Imagine walking through 48 states at three miles per hour, something of a snail’s pace or, more accurately a horse’s pace.
That is the endeavor California native Meredith Cherry and her horse Apollo set out on in January 2017 from Penn Valley, California and last week they trails they are following brought them to Vermillion. They are about halfway through their 10,000 mile trip. She plans to end their journey in 2020 in Maine.
During the warmer months of the year Cherry and Apollo travel alone through the lower states on a planned four-year trek and are using the opportunity to spread awareness about domestic violence. Cherry was in an abusive relationship for 12 years and once she got out had a few plans she wanted to follow through with.
“When I left I was talking with my therapist about what I wanted out of life now and I said I wanted to travel and I wanted to finally own my own horse,” she said.
In her travels Cherry has stopped at numerous churches, shelters and domestic violence organizations to speak to groups and individuals about the issue. Speaking at churches proposes more of an educational opportunity when speaking to a group of people who may not be in an abusive situation or have direct experience with the matter brings a different approach then speaking with a shelter or organization.
“Be there for your fellow community members,” Cherry said. “If they might feel like they can’t reach out to their family for some reason or maybe their family doesn’t live close, but they still feel like they need someone who is there for them. Love your neighbor and make sure they know that you love them is my message when it’s a mixed group.”
For those who have been in a domestic violence situation, Cherry becomes more of a resource and someone people can talk to about their experience, especially if that person doesn’t feel he or she can talk to a family member or there is no family nearby.
“They know that I’ve been there, too, and I’m an easy person to talk to, so I do a lot of listening,” Cherry said.
She also said her message is really about helping people be aware and sharing ways to help others.
“It is such a big problem and it’s such a complex problem,” she said. “There is not just one easy answer, so it just depends on who I am talking to or what kind of group.”
As part of her healing journey after leaving her own abusive relationship, Cherry, who has a degree in equine sciences and rode horses on and off for 20 years, fulfilled the other wish she had, to own her own horse. She acquired Apollo, a Peruvian Paso-Mustang palomino gelding, about four and a half years ago.
“He has definitely helped me heal. Horses are very therapeutic,” Cherry said. “They are used for all sorts of therapeutic programs, physical, emotional and psychological and all sorts of things, so he has definitely helped me in that way.”
Apollo is trained in natural horsemanship meaning the two work in more of a partnership rather than Cherry acting as an authority figure which makes the long days more enjoyable for both involved.
“(Natural horsemanship) is kind of asking instead of telling the horse what to do,” Cherry said. “When you ask them you give them a choice or a right or wrong answer, so they learn without just being forced into submission.”
The pair worked for two years to prepare for the long journey and by working more as a team Apollo can enjoy his time more making it easier and more enjoyable for Cherry, as well.
“I consider him my partner in this very much,” she said. “If he wasn’t enjoying this ride, if he was being forced into this submissively it wouldn’t be as enjoyable for me either.”
The travel days depend on a few different factors with the distance and the weather forecast. A typical day would have Cherry waking up at sunrise, preparing herself and Apollo and packing bags. Without a sag wagon, they need to carry all their own supplies and deal with any broken equipment on the road. They set out for the day’s walk that usually takes between five and eight hours depending on where her next stop is.
Cherry relies on networking and finding people willing to take her and Apollo in for the night and since this is her second year of traveling she is having an easier time securing overnights. She has been able to plan out about a week ahead of time, compared to last year when she knew only about a day or two prior to where she stopped.
“The Midwest has been really good for people being hospitable, welcoming and inviting me or calling all their friends and helping me find places,” Cherry said. “Right now, and for most of this year, I have known most or all of the entire next week just with asking whoever I am staying with or people who hear about it on the news and contact their friends and share it with their friends on social media, that sort of thing.”
Once they arrive they both eat and rest. Most stops are just one night, but every four days they find a place to stay for three nights, like their stop in Vermillion.
As for weather, much of it can be planned ahead, but they will ride through rain or will find shelter and wait out a bad storm.
“It is a very much a go-with-the-flow kind of thing,” Cherry said. “There are so many things that can happen, that do happen, but most of the time I am just plodding along with my horse at three miles per hour.”
Cherry also said her experience has been overall a good one though at times it can be tiring and painful with bouts of homesickness. As for Apollo, she thinks he enjoys it as well even though he can’t tell her with words, but the two have spent so much time together she can read his body language.
“I don’t like putting words into animals’ mouths that can’t speak for themselves in English, but he does speak in his own ways and I think I am pretty good at understanding that now,” she said. “He is very relaxed and alert and likes looking at stuff and being a horse tourist.”
After Vermillion, Cherry and Apollo made their way through the Sioux Falls area and are planning to head up to North Dakota, over to Minnesota and then continue south from there.
She tracks her journey and keeps a detailed log on her website www.centauride.org.