Currently in the midst of planning her 2,300-mile horseback ride, Margaret "Peg" Steele is looking forward to extending thanks to veterans and first responders while raising awareness for equine-assisted therapy.
To span four months, the Taylorsville resident's TREK 2020 — Searching for our Heroes will kick off Feb. 15, 2020, and travel across the Southeast.
"Being married to a retired Navy chief and having so many close friends that are active military, veterans or first responders, I have seen what service to our country and communities has done to people," Steele said. "Some come back unscathed, like my husband, and others live with the effects of their service for the rest of their lives. Many say nothing and suffer in silence. I truly love these people who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. I am grateful for them every day. I want to go on this 2,300-mile horseback ride throughout the Southeast to find our many heroes and personally thank them for their service.
"… Second, I want to solve a problem. I want to put equine-assisted therapy on everyone’s giving radar. Not everyone fully understands the benefits of this therapy for veterans and first responders living with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] or other physical disabilities. I will do this by extensive public education via news media, print media and various social media and a website. The trek serves to get people's attention and thereby provide a platform for this education."
Visiting equine-assisted therapy stables along her route, Steele will encourage people to support their efforts and highlight the benefits of this type of therapy for "heroes" with PTSD and physical disabilities.
"Horses are very hypervigilant, they don't easily trust, everything is perceived as a danger and they startle easily," Steele said. "An individual with PTSD is also hypervigilant and can be oversensitive, startle easily, perceive danger around every corner, and these are the symptoms that they manage their day with not to mention a dozen more. It is impossible for an individual suffering from PTSD to work with a horse since the horse reads all of these emotions in you and will start to emulate them. This causes the client to have to work on their own issues to make progress with the horse. In a sense, the horse works like a mirror.
"I know that if I am having a bad day; if I am upset, angry or just sad, my horse knows and becomes more difficult to manage that day. I have to work on myself if I intend to handle him safety and effectively. Imagine what it is like to be … [in a] wheelchair, because you lost both your legs. Now imagine how it would feel to find that you can handle a 1,200-pound horse that can be dangerous if not handled correctly. So many who have experienced this find a new hope and determination about their life going forward."
In preparation for TREK 2020, the 58-year-old is planning her route's stops, seeking support, eyeing shorter practice trips and in the process of training horses for the journey.
"We have the royal plan, which includes these next 21 months of preparation, which is developing a safe route with the help of volunteers throughout the Southeast — setting up appointments with approximately 25 equine-assisted therapy stables and 16 veterans organizations and approximately six horse rescues along the way," Steele said. "We will start at a stable in Middleburg, Florida, and work our way west into Texas and then back northeast through Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and home. It should take approximately four to four and a half months to complete.
"We have to train our horses. One horse is a draft cross named Duke. … The second horse, which [we] refer to as our emergency/respite horse, is named Geronimo. … He too will be trained because we don’t want to stop the trek if Duke has an injury or is having difficulty handling the miles. We will give him time to recover and rest and call Geronimo into service. If either horse needs to come home for any reason we do have a third named Dixie that we will ship out to wherever we are. Our horses and their well-being come first above all things."
She continued, "We have vets and farriers to find along the way; we need fitted tack to ensure maximum comfort for the horse; and we need a truck and trailer and volunteer drivers. The truck and trailer will serve as a base station; rolling billboard and emergency shelter from bad storms for me and the horse. We don’t want to get caught in a bad hail storm, lightening storm or tornado without a way to protect ourselves or bug out."
Stressing her outreach project is not a nonprofit operation, Steele is reaching out to the public to support her journey.
"We have a budget of $94,000 to $120,000 which covers the next 26 months," she said. "This includes higher level of training for the horses; horse medical insurance; vet and farrier only during the actual trek; tack; feed and hay during the trek; truck maintenance; fuel; insurance and advertising; as well as shirts for volunteers and beverages. It also includes gift [cards] for our veterans and some of the stables in the amount of $33,000.
"Any funds left at the end will be distributed to the stables we visited and some veterans groups that helped with the trek. None, and I mean none of the money, will go to feed me, clothe me, doctor me, pay for my cell, computers, camping equipment — nothing. It's all about the message and the horses."
Along with serving as the weekend night planner for Lowe's Regional Distribution Center in Adairsville, Steele also owns Steele Away Acres with her husband, John. Situated on Taylorsville-Macedonia Road in Taylorsville, their farm contains a licensed stable and dog-boarding facility.
“I am very proud of my wife for taking on this extreme challenge, but I must admit I am worried," stated John Steele in a news release. "This by far isn’t a small thing that she is attempting to do. People don’t ride a horse 2,300 [miles] on trails, roads and through towns every day. There will be times when she will have to rely on the kindness of others to make it through. If she doesn’t secure a truck and trailer and enough volunteers, she is prepared to go with a pack horse.”
For more information about TREK 2020, contact Steele at 470-289-9633 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.