By Ellen Moyer
A whoop echoed across the water of Cape Henlopen State Park as the state of Delaware celebrated a grand welcoming party. It was 2005 and Matt Parker had just taken two years to become the first to complete a 5000-mile journey by horse across the new American Discovery Trail that linked the nation’s hikers, bikers and equestrians from ocean to ocean.
Pushed by outdoor and sports enthusiasts like George Cardinet, the grandfather of trails, America had finally emerged with pedestrian paths and a message to hit the trail in the great outdoors.
Parker had chosen a horse as his trail mate when he started in 2003, stopping for winters, for the journey that would take him through 13 states, 14 national parks and past 10,000 sites of historic and natural significance.
When asked why he started this venture, Parker said “This trip stems from a great deal of disappointment and very little faith in my generation. I don’t want to be part of a generation known only for fast foods, electronics, and drugs.”
Thirty-one years earlier, an Annapolitan, Roz Green, would express a similar feeling. Grieving the death of her father, Green felt her life strengthened by a long horse ride from Colorado home to Annapolis. Back then, in 1974, there was no trail system across America. The route she took with her boyfriend, Chris Mann, was traced out on a road map through 10 states.
Both Green and Mann were experienced riders. Green was 4 years old when her father gave her Mr. Hugg, her first pony. By age 6 she was fox hunting with her dad, becoming a fifth-generation horse rider in her family. After 8th grade at Key school, she headed for Garrison Forest Boarding school in Baltimore County with her horse.
Mann also was on the equestrian team at McDonough school. After graduation they headed west, working in cowboy restaurants near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Green’s much loved father died when she was 20. It was time to come home.
Inspired by a story of a guy that had ridden a horse across the country, they decided to do the same thing. Until the car came along 60 years earlier, the horse or foot for centuries had been the major mode of transportation. The land was also less populated.
Green and Mann set out on horses named Shiloh and Coquetta, and a pack horse, ZooLoo, who carried a pack saddle decorated with an Annapolis yacht club burgee on July 4, 1974, Independence Day. They also brought a skinny puppy that “adopted” them. They called him Mr. Bean.
Early in their four-month journey, they encountered rugged, challenging terrain at Rocky Mountain National Park. The horses could usually go about 22 miles a day, but it took a week to ride the roughly 46-mile trail in the park. The National Park Service didn’t allow dogs into the park, so Mr. Bean got a ride with a park ranger for that leg of the journey.
Green said most people they met were friendly and helpful. Along the way, they sought out farmland to pitch a tent and provide the 75 pounds of food the horses required each day. Occasionally a farm owner would offer them the comfort of a bed and home cooking. In small towns their journey was celebrated. In Nebraska, they were welcomed into a rodeo, where they served as the backup team for the rodeo clown, the guy that diverts the bull from attacking the rider he has just tossed off his back.
Everything was not all roses. Finding grazing land and providing care for the horses was a challenge. Farriers — people who specialize in horse hoof care — had to be found every two weeks to protect the horses’ feet from the harder surfaces of roads. In Omaha, someone asked the FBI to do a brand inspection — an examination of brands and ownership papers on livestock — on “these people that are riding across America”.
Crossing the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri was a problem. Horses were not allowed on the bridges. So they sought the help of truckers, and rode across the bridge on the horses sandwiched between two trucks as the sun was rising.
After the flat lands of the Midwest, Green remembers West Virginia as a most beautiful state and laughs at a couple’s remark in Fort Meade that they would never make it to Annapolis. They did, of course, arriving Oct. 26, 1974 at her home In
Amberly, where she still lives today.
The riding horses Shiloh and Coquetta found a new home at McDonough School. Mr. Bean and the pack horse ZooLoo stayed with Green. Today Mann lives in Hawaii where he writes and edits. Green is an athletic director, works with mental health support groups and spent time with the Key School Board as her father had done.
Fifty years ago, riding horses in modern America on the long ride was a pioneering experience. You had to find your own way. Today leisure horse trekking is a growing sport.
The 2015 film Unbranded followed four cowboys on a 5-month journey from Mexico to Canada through spaces “impossible not to be overwhelmed by the awesome landscape.”
The Best of America by Horseback television show launched this year. It features trail riding and cattle drives around the country.
There are now many trails in states connecting points of interest for hikers, bikers and equine.
There are 7.2 million horses in our country that provide an estimated $122 billion economic impact on our economy, according to a 2017 study by the American Horse Council Foundation. The same study said the horse industry adds $1.3 billion to Maryland’s economy and provides 21,532 jobs. The Maryland Horse Industry Board puts the value of the industry’s economic impact at $2.1 billion and says it supports 28,000 jobs. The board also notes that Maryland has 101,457 horses, making it the state with the highest number of horses per square mile.
When Roz Green (Now known as Roz Dove) and Chris Mann were riding across the nation’s farmlands followed by a skinny dog and being investigated by the FBI who would have “thunk” that their unrecorded pathfinding journey would precede the development of a national cross-country trail by nearly three decades?
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