I was 13 years old when Shyla came into my life. It is an understatement to describe her as breathtaking. It's not just her appearence that I am describing; there is fire in her that can't be put into words. She isn't a perfect horse and her impatience and boundless energy would likely drive most riders crazy. I know as a teenager I questioned my sanity. However, after 11 years together there is a connection between us that I wouldn't trade for the world. She has pushed me in so many ways to become a better rider and even today I'm amazed at our progress together. I am truly at my best when I ride her. Her athleticism is unparalleled to any horse I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. That being said, in April of 2013 she and I were in an accident that resulted in her severing her check ligament in her right front leg. It took 9 months of rehabilitation before her pain and lameness were resolved. I can't even begin to describe my gratitude to the Equine Center at the Edna Valley Vet Clinic that treated her and worked so hard to bring her back. She didn't start again under saddle until early 2014 and I almost gave up hope of being able to ride her on the PCT that year, deciding that her son, Takoda, who I had planned to use as a pack horse, would have to attempt to fill his mother's shoes. I began the ride at the Mexican border on him, with Shyla tagging along in the trailer and staying at camp to keep him company, but I soon transitioned to short rides on her, and finally, as she proved strong and capable, I was able to revert to my original plan and ride her the majority of the time. Takoda still took over on portions of the trail, but it was Shyla who was my main riding horse the first time, and I plan to ride her almost exclusively on the second trip, after her performance on the ride journey confirmed that she is 100% recovered and ready to tackle anything and everything along the way.
We bred Shyla when I was in high school and in 2007 Takoda joined our family. Takoda was the most adorable and mischievous little colt; don't let those big brown eyes fool you! As I'm sure is obvious, he and Shyla look like a matching set. However, the similarities end there. Takoda would much rather take an afternoon nap than race around as Shyla does. His calm and playful demeanor, which thankfully he acquired with age, will melt anyone's heart. He is a great trail horse and his level-headedness helps to steady Shyla's nerves. Where Takoda really surprised me, however, was in his ability as a pack horse. He readily followed along behind Shyla and carried the heavy loads like a champ. He even preferred to leap over fallen logs across the trail like a kangaroo, rather than pick his way around them the way Shyla did! Between Shyla and Takoda, I couldn't ask for more.
My two horses, Shyla and Takoda...
I guess a good place to start would be my childhood. I believe if there were to be a survey done of people who witnessed my childhood, the one unanimous response would be that I was completely enamoured with animals. From dogs and horses to birds and snakes, I was always captivated by them. I have to credit my parents here for their amazing support as I literally turned their life into a zoo. My interest in animals and searching high and low for them birthed another passion of mine: being outdoors. Neither of these interests was a passing childhood phase, as both have continued to be an important part of who I am as an adult. However, I did acquire additional interests with age. For my undergraduate education, I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where I fell in love with the field of biology and the research I was able to participate in. In particular, I have continued to pursue my lifelong interest in herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. My fascination with these often overlooked creatures has led me to intern in a zoo, travel through Australia, and assist in field research on rattlesnakes. I started a new chapter in my life by enrolling in grad school where I am combining my interests in biology, research, and herpetology in pursuit of a Master's degree. But before diving into grad school in the fall of 2014 I wanted to go on a grand adventure and fulfill a dream of mine by completing the PCT. Then, partway through my M.S. program at California State University, Northridge, where I was investigating the role of genetic adaptation and developmental plasticity in the successful range expansion of the Mediterranean House Gecko, I knew I had to ride the PCT a second time. I put my graduate studies on pause, knowing that I could always come back to school, but that Shyla's trail days are limited by her age, so I had to make the most of the time we have together. I also plan to use my experiences from both rides to create a guidebook for equestrians on the PCT so that others can also have an opportunity to explore this amazing natural treasure, and perhaps to turn my knowledge into a potential business as an equestrian wilderness adventure consultant.