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Mustangs on a Mission
Over the past few months, Americans from coast to coast have been turning out in droves to march, rally, and protest.
Another epic march – this time on horseback – is being planned across the American West, as five women will ride 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada. The purpose of this mission, however, is anything but political.
Mustangs on a Mission: We are Branded and Bridled is the brainchild of Sara Sanderson and Sherah Mills. They were inspired after watching Unbranded, a 2015 documentary about four men who took a similar journey to bring awareness to the plight of wild mustangs in the West.
“This idea is something that God put on my heart and Sara’s heart simultaneously,” says Mills, a Texas native and lifelong horse enthusiast. “We just took off from there.”
The friends decided to create their own ride starting in April 2018, where they will share how horses, nature, and faith can help with physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.
“God uses horses in a very unique way to help us find healing and joy,” says Sanderson, a Midwesterner who graduated from Tarleton State University in Texas last year.
Sanderson formed an LLC to support the ride and other outreach programs, and she named it Isaiah 40:3. That passage in the Bible reads, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’ ”
Sanderson and Mills reached out to some friends about the journey, bringing the number of riders to five.
“Every one of us going on this ride has suffered from depression, anxiety, stress, or just the busyness of the world,” Sanderson says. “We’ve all come to find healing and hope through horses and by spending time in nature. We want to help other people find that joy.”
Fellow rider Kaitlin Wallace grew up on a ranch in southeast Oklahoma. “This ride is important because Christians, in general, get really stuck on ministering outside of America and don’t always think about reaching people here,” she says. “You think cowboys and Jesus go together, but this is a good way for us to get into that circle that many may not think to reach.”
Heidi Smith was born in Germany and has since lived in Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains, the desert, and all over Texas. She started training horses at age 14 and has a degree in animal production. “I’m trying to step out in my faith and do something God is calling me to do. Plus, it will be a lot of fun to go out with some of my best friends,” she says.
Olivia Maxwell was raised in Dallas-Fort Worth and has a degree in range management from Tarleton State University, yet she is relatively new to riding. “God brings my strength out of my weaknesses. Not having much experience, I’m pretty fearful,” she says. “I feel like God is going to pull some strength out of that weakness on this long journey.”
The mustangs taking part in this trip were acquired through the Bureau of Land Management’s adoption program, which places wild mustangs and burros from overpopulated herd-management areas into private care. The BLM has placed more than 230,000 mustangs and burros since 1971.
The horses have been gentled through the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program. Twelve to 15 mustangs will take part in the ride and will be rotated as saddle horses, pack horses, and unsaddled for rest days. The group will take several test runs this summer and fall.
Charting a Course
Mustangs on a Mission will follow a span of public lands through Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, crossing some of the toughest terrain in the country. The group will host several half-day events along the way, including at stops in Vail and Flagstaff, Arizona; Jackson and Cody, Wyoming; and Bozeman, Montana. The group will share stories from the trail and provide a demonstration on how an untouched mustang is affected after just an hour of training. Then, a limited number of attendees may join the riders for a day on the trail, followed by a campfire dinner.
Most nights, the group will camp, but they are seeking hosts along the route who could offer quarters for the riders and horses. If you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My goal is to make it to Canada alive – preferably in one piece,” Wallace laughs. “People say we’re crazy. I’ve never been one to follow a normal path, so I go where the wind blows me, and I firmly believe that wind is the very breath of God.”
If one person throughout this entire trip gets saved, that would be an accomplishment, Smith says. “We’re not doing this for anything other than to put Jesus in the spotlight.”