By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
PITTSBORO – Their blog is www.freerangerodeo.com – a concept its subtitle explains as “one woman, two horses, riding out to discover America.”
Sea G. Rhydr and her horses, Mr. James and Saint Finehorn, left Philo, Calif., in October 2011 and hope to arrive in Minot, Maine, this November. After completing the two-year journey, Rhydr plans to write a book about it.
Monday found the trio making their way north through Calhoun County, catching Northeast Mississippi with azaleas, wisteria and dogwoods competing with log trucks, school buses and curious passersby for their attention.
The trip was conceived in a love for pioneer life that began with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. It gelled after Rhydr read the memoir of Messannie Wilkins, a 64-year-old retired Maine hog farmer who made a cross-country saddle trip in the 1950s.
“I had a good horse, I was freshly heartbroken, I had finished a summer job out in California and didn’t have another job, I had managed to save $2,400, and I didn’t have anything to lose,” Rhydr said.
Along the way, Rhydr is collecting friends, experiences and local lore that she hopes to turn into a book.
Some have been painful. A spooked horse resulted in weeks on a walker. A couple of hosts proved creepy, like the one man who grew ever louder during a 12-hour drinking binge until he finally collapsed.
The trek has had its gratifying moments, too, even beyond prairie sunrises and mountain streams. Rhydr once had to beg for shelter in a Texas grain bin to escape a storm. Late that night, the formerly reluctant owner returned from church, where the sermon had been on biblical hospitality, and invited her to stay with his family in their home.
Despite the hospitality she has found in the South, Rhydr almost didn’t make it to the region. An adviser from The Long Riders, a group dedicated to broad-scale equine adventuring, advised her to turn north from New Mexico – even in the dead of winter – “because the people in the South can be unfriendly.”
That stereotype was unfounded. In one short break from the road Monday afternoon in Pittsboro, at least eight people stopped to visit with Rhydr and her horses.
Before that, she had spent the weekend as guests of the Jess Moore family and had enjoyed the live music show that puts Sabougla on the map. The animals had also enjoyed special hospitality, including a new handmade halter for Finehorn. Rhydr had already been connected to folks ahead who would put her up the next night, others suggesting don’t-miss places in Oxford and yet another who would trailer her horses over a dangerous stretch of road ahead.
“I feel like in and around Calhoun City, I’ve all of a sudden been taken into this community that’s just amazing,” Rhydr said.
“Well, we don’t have a lot, but what we have, we share,” joked Calhoun County Sheriff Greg Pollan.
Despite the fact that solitude is sometimes a welcome change from endlessly retelling her story, Rhydr’s so impressed with the area and its people that she’s considering coming back to live.
“I’m looking at a house over in Big Creek – it’s trying to fall down, but it’s comfortable,” she said. “I walked in there and thought, ‘I could write the book here.’”