One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

Improving Victim Access to Services

Several times a month, I receive a message from an abuse victim who needs help that they either can’t get, or don’t realize they can get, from their local crisis center.

Sometimes, helping them simply involves letting them know who to call and what services are available there.  Sometimes, they have some reason they don’t want to call the crisis center (often because of misconceptions about what its like to live in a shelter, or because they think they won’t qualify for services).  Other times, they have called but don’t know the right questions to ask (and for some reason, the crisis center doesn’t guide them well enough over the phone), or the crisis center is simply at capacity.

In each instance, their crisis center has somehow failed them - even in the instances where they haven’t even called.  I don’t want this blog post to sound like an attack on crisis centers.  They do good work for their communities.  Yet, there are so many ways that nearly all of the dozens of crisis centers I’ve met with, continue to fail their communities.  Not by any means intentionally, yet every woman who needs help and fails to get it for any of these reasons is an example of what needs changed.

If you work at a crisis center, please take note! If you have a crisis center in your community, email them some suggestions! (Or better yet, volunteer).

Need for more community outreach.  I covered this in depth in the previous blog post but it bears saying again.  People who need services, need to know the services are available! That seems like a no-brained, yet too many centers are doing too little to make sure their communities know that they are there, what they offer for services, and who is eligible to receive them.

Secrecy cuts two ways. On one hand, it’s important for shelters to keep their information secret, to protect their clients’ safety.  On the other hand, too much secrecy will prevent those who need to find their local center from being able to access it, or even knowing it’s there.  Every center should have a clear and easy way to be found for intake purposes (such as a separate office from where the shelter is), and be sure to have a web presence too.

Increase capacity.  Obviously this is a much more complicated problem to solve, and often more expensive than many crisis centers can achieve. However....

Turn no one away.  Some centers will help a victim seeking shelter even when there are no beds, either by calling around to other shelters until they find her one (even into other states) and arranging transportation to get there, or by making agreements with local hotels to house them there (often this is how they provide shelter for male clients). These are great solutions. Unfortunately, not all centers are that well connected with other local or regional centers, or simply don’t think to offer it when they’re full.  Sometimes, they don’t even have a waiting list for those women who are ready to leave but feel safe to stay until a bed is available, or maybe they have a list but don’t remember to ask those seeking shelter if they’d like to be on it.  A policy of “no one gets turned away” is actually possible, with some creativity and cooperation.
Break the stigma. Another unforunate thing I’ve found in talking to so many people for the last three years, is that there is a stigma about staying in shelter.  Also, there is a lot of confusion about what other services are offered by crisis centers and who qualifies for them.  Centers need to do a MUCH better job at informing their communities about these things, and also about what it’s like to live in a shelter (ie, that it’s not a giant room with dozens of cots and no privacy). Most “shelters” offer much more than shelter (such as legal services, counseling, and sometimes other help such as job boards, free supplies or clothes, and even yoga).  You don’t have to live there to access the services, nor do you need to prove income, have kids/not have kids, be a certain gender or ethnicity, etc.

Improved access for rural victims.  Rural victims wishing to access services have two primary setbacks. First, that there are not often centers nearby, so it’s even harder to find out who to call (or even if they know about the center in town, they may think they don’t qualify because they don’t live in town). Second, that it can be difficult if not outright impossible to get there (having limited or no use of a personal vehicle is common for abuse victims).  Crisis centers that serve an entire county will often only do community outreach in the largest town in the county, and/or the town where they’re located, but should make special effort to reach the whole area they serve. There should also be policy in place for how to transport a victim to shelter if they can’t drive themselves and don’t feel comfortable having the police involved.

Vermont, an autumn wonderland

We did Vermont, the Green Mountain State, and our 30th state to venture through! 

We started out in Bennington, with an event at PAVE (Project Against Violent Encounters). Bennington was the largest town I rode through, and the only one that had a domestic violence agency (there are numerous in the state, I just didn’t go through their towns).

Bennington’s most famous building is the battle monument, visible from pretty much anywhere in town. It commemorates an important victory against the British in 1777. Although the battle took place just over the NY border, it was fought to defend the armory at this site, and was fought by militias from VT and NH.  

Vermont’s white steeple churches are so scenic.  Nearly every town has at least one. This picture was taken in Brattleboro.

A cute town I visited (by car), Chester, had a nice downtown shopping district. I especially enjoyed the pie cafe and the used bookstores.

Speaking of sweet stuff, Vermont is of course known for being the maple syrup capital. Maple is used  to flavor ice cream, pie, liquor, and coffee, just to name a few things. By the way, if you want to eat soft serve ice cream in Vermont, it’s called “creemee.”    

