A California woman and her horse are spending October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, riding through Wisconsin to bring greater awareness of the issue.
Meredith Cherry has been spreading her message since January 2017 when she started from her home state. Using the slogan, “One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness,” to define her mission, Cherry is riding across the country to educate the public about the trauma victims’ experiences.
Cherry’s ride is a four-year 10,000-mile horseback journey to support victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Along the way, she visits domestic violence centers sharing her experiences and knowledge about domestic violence.
Although Cherry has been riding since she was 16 years old, Apollo is the first horse she has owned. Riding the 10-year-old Peruvian Paso/mustang gelding, Apollo, Cherry and her horse average about 10 to 15 miles a day.
Along with the packs Apollo carries, he wears a blanket embroidered with the team’s mission. All tacked up with saddle, packs and rider, Apollo carries about 200 pounds. The palomino’s safety gear includes fetlock bracelets of small sleigh bells to warn off animals that might cross their path. To protect his hooves, he wears Cavallo hoof boots.
“They last about 500 miles,” Cherry said. “He’s on his 11th set.”
A domestic violence survivor, Cherry wants to make people aware of the lack of understanding surrounding domestic abuse and the need for more services.
“There’s a huge stigma with abuse and being a victim,” Cherry said. “There’s the blaming and shaming. People who have experienced it don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard to break the cycle if we don’t talk about it.”
Cherry was married for eight years to a man who engaged in various types and levels of abuse.
“As is typical, the abuse didn’t start until we were married,” Cherry said. “I tried to leave hundreds of times, but would come back when he apologized and promised to change.”
Because she and her ex-husband lived in a very rural area, Cherry didn’t receive the support she needed to leave the situation. When she did try to leave, her ex would report her missing and the authorities would find her and bring her back to the home.
“There are a lot of reasons a victim would not turn to police for help,” Cherry said. “In a lot of rural and low tax regions, they leave it up to police to take care of victims. A woman will try to leave numerous times before she actually leaves.”
Removing herself from the situation was difficult because of the lack domestic services in that part of Colorado. Cherry was able to contact support agencies after she left for the final time.
From her experience and information gathering, Cherry learned abuse can take a variety of forms and “it’s all about control.”
“No matter the type of abuse, there’s a lot of mind games involved,” Cherry said. “There’s verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, technological such as online stalking and religious or spiritual. Some women can experience an overlap of the types.”
During her rides through communities, people will stop and talk with her as they did during a break from riding in the town of Leon. A mother and daughter saw Apollo and Cherry outside a restaurant and stopped to give her a hug. The two told Cherry they too were victims of domestic abuse.
“People are curious about us because we don’t look like someone out doing a day ride,” Cherry said. “People are sharing stories with me who have so many similarities on so many levels. There’re big and small details that are the same. There are the weird things that happen.”
People following the ride on social media have offered Cherry and Apollo housing and stabling. She’s become a great believer in things happening for a reason and her willingness to accept hospitality from strangers has allowed her to meet supporters.
“There’s a lot of flexibility and a sense of trust,” Cherry said. “Trusting strangers who provide shelter was something I had to work at; that, and trusting God. If I meet somebody who offers a place that’s off-route, it generally ends up being a good thing. Someone offers a trailer ride or there’s farrier just when Apollo needs a trim.”
So far, the team has ridden through 21 states with the goal of finishing in Maine June 2020.
Those interested in following Cherry and Apollo can do so through her website www.centauride.org. “Centauride,” is the name of a female centaur, the mythical Greek creature that’s half human, half horse.
The two can also be followed on Facebook and YouTube and Cherry can be contacted through Instagram and Twitter.