Monday, February 21, 2011

One Woman's Journey

Being without power for a few days gives rise to thought.  Oh my...what's that?  Memory (as a recently read  author wrote) are capsules of time that make up one's life.  I reason that I write so as to recall more clearly some of my capsules in case disease gobbles them or they grow thin and erode. 

So... while we were living in North Carolina, we got a cryptic phone message on the recorder that led to meeting an extraordinary woman.  Just luck for us that our paths crossed.  I guess she could say the same.
Meet Marianne Du Toit:

 In early February, 2004, I was out driving my horse on the farm when my husband Fred came outside and insisted I listen to an unusual plea left on our message phone.  It seemed a woman traveling with two horses was in need and had gotten our number from a Saddlebred Horse directory.  We tried to call her back on her cell phone, but reception being pretty spotty in our rural area, didn't succeed.  Our friend and neighbor Tom Simmons, who is a notable horse trainer, was told of the call and he suggested we just go and try and find her.  The message said she was 4 or 5 miles north of Roxboro on Highway 49.  Off we went and somehow drove right to where she had her two horses tied to a tree.  The young lady, Marianne Du Toit was sitting under the porch of a hospitable homeowner who allowed her to rest there while she tried to find accommodations for herself and her horses.  It was a cold day with snow and ice covering the landscape.

snow and ice on the farm in February, 2004
In the ensuing minutes, she related her odyssey on horseback.  Born in South Africa and an Irish citizen, who 19 months earlier began a ride starting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  She had ridden alone the length of South America, Central America, and then had to fly past Mexico (without her horses) because she could not obtain permission to pass through.  She began her last American leg in Alabama in December with American horses and was on her way to her final destination of New York City, hopefully in time to ride in St. Patrick's Day parade in mid-March.

Her journey, called TATA (Travels Across the Americas) Challenge is benefiting an Equestrian Center for Children with Disability that is to be built outside of Dublin, Ireland. She had sponsorship from DHL shipping company and unlimited phone use from Alltel Company, and generous help along the way from the people she has encountered along her route.  She spent almost three days on our farm while she had to obtain new tack and write in her journal.  Marianne said that traveling the secondary roads gives wonderful opportunity to see the real America and meet it's people.

It is strange how just the right assistance can come at the right time because Marianne had trouble with one of her horses before she reached Roxboro.  Her horse Toto spooked and bolted through the woods while being led.  It was pretty scary but all were unharmed except for Marianne's saddle, which broke in two requiring new equipment.

Tom and I went back to the farm to get the horse trailer to bring Marianne and her two horses back to the farm to lay over before her next leg of the journey.  Next day, Tom gave the errant horse a training session that put him more under Marianne's direction to prevent future outbursts.  With some rest, training and a new saddle, Marianne began her journey again moving north into Virginia.  I put word out among my internet carriage driving friends and some stepped up to offer their farms as layover on her intended route.

I'd like to say that this 34 year old horsewoman and world traveler is an inspiration to all that meet her.  It is a comfort to know that she binds us all together in our human condition with her stories of all the unique people she has met along the way.  I felt a part of her journey and she gave me an opportunity to share and spread her good will among men and women. 

I finished her book Crying with Cockroaches and was struck with just how much guts this gal had to strike out on such an adventure.  Of all the people who shared in her journey, she said the most loving and generous were the very poorest.  At one point, she slept with several family members on a mattress and felt safer than anywhere.  Here's to you Marianne!  I hope our paths will cross again, but if not...I will always admire you and your humanity. 
Tom Simmons checking new saddle with Marianne
Marianne riding Comanchi leading Toto into Virginia
For more information on TATA Challenge see website:

Next:  an excerpt from Marianne's book Crying with Cockroaches on what Tom did for her horse problem.
Book can be purchased from above link at Amazon