I was very lucky to be here during leaf season. What better way to be a “leaf peeper” (what tourists who come to see the leaves are called), than in the saddle!

This was my best leaf picture.

The views from the top of each hill were fantastic.

Every day, and every bend in the road, brought more beautiful fall colors.

What a lovely and delicious place to visit.  Thanks, Vermont!  

Prevention is the best solution

“Awareness + Action = Social Change”.

I love this quote.  Awareness is important, but so is taking action.  Change will not happen without both! There are many actions that will, added up together, lead to great social change, but for my first domestic violence awareness month blog I’d like to focus on prevention.

Obviously there are many ways to raise awareness about domestic violence, and there are also many approaches to that message of awareness (I’m not even going to get into the many, many facets of what “awareness” can mean). My own ride is one way; most shelters have outreach and education programs that go to elementary schools and/or high schools to teach kids about healthy relationships.  Other people have tried to raise awareness through such means as books and film.

Yet this important message is not consistently reaching those who need it - not just victims, but those who have never experienced it and need to know what to watch for, and those whose friends or family are being abused and need information to help them.

A part of the problem with creating awareness is the simple lack of time and resources for that domestic violence agencies who do such outreach programs already. Yes, most crisis centers (or shelters, if you prefer - but I don’t - that’s for a later blog) do perform some kind of outreach to local schools.  Not all do, however.   Crisis centers are nearly always overwhelmed in dealing with crises, and even if they have a dedicated outreach staff member, are typically pretty limited in where and how involved they can get in their educational program. Most common are visits to local schools, and it is unusual for a shelter to do any greater community outreach than that.

However, this is not just the job of crisis centers.  This is a job for everyone! Here are a few ways - including some very simple ones - that you, too, can help prevent domestic violence.

Better youth outreach - not just to schools, but to youth groups of all kinds.  Check with your kids’ school, scouts troop, chess club, sports team, church group, etc to see if they have scheduled someone from your local crisis center to speak to the kids, and if not, encourage the group leader to do so!

Better community  outreach - also improve outreach to the community at large, so victims, survivors and their families/friends have the information they need. If you’re helping plan any kind of community event (for your neighborhood, church, club, or town), invite your local crisis center to participate!  If you own a business, check into co-hosting an event, ask them about arranging a meeting to teach your employees about DV and how to get help, or even just ask the crisis center for informational material to hang in your business (the bathroom is often recommended as a “safe place” for victims to be able to read such things and even call for help).  “Just” an employee? Make a suggestion to your boss to do these things!

Improve the message - there is so much that needs said, that is not being said well or at all! For example, there are still many common misconceptions even among those who’ve been through an abusive relationship, such as whether a relationship can be “domestic abuse” without it being violent (it can), or even about what services are available for victims (actually quite a lot, in most places) and who qualifies to receive them (everyone).  I’d like to see shelters review and improve their literature and web resources. For the rest of us, sharing on social media when you see a post about domestic violence is a good start.

Increase the conversation -  Domestic violence is still largely a silent problem.  Of course people who are still being victimized will continue to stay silent, for their own safety if nothing else. But those of us who have already gotten out, or those who have a good friend or family member who has experienced abuse, should not stay silent. Your experiences can change other people’s lives! Those who haven’t been in an abusive relationship before need to know the truths about it - not just statistics and general facts. You don’t need to write a book or jump on a horse to do this, but do consider sharing your story when an opportunity arises.  (And if you do share your story, please don’t downplay it with such statements as “it wasn’t that bad” or “but he never hit me” etc - that does not do justice to yourself or to whoever would be helped by your story).

Speak up  - If you meet someone you suspect is a victim, don’t just wonder and be silently sad.  There are things you can do. Even if it’s a total stranger, you can discretely give them the info for your local crisis center or the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  Some crisis centers print up business cards that don’t say what it’s for, so a victim can safely keep it in their purse until they’re ready to call - ask yours for a few to hand out. If it’s someone you know, make sure they understand you’re there if they need help.

Do you have other ideas to increase awareness and help prevent domestic violence? Please share in the comments below!

Stop the Violence!

October is domestic violence awareness month, so obviously it’s a big deal for Apollo and I! This October, though, I’d like to take it a step beyond awareness.  I’ve been talking about domestic violence for three years.  Talking has its purposes, and is certainly necessary to “break the silence” that surrounds this issue.  In my opinion, it’s one of the best first steps we can take to ending the violence.

But talking, and awareness of the problem in general, is ONLY the first step in solving the domestic violence crisis.  This year, I’m not going to talk about what domestic violence is (for that, check out my info page on domestic violence).  Instead, let’s discuss what can be done - beyond talking about it - to stop the violence in our own lives, in our families, in our communities, in our country.

