved here last May. I marvel at how I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.
I’ll take your questions now.