Locals travel far afield to help and honor others
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Imagine setting off on a year-long horseback trip across the United States. Early on, while you’re riding alongside a road with heavy traffic in California, disaster almost strikes when a car brushes your horse’s pack. Then, on the seventh day out, you watch as two horses and your husband tumble off a cliff. For the next two months, every time he crosses a bridge, he gets off his horse. At least once, he crawls across the bridge. When you reach the desert, a local pilot gives you directions, but when your horses start to get too thirsty, you wonder if you’ve gotten off course.
Now consider that you are doing this for free and that you have no hope for fame. You are simply pursuing a lifelong dream—and in that pursuit, raising money for a cause you believe in. Jeannette and Richard McGrath have gone through all of this and more to raise money for their cause, and lived to tell about it. And theirs is just one of four amazing outreach efforts made by Teton Valley residents this past year, whose stories follow.
Richard and Jeannette McGrath: Riding for Hearts Up Ranch
Setting out on a cross-country horseback riding trip, Richard and Jeannette McGrath left their Victor home hoping to raise two million dollars to start Hearts Up Ranch. There people will come to heal emotional trauma through outdoor adventure, counseling, and prayer ministry. To prepare for their trip, the McGraths ran four food dehydrators around the clock for eighteen months until the dehydrated food stood in a waist-high, eight-foot-wide pile in their living room. Jeannette says she also clocked hundreds of hours planning their route along the American Discovery Trail.
But once they set off from Point Reyes National Seashore in California, the McGraths discovered that you can’t actually plan for the twists and turns of such an adventure. On the seventh day of the journey, their Icelandic mare Tiska caught her pack on a small fence. She jumped and pushed Richard and his horse, Satchmo, off a fifteen-foot cliff before Tiska fell, too. From the cliff’s edge, Jeannette watched Tiska roll down the mountainside below the cliff. Jeannette thought she was going to be burying her husband and the two horses. Then she glimpsed Satchmo “skiing” down the mountain in the scree, with Richard still in the saddle.
“Every time the rocks would pile up against [Satchmo’s] knees, he would jump again,” Jeannette says. Richard wound up with a dislocated jaw from where Tiska struck him, and the horses survived without any debilitating injuries.
Although the McGraths had envisioned being totally self-sufficient, they quickly realized that to make it across the country, they would need to start accepting help from strangers, and lots of it. That night, a stable owner at the bottom of the mountain took them in.
And once they were back in the saddle, help continued to arrive. When they reached the Sierra Nevada, still buried under twelve feet of snow, a stranger who had read about them in a local newspaper drove out to meet them. “He drove at three miles per hour for four days with his blinkers on to protect us to get us over the mountain,” Jeannette says. Later, he traveled to Colorado to cook for them.
In the desert, help arrived in even more mysterious forms. One day they found unopened water bottles on the side of the road. Then they happened upon a pile of hay that looked like it had been dropped from a helicopter. When one of their horses was injured, a man they met on the road called a friend who had made a major horseback riding trip of his own, and who gave them a horse without ever meeting them.
Jeannette has a new respect for mankind. “I just had no idea how many people out there would give you the shirts off their backs,” she says. As of mid-May, Jeannette and Richard had survived flooding in Illinois and made it into Kentucky. There for the first time they witnessed the birth of a foal. Though they are behind schedule, they aren’t fretting. Jeannette says she used to be a “panicky” person, but she now feels as though she has been through her own Hearts Up program on their trip. “I’ve learned to relax and let God take care of all the details,” she says.