DISCOVERY RIDE raises awareness for wild horses | NevadaAppeal.com

DISCOVERY RIDE raises awareness for wild horses

Aly Lawson
alawson@lahontanvalleynews.com

Reno's Samantha Szesciorka, 34, her adopted mustang, Sage, and dog, Bella, set off today on a 1,100-mile Nevada ride to raise awareness for wild horse adoption.

The former U.S. Army journalist with a passion for horses moved to Nevada in 2008 to be a television producer. She became a big fan of the Silver State as well as its wild horses. This is her second, and well over twice as long, Nevada Discovery Ride for wild horses.

"I'll have a tracking device on each day when I ride," Szesciorka said, "which will transmit live to the map embedded on my website, so anyone can check in and see where we are."

She'll also post trail updates and photos to the website and social media when she has cell service.

Szesciorka is starting her journey in the geographic center of Nevada, east of Austin in Monitor Valley. The trio will conclude their mission about two-and-half months later, around Oct. 22 in Reno at the Lemmon Valley Horseman's Arena. All are invited to attend the large ride in celebration, she said.

When asked when she started loving horses and riding, Szesciorka said no one in her family is really into horses, so she didn't grow up riding until about age 13.

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"I was instantly hooked," she said. "My mom insisted it was just a phase, but I never grew out of it! I've been riding ever since. I've tried almost every kind of riding there is from hunter jumper to endurance, but what I love most is trail riding."

Throughout this ride, she'll cross mountains and dunes, state parks and ghost towns. Her husband, Ryan Powell, will provide trail support by meeting up with her every day for feed and water drops, and also to camp—but she'll spend all day riding alone.

"On the trail," she said, "I measure my success by the mile. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey."

When it comes to wild horses, for Szesciorka, they're synonymous with her love of long rides and Nevada's natural beauty.

"I really think," she said, "I started to fall in love with Nevada the first time I saw wild horses out on the range. I'll never forget the feeling of seeing them out there. I actually pulled over to watch them. I just couldn't believe I was seeing wild horses. Since I've lived here, I've learned a lot about them and the controversies surrounding them. It's a pretty complicated issue, and I certainly don't pretend to have any ideas for a miracle solution. But I do think everyone can agree adoption numbers could be higher, and so that's why I've focused my advocacy efforts there."

Szesciorka emphasized that mustangs are a really versatile breed, and she would encourage people to consider them for any discipline in which they're interested. She's seen mustangs stadium jumping, finishing the 100-mile Tevis Cup race, working cattle, and everything in between.

When asked what it's like being out there, trail-riding with Sage, Szesciorka said she really thinks the best way to travel is by horse.

"When you're moving at three miles per hour, you see everything. You really get to know a place when you go through it on a horse. So it's a lot of fun being out in Nevada that way. It's quiet. It's scenic … You feel very cut off from civilization. The downside is it is very dirty living on the trail."

For the upcoming ride, Szesciorka said she has a pretty good route plan with daily mileage goals and possible campsites. She added that it's a loose plan though; everything is flexible.

"We should average about 20 miles a day, but it all depends on how Sage and I are feeling that day, what the weather is like, what the terrain is like. I'll have to decide each day how much farther to go and where to camp. The unknown is part of the adventure."

Szesciorka said she thinks she's most uncertain about the Jarbidge Wilderness area.

"It's remote, tough country and hard to get trail condition reports on it. The fall weather can also be pretty wild up there. So that's probably the area I feel like I know the least about what to expect. But there are so many places I'm looking forward to riding through. I created the route myself based on the places I thought would be the most scenic or the most fun to ride through."

Szesciorka's last Nevada Discovery Ride in 2013 went from the Utah border to Reno across central Nevada.

"It was way more physically and mentally challenging than I expected but also so rewarding. There were times when I really had to push myself and times when I felt like giving up. There were also times I felt such a huge sense of accomplishment. You really find out what you're made of on a long ride."

She said she learned a lot on that first ride, about what worked and what didn't, what gear she liked and didn't.

"That makes this upcoming ride a little easier," she said. "But it's still scary to think about being gone for almost three months. That's a long time to live on the trail. But I've been preparing the same way I prepared for the first ride."

"First and foremost," she explained, "riding Sage as much as I can to keep him fit and in shape. I've also been working on the route, replacing gear, getting supplies, caching hay and supplies along the route, buying all the non-perishable and dehydrated food items, making all the arrangements for my stuff back home. It's a lot of work!"

Szesciorka is the assistant curator of the Wilbur D. May Museum in Reno as well as the vice president of the Natural Horsemanship Association of Northern Nevada and an international Long Riders' Guild member. She adopted Bella from the Humane Society in 2007.

Powell is an expert on eastern Nevada after traveling the back roads while working for the Desert Research Institute. He's also an American West historian currently completing his Ph.D. at the University of Nevada, Reno. Powell is a key ride team member, driving ahead with hundreds of pounds of horse feed and hundreds of gallons of water. He'll also scout trails, set up and tear down camp, run the chuck wagon, and manage any trail emergencies.

Nine-year-old Sage lived in the Nevada wilderness until he was rounded up at about two years old. He ended up in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center Saddle Horse Training Program in Carson City, which pairs wild horses with inmates for 90-120 days of gentling and training. At training's end, the horses are made available in a public auction. Szesciorka went to the prison auction in February 2011, bid on the then four-year-old Sage and won.

"And we've been having adventures together ever since," Szesciorka said.

The Nevada Discovery Ride has been sponsored by Nevada State Parks, ThisIsReno.com Travel Nevada, Washoe County and several other organizations and businesses.

To learn more about Szesciorka 's Nevada ride and wild horse adoption, visit http://www.NevadaDiscoveryRide.com. Follow the Nevada Discovery Ride on social media at http://www.facebook.com/NevadaDiscoveryRide and http://www.instagram.com/nevada_discovery_ride.