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Meet The Prairie Village Writer Who Rode 500 Miles On Horseback Back To Her Childhood Self

Lisa Stewart and Chief on a stop in Rich Hill, Missouri, in 2012.
Lisa Stewart
Lisa Stewart and Chief on a stop in Rich Hill, Missouri, in 2012.

Lisa Stewart had wanted to take a long, solo horseback trip for most of her life. In her mid-50s, she finally made it happen.

Throughout her life, every time Lisa Stewart’s road got rough, her first thought was to jump on a horse and ride away. That’s what she wanted during her two divorces, after her third child was stillborn, after her husband’s head injury, and after they lost their business and had to start over with nothing.

But most of the time, galloping away wasn’t actually feasible.

“It was never a possibility in mind,” Stewart says. “I had always been either living in my father’s home or married, then I had children. How in the world could I just take off?”

Then, in her mid-50s, living as a writer in Prairie Village with her third husband, she voiced the long-time desire to her minister. The minister’s advice: Do it.

“I said, ‘I don’t even have a horse anymore!’ This is after decades of owning horses and being in the horse business. I was 15 years without a horse here in Kansas City, and she said, ‘just start asking people,’” Stewart recounts.

Within months, Stewart had two offers of horses she could borrow for the journey. Ultimately, she saved up money and bought her own — Chief, a red horse with a few white markings. They were constant companions for the four weeks it took them to ride 500 miles around Missouri in 2012.

This month she released a book about that journey called The Big Quiet.

The woman and her horse traveled only with what they could carry, and every Friday Stewart’s husband drove to meet them and refresh their supplies.

“You cannot plan your route, unless you have a road crew that follows you with all your stuff and they put feed ahead. That’s the way most people do this,” Stewart explains.

Others use social media or make phone calls to plan where they’ll stay each night, but she says, “I couldn’t bear to be on the phone that much. My hands were too busy to be trying to call people. I did not want to be that connected.”

As a result, the defining feature of her trip was constantly approaching strangers to ask for water and a place to camp for the night.

Almost without exception, those strangers took her in and were interested to hear about her adventure; many called friends or family to come over and see her for themselves. Several said they had always wanted to take exactly the same ride.

On a few occasions, those she rode by called out her name; they knew her from a lifetime ago.

Her original plan had been to ride southeast into Missouri from Edgerton, Kansas, where Chief was pastured. