Horsewoman riding across U.S. to raise awareness of domestic violence

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POCATELLO — After escaping an abusive relationship, 34-year-old Meredith Cherry and her trusty steed, Apollo, made it their mission to travel the contiguous United States to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Since January, Cherry and Apollo, a Peruvian Paso and Mustang mix, have left their home state of California and traveled 10,000 miles, reaching the outskirts of Pocatello on Wednesday.

“As a domestic violence survivor, I felt like it is an issue that needs more recognition,” Cherry said. “Only by talking about it can victims see that they are not alone. And only by talking and sharing our stories can victims and survivors overcome the stigma and unwarranted shame that is put upon them.”

Cherry spent an entire year analyzing maps on Google Earth when preparing for her journey, only to throw everything out and decide to plan each 15- to 20-mile leg of the journey just days before.

Equipped with the clothes on her back, light backpacking and camping gear and a small amount of emergency funds, Cherry said she relies on word-of-mouth marketing and networking through her blog and social media sites to secure hospitable stops along the way.

Both Cherry and Apollo are decorated with several safety devices, including a reflective vest, lights on the back of their packs and bells around Apollo’s ankles. They also wear protective gear, including a helmet for Cherry and a pair of rubber boots instead of metal shoes on Apollo’s feet.

“The road that I take is planned off of who is going to take me in,” Cherry said. “I travel up to 20 miles a day and it’s worked so far. Sure, I like to find somewhere in advance, because knowing where I am going to stay is nice. But if I don’t find anybody in advance then I knock on doors until I find someone who will offer some hospitality.”

What’s remarkable, according to Cherry, is that other than the first week of her journey, she has been able to find someone to take in her and Apollo without having to knock on doors.

Cherry said that once her story hits the local press or through word-of-mouth, then it’s only a matter of time before someone farther down the trail offers her a roof to sleep under, a home-cooked meal or a plot of grass where she can pitch her tent.

“I don’t stay in hotels because usually there is nowhere to keep Apollo,” Cherry said. “I really rely on the kindness of strangers and people who donate to my GoFundMe.com page.”

Before embarking on her trip, Cherry had ridden horses on and off for 20 years and received an equine degree to study horses. But she had never owned a horse of her own.

“When I decided to start this journey, I figured it was time for me to get the horse I always wanted,” Cherry said.

In some cities, Cherry said she is able to set up speaking events to share her story. But in many cases, she talks with officials at domestic violence shelters, the people she stays with or meets along the way and asks them to pass her story along.

Officials with Family Services Alliance, a domestic violence advocacy group in Pocatello, met with Cherry on Wednesday to hear her story and take pictures with her and Apollo.

Cherry said her ex-husband controlled her psychologically by isolating her from family and friends and monitoring her phone activity. Over the 12-year relationship, the abuse escalated to violence where he would restrain her and beat her on the back.

“The first four years were nice,” she said. “When the abuse first started it was easy to brush it off by saying he was just having a bad day.”

Often, she would give in just to avoid fights. But eventually the abuse became physical.

Once when he caught her trying to leave, he repeatedly kicked her in the shins until it was too painful to even stand. He would also bite her ears until they bled.

Not affiliated with any non-profit, Cherry said she is simply trying to make a difference on her own.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an average of nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. This equates to more than 10 million women and men per year.

After riding through Pocatello, the next stop for Cherry and Apollo is in Idaho Falls. The pair will continue traveling through Idaho until they reach Montana. Then they will backtrack to Idaho to reach Wyoming before heading south in time for the winter months.

“My goal is to reach Texas before the snow falls,” Cherry said.

Ultimately, her travels will zig-zag across the country until she arrives in Maine, which she hopes to reach by 2020. At that point, the plan, which may change over the next three years, is to trailer Apollo and drive back to California.

Those interested in tracking Cherry and Apollo’s “Centauride” can visit her blog at www.centauride.org, her website at www.meredithcherry.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/MsMeredithCherry.

“Abuse doesn’t have to be physical to be painful,” Cherry said. “The emotional scars last way longer than the physical ones.”

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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