Check back often to read more!

I Love New York!

Apollo and I have spent a month and a half making our way across the great state of New York, having entered in the southwest corner in mid-August and left it on the eastern side near Albany in late September. It is a beautiful state, with so much to see and do (and eat).  In fact, I think it is the most consistently beautiful state I’ve ridden through - by which I mean that, while just about every state has had some lovely spot, or several spots, I have found almost every part of New York to be pretty.

Here are my favorite photos from the journey across New York...

Entering the state at the smallest welcome sign so far.

My favorite through -the-ears photo of the whole ride.  This was taken in Bear Swamp State Forest, and the whole day’s ride was spectacular.

 Riding through Jamestown, the hometown of Lucille Ball and site of her museum.

I love this photo of Apollo and his tiny fan.

Riding along the Erie Canal - and the leaves are starting to turn for the fall!

 New York has an abundance of these tiny roadside farm stands, which mostly sold corn, squash, flowers, and/or maple syrup, but sometimes other veggies and honey.

My favorite library, in Cazenovia,  also has a museum of curiosities that includes an Egyptian mummy brought back to the town by a local resident in the 1920’s.

 Such a lovely picture.

 In New York’s finger lake wine region, Apollo and I were joined by these folks for a day of visiting wineries on horseback.  It was a fun change from our usual routine!

 At Fort Stanwix, an authentic reproduction of a historic precolonial fort that played a key part in the Revolutionary War.

 I just like this photo! Such picture perfect background, and of course a picture perfect horse too.

The best surprise along the road was stumbling upon the Glove Museum in tiny Dorloo.

 I think apple cider donuts are a local staple food at this time of year.  There are farm stands and orchards selling them all over the place! Apollo doesn’t usually like donuts, but on these he can agree - they’re delicious.

 Eastern NY is so filled with historic spots.  Here’s a building in Schenectady that George Washington visited.

 I had a wonderful stay at Bowman Orchard, which has been an orchard since apple trees were first planted here by Johnny Appleseed’s sister.  The Bowmans have owned it since the 1950s, and it is still a family business (and they also make excellent cider donuts).

Sunset over Babcock Lake, in eastern New York. 

Horse Travel 101: How I Plan Our Route

Apollo and I have gone almost 8000 miles so far.  Most of these miles have been on roads, and the occasional multi-use path, with an average of 13 miles per day traveled.  Planning which roads to take is a somewhat complicated process involving three steps: the Idea, the Stops, and the Roads.  In this video, I explain what is involved with each step.  

Horse Travel 101: What a road horse wears (and how to use it!)

Most horses only wear three basic things for riding: a saddle, a saddle pad/blanket, and a bridle.  Of course, the choices for each (and related accessories such as a breastcollar) are nearly limitless - and that’s not to say that their humans limit themselves to buying just these three things!

A road horse, however, requires more.  In addition to these three basic components, Apollo wears boots, bells, a fly sheet or quarter sheet (depending on the season), and several saddle bags to hold our travel supplies.

Check out my video about his gear ( Horse Travel 101: What Apollo Wears ) for a full explanation of each piece of tack and gear!

And also check out this video that shows it all getting put on - “Horse Travel 101: The Road Horse’s Guide to Saddling”

Here is a complete list of the tack and other gear that Apollo wears.  This list does not include anything that is IN the bags.  You’ll have to wait for a later post for those details!  Please note that many of these are Amazon affiliate links.

On Apollo’s head
Bridle: Zilco Deluxe Endurance halter-bridle headstall
Reins: Zilco Woven Endurance Reins
Noseband: Art by Destiny
Safety Information: Rescue Facts Identification for Animals
Halter: black rope halter
Lead rope: with quick release snap
Fly bonnet (not shown in video): Crochet fly bonnet with tassels

On Apollo’s back:
Saddle pad:
Cinch: Alpaca-mohair roper cinch
Shoo-fly:  Horse hair tassel with ring
Fly sheet: Cashel Quiet Ride Bug Armor
Saddle bags: Trailmax Large Overnighter Saddlebags
Hanging bags: Sea to Summit Large Drysacks
Water bottle: Kleen Kanteen stainless steel

On Apollo’s legs and hooves:
Boots: Cavallo ELB
Boot liners: Cavallo pastern wraps
Bells: Ghungroo leather ankle bells

Horse Travel 101: What to Wear?

The Centauride’s YouTube channel has been revived! Starting with today’s new video, I will be posting new content regularly.  Want a video about something specific? Comment or contact me and I’ll do my best!

I’ve decided to begin the relaunch with a series I’m calling “Horse Travel 101,” discussing specific things about my ride that are unusual or curious about horse travel (versus other kinds of horseback riding activities).  My first topic is “What to Wear,” wherein I talk about everything I have on - all of which was chosen for safety, comfort, and durability.

Watch the video here - Horse Travel 101: What to Wear When You’re Riding Across The Country
The following is a list of all the products discussed in the video (and a few I missed).  Links with * are affiliate links or otherwise support my journey.  I only use products that withstand a lot of hard use and are otherwise of good quality.

Helmet: Tipperary Sportage low profile western riding helmet. *
Helmet visor: Salamander black visor. *
Helmet mirror: Tiger Eye Carbon Fiber Mirror *
Helmet identification: Equestrisafe Rescue Facts Identification for Humans

Safety vest: Radians SV55-2ZGD *
GPS tracking device: SPOT Satellite Messenger *
My favorite snack bars: GoMacro variety pack *
Multi-purpose tool: Leatherman Rebar Multitool *
Waterproof journal (not mentioned in video): Rite in the Rain all-weather spiral notebook *
Waterproof business card holder (not mentioned): Wiltz *

Centauride t-shirts and other goodies (please note when ordering women’s shirts, they run a size small): *
Sports bra: Brooks Moving Comfort Uplift Crossback Medium Impact Sports Bra *
Pants: Stickyseat
Half-chaps: Ovation Ladies Suede Ribbed Half Chaps *
Boots: Ariat Terrain H20. *
Socks (not mentioned): Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew *
Gloves: Heritage Performance Gloves *

Making our way through PA

Pennsylvania was our 28th state, and what a state it was! While it was a nice change of scenery to have finally left the mostly-flat midwest, the many hills of western PA were certainly challenging.  Yet almost every day brought new breathtaking scenery and super friendly people.

We started out in Washington County, southwest of Pittsburgh.  I was able to take a beautiful rail trail (Montour Trail) for part of two days.  It was so peaceful riding through the forest!

Along the Montour Trail, Apollo went through his first tunnel! Just to be on the safe side, I led him through it, but he was just fine. We went through two more tunnels further down the trail, which I was able to calmly ride him through. Even after so many miles, we still come across new experiences!

Pittsburgh area is very hilly, and I spent the whole day hoping on and off of Apollo for the steepest of the many hills.  I imagine if an ant were walking on bubble wrap, it would feel about the same for the amount of ups and downs. Apollo and I rode through a lot of neighborhoods that looked like this, with red brick houses perched on the side of the hills.

In Pittsburgh (yes, in the city), we stopped to visit the Center for Victims.  What a great shelter! They help domestic violence victims, but also any other victims of violence. They have a lot of awesome services available, including several therapy dogs on staff!

Here we are outside the Steelers’ training field, on the south side of Pittsburgh!

We stopped the next two days at Victory Stables, where I was invited to have a booth at their open house.

We had to get two police escorts in the greater Pittsburgh area (one in the city, and one on the Tarentum Bridge, pictured).  So much traffic! Good thing this was not our first rodeo!

For the fourth day in a row, we stopped to do another event to talk about domestic violence and the ride.  The last of these stops was in Tarentum, in the northeast Pittsburgh area.  This was one of our best events ever, because it wasn’t just for the shelter staff and clients.... the whole community came out to attend! Several people from the local government, more from the HOPE Center, a few from law enforcement, and a bunch of townspeople who had heard about it.  The kids at the center made me this poster!

Once we finished with the Pittsburgh area, we rode north through more rural areas and a few smaller towns.  Here is the town of Butler, with an awesome horsey mural.

My most unusual experience in PA was learning to throw hatchets!  After a bit of practice and probably a lot of luck, I managed to get a bullseye.  This is way more fun than throwing darts!

 Here’s a pretty scene! We rode around Conneaut Lake, a very popular spot for boating.

When we reached Erie, Apollo and I visited the kids, clients, and staff of SafeNet. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures from an event.

The northern edge of western PA - Lake Erie! If you’ve never seen the Great Lakes, there’s a reason they’re called great.  They are so big that they look like oceans, complete with waves.

Apollo and I visited Apollo PA! Unfortunately I didn’t ride through the town so I couldn’t get a picture of him with the sign. Still, pretty cool.

Apollo also met another horse named Apollo! “Polly” is a Morgan gelding. I’m sure they had lots to talk about.

He made lots of other friends, as usual.  One of the most fun was a pasture he shared with a playful mini and a lamb.

Of all Apollo’s new friends, he has never been so inseperable from any other as he was from his young mini friend shown here. That little guy followed Apollo everywhere, grazed nose-to-nose, and played together all weekend long.