July 10, 2020

The Backbone Challenge Ride 2016, July 18 – July 23


Age is only a number for these women and their horses as they ride to publicize the completed Backbone Trail.


The Backbone Challenge Ride 2016,  July 18 – July 23

From left, Jeanne Wallace, Ruth Gerson, Tracey Potter and Kimberly Gustafson will ride the completed 67-mile Backbone Trail from July 18-23.

Five courageous women will embark on a major challenge of skill and adventure on July 18. The Backbone Trail Cowgirls are setting out to ride the entire Backbone Trail on horseback as the first group to do so since the trail was completed last month.


The Backbone Challenge Ride 2016,  July 18 – July 23

Janet Peterson will also ride the newly completed Backbone Trail with her four friends (seen above, l-r) Jeanne Wallace, Ruth Gerson, Tracey Potter, and Kimberly Gustafson.

The 67-mile trail begins in Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County, and ends at Will Rogers State Historic Park in the Pacific Palisades. It was officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and National Park Service Director, Jonathan Jarvis, on June 4.

(See “Backbone Trail Dedication…,” Topanga Messenger, Vol. 40, No. 12, June 16, 2016). By averaging about 11 miles each day, the journey will cover mostly rugged terrain with some hefty elevation changes along the way.

This trip was spearheaded and organized by Ruth Gerson, 81, who first rode the trail almost 25 years ago. She will be riding her 19-year-old Mustang, Crystal with Jeanne Wallace on her 21-year-old Quarter Horse, Dill; Janet Peterson, 63, with her 19-year-old Peruvian Paso, Sunny; Tracey Potter, 53, with her nine-year-old Red Roan, Scooter; and Kimberly Gustafson, 45, with her 12-year-old Spotted Draft Quarter Cross, Chief.

Gerson, who has been involved with trails in the Santa Monica Mountains for the past 50 years, chose to do this ride, she says, for four reasons: “To publicize the Backbone Trail as a National Recreation Trail; to illustrate the need for equestrian and hiker trail camps in the Santa Monica Mountains; to demonstrate that age is only a number for horses and their riders; and to show how grateful I am that, at 81, I can ride this far.”

Wallace’s love of horses started at a very young age. Her horse, 21-year-old Dill, is the product of the very first horse that her husband bought for her in 1967. She is riding to highlight its recognition as a National Recreational Trail, as well as the Trail's accessibility and need for campsites along the way.

Peterson’s entrepreneurial spirit and love of trail riding crossed paths when a tragic motorcycle-versus-horse incident on a nearby trail signaled the need for better communication between trail users and park management. Her goal now is to encourage every trail user to step up their commitment as park stewards and use Park Watch Report (PWR) to keep park management updated on trail conditions and safety issues.

Potter moved to Agoura in 2013 and met Gerson who gave her riding lessons and helped her find the perfect trail horse, Scooter.

“I'm excited to be part of this adventurous experience with four women who have so much knowledge about horses and the history of the Santa Monica Mountains,” she said. “I believe I'm the least experienced, but I will be the one who gains the most out of this trail ride.”

Gustafson, a mechanical engineer, is a strong advocate for the preservation of trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.

She has been a member of ETI Corral 36 for nine years and has served on the board for four years as Membership chair. When she is not riding or doing home improvement projects, she works as a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Their trip will begin at the Ray Miller Trailhead in Point Mugu State Park on Monday, July 18, and finish on Saturday, July 23. They will camp near the trail each night and have their horses in corrals or high line them. No hotels for these women! They have a support team of friends who have volunteered to take on various tasks such as pre-riding parts of the trail to identify obstacles, clear brush and downed trees, drive the rigs from campsite to campsite, bring dinners in the evening, meet with water for the horses where the trail crosses roads, in case it’s very hot, and help in any other ways needed.

What an amazing journey this will be! The women will be riding across the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The views will be spectacular, not to mention the wildlife and wildflowers. It won’t be easy, but they all share a common thread: a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.

California State Parks, National Parks Service and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy are all strong supporters of this ride and have made every effort to ensure that all goes well.

There are two non-profit organizations also supporting the ride, the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC) and the Recreation & Equestrian Coalition (REC) (www.gotorec.org


Park Watch Report (parkwatchreport.com

), provides a website and phone app for State Parks that is used to improve trails and address safety issues by engaging the public and is also supporting the ride.

The Backbone Trail Cowgirls will provide a daily update of their adventure on the Backbone Challenge Ride 2016 that will be posted on the SMMTC website (www.smmtc.org

). ­­