It’s almost impossible to imagine the hardships pioneers went through traveling across the country 160 years ago.
Without guarantee of their next meal, nor a weather forecast and unknown dangers that could be encountered, they trudged on.
It wasn’t quite that scary for Lisa D. Stewart. Yet, there was certain semblance when the Overland Park horsewomen-adventurist decided to make two long-distance journeys on horseback.
As a featured presenter at the recent EquiFest of Kansas in Salina, Stewart shared her experiences following lifetime dreams.
In 1982, Stewart rode 3,000 miles cross-country horseback through the Rockies and Midwest over seven-and-a-half months. She was accompanied by her husband on that journey with five equine serving alternately as riding horses and pack animals.
At the age of 54, Stewart made a similar 500-mile trip alone through Kansas and Missouri in 2012.
Her book about that journey titled “The Big Quiet – One Woman’s Horseback Ride Home” ranks high in travel guides. She is a commercial writer and business consultant in Kansas City.
“So many horseback riders wish they could take a cross-country ride,” Stewart said. “I highly recommend it; if nothing else than to be reminded what a safe and good land we live in.”
Although Stewart had not owned horses for some time, she acquired Chief, a registered Missouri Fox Trotter, for the solo journey.
The woman and her horse traveled only with what they could carry. Every Friday, Stewart’s husband drove to meet them and refresh their supplies.
“You cannot plan your route, unless you have a road crew that follows you. That’s the way most people do this,” Stewart explained.
She didn’t even use a cell phone to plan her next destination. “I couldn’t bear to be on the phone that much,” Stewart said. “My hands were too busy to call people, and I did not want to be that connected anyway.”
Of course, the horseback traveler met many strangers. “I had to have a place to camp for me and my horse,” Stewart said. “With only a couple of exceptions, people took me and my horse in. They were interested to hear more about my adventures.”
Enduring scorching heat in the hottest, driest summer on record in Missouri, Stewart managed her own fear of the unknown. Forever undiscouraged, she faced the danger of sharing byways with cars and trucks.
“It was a tremendously healing time for me to stop and talk with people. It was very healing,” Stewart insisted.
“I had to reassure my husband I wasn’t going to ride off and forget about our life together,” Stewart said. “I was the same person when I came back. It was just that while I was gone, I felt more like my real self than I ever had.”
Saddles must properly fit horses for long-distance riding, the speaker insisted. She showed examples of how poor fitting equipment can cause serious issues for horses.
“Saddle-fit problems can be resolved by a change in approach,” Stewart said. “There is no saddle-fit panacea, yet much can be learned. There’s certain absurdity strapping a rigid object on the complex, dynamic structure of a moving horse’s back.”
Stewart helped launch one of that country’s most successful saddle companies. Yet she is no salesman, eager to sell a saddle to gain a commission. Rather a distance rider, who faced obstacles, made mistakes, overcame and learned by them.
She was co-founder of Ortho-Flex Saddle Company, which made and sold 25,000 patented saddles with accessories all over the world.
“Riding and writing revealed to me there is more to life than what we can see and explain,” Stewart said. “I write about my experience with horses, people, my rural roots, and my passion for the inner-city.
“I am researching and writing about the healing, horse-human connection,” Stewart continued. “I will do my best to open minds that the same healing connection is available between you, me and strangers.”
Through newsletters, blogs, emails, and social media, Stewart explores this theme. “There are so many good people out there,” she declared.
At Hillsdale Lake, Paola, Stewart works with the Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism to clear trails and keep them safe.
Books, writings and detailed information about Stewart are available at www.lisadstewart.com.