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Riding with Backbone

Five courageous ladies make history as first to ride reopened trail

From releases and staff reports - September 1st, 2016 - Cover Story

14225419_10153956547832198_3066017436506002334_nThey call themselves the Backbone Trail Cowgirls — an appropriately strong moniker for this trail-riding quintet.

Last month, led by 81-year-old Ruth Gerson, the Cowgirls covered 67 miles of spectacular but rugged terrain from Pt. Mugu State Park in Ventura County to Will Rogers State Historic Park in Santa Monica. Yes, the six-day journey was a challenge, but the group’s objective was to bring attention to the Backbone Trail, not them.

“I rode this ride for a lot of reasons,” said Gerson, a former Tevis Cup endurance rider whose drive to completion remains intact. Her passion to share a trail ride along the inimitable Backbone Trail, just recently made contiguous after decades of effort, is as strong today as it was 25 years ago when she last rode it.

The ride, she says, was to inspire others to be adventurous, and to show her gratitude that she could make the trip.

Also, it was to share the word about the trail and a need for trail camps in the Santa Monica Mountains that overlook the Pacific Ocean.

The trail, officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by U.S. Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis on June 4, was patched together, segment by segment, over more than 40 years. In all, 180 properties were stitched together to create the trail.

Averaging about 11 miles each day, the cowgirls made their journey over mostly rugged terrain with some pretty hefty elevation changes along the way.
Gerson rode her 19-year-old Mustang, Crystal. The other Cowgirls were Jeanne Wallace, 73, with her 21-year-old Quarter Horse, Dill; Janet Peterson, 63, with her 19-year-old Peruvian Paso, Sunny; Tracey Potter, 53, and her 9-year-old Red Roan, Scooter; and Kimberly Gustafson, the kid of the bunch at age 45, with her 12-year-old Spotted Draft Quarter Cross, Chief.

These ladies demonstrated that age is only a number for horses and riders.

Their trip will began at the Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park on Monday, July 18, and finished the following Saturday, camping near the trail each night with horses either in corrals or high-lined. No hotels for these women!

A support team of friends volunteered to take on various tasks such as pre-riding parts of the trail to identify obstacles, clear brush and downed trees, drive the rigs from campsite to campsite, bring dinners in the evening, meet with water for the horses where the trail crosses roads if it’s very hot, and help in any other ways needed.

The amazing journey crossed the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains, unfolding spectacular views as well as wildlife and wildflowers. They shared a common thread through the six-day challenge: their sense of humor and sense of purpose.

California State Parks, National Parks Service and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy all strongly supported this ride and made every effort to ensure that all went well. Two non-profit organizations also helped: Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC – www.smmtc.org) and Recreation & Equestrian Coalition (REC – www.gotorec.org). Park Watch Report (PWR – www.parkwatchreport.com), a website and phone app for State Parks that is used to improve trails and address safety issues by engaging the public, also supported the ride.

MORE ONLINE: Http://bit.ly/609A_ride

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