Outside of Agua Dulce’s Hiker Heaven, Trent Peterson uses a steel hammer to pound and shape a new set of horseshoes for his mustangs, Gary and Minaret.
The shoeing of the horses and the stop at the popular hiker destination marks a small break for Peterson and his three Mustangs as they travel from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).
Over the course of five and a half months, Peterson will complete the trail’s 2,659-mile journey on horseback to raise awareness and money for the Ataxia Foundation, which funds research projects to stop the hereditary disease that took his father’s life in 2014.
Ataxia comes in a variation of forms and names and is described as a disorder of the Central Nervous System which causes a slow progression or incoordination in walk and movements. Currently, there is no cure for the disease but doctors are making progress to stop its onset.
“I want to create a loud enough voice for the Ataxia community, a voice that it doesn’t have and it desperately needs,” Peterson said.
“We have all the money we need to get to the border and the rest is going to the foundations,” Peterson said.
In addition, at the end of the trip, Peterson will sell his three mustangs in an auction and will donate all of the proceeds to the Ataxia Foundation.
“Money buys research and research buys a cure,” he said.
Peterson is also riding to honor the courageous spirit and love of adventure that his dad, Gary Peterson, exemplified in all parts of his life.
“He loved his family, he loved his kids and he loved the world around him and being out in it was his happy time,” Peterson said. “When he passed it was immediately that I wanted to do something that embodied that spirit for him.”
His trip across three countries, three states, 25 national forests and seven national parks, aims to give hope to those who need it and highlight “The Wild in Us,” which is the namesake for his journey.
Connection to Father
The youngest of three boys, Peterson said he got his love of the outdoors from his father who rode Harley’s instead of horses.
“My dad had this riding spirit that he lived by and that was his release,” Peterson said. “There wouldn’t be any adventure he would pass up.”
When Ataxia made his father confined to a wheelchair, Peterson said he still would watch him ride his 1993 Harley Sportster in and out of their driveway.
“He got so much pleasure out of watching me ride,” he said. “Being part of that meant more to him than anything else.”
Gary Peterson’s thirst for life and passion for adventure is what pushed Trent Peterson to start planning and preparing to complete the PCT in his honor in 2014 and 2015.
“He was all about getting out of the normal and living for the now and being present for the ride,” Peterson said. “Taking the time to look up and not a lot of people do that these days.”
Trail Prep and Travel
When Peterson decided to complete the PCT on horseback he knew he needed mustangs because of their strength and experience in the wild.
“I wanted a good mountain horse that’s sure of itself and can navigate the rocks on its own and can go long distances,” he said. “That’s what makes Mustangs such an amazing animal is the way they think.”
For $125 each, Peterson and his partner, Mariah Keuler, purchased their mustangs from the Bureau of Land Managements (BLM) holding facility in Susanville, Calif.
For the following eight months, the two dedicated 100 percent of their time and effort to training the horses from Wyoming, Nevada and California.
“I’ve been around horses a long time but never taken anything from the wild and gentled it. That was quite the experience,” Peterson said. “They are three different body types from three different herds… I have to teach them, approach them and train them in their own manner and at their maturity level.”
Within their first month on the trail, the horses settled into their own roles with Peterson riding Minaret and packing Gary.
“I could not have asked for better horses,” Peterson said.
On average, the team covers 20 to 25 miles per day, with 8 miles being the shortest day and 35 miles being the longest. Every five days Peterson meets up with his trailer to resupply and care for his horses during the long trip.
“There is a big difference between doing something like this and camping because I’m limited of where I can camp because I need access to feed and water,” Peterson said.
During his journey, Peterson also picked up his own trail name, Orion, because he sees people by night and then is gone in the day.
The constellation—which is the symbol for his journey, is tattooed on his arm and stitched into his saddle horn—holds a special meaning for Peterson as well.
“Orion is a powerful constellation for me,” he said. “It’s how my dad told me he passed away.”
Before he knew his father died, Peterson watched a shooting star move from Orion’s belt to Pleiades on his front porch. Moments later his mother called and let him know that his father had passed away.
“Dad chose that constellation and taught me how to live and be alive,” Peterson said. “It’s a constant reminder and guide in life.”
Life After the Trail
After Peterson crosses the Canadian border on Sept. 21, International Ataxia Day, he will donate his remaining trip funding to the Ataxia Foundation and the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
He also plans on becoming registered as a tip trainer to help gentle other wild mustangs while he prepares for another cross-country, trail ride.
“I plan on completing some other long-distance trail ride and then setting up a facility in Washington for people with Ataxia to come and get therapy,” Peterson said. “As far as life choices, this was the best choice I could have made.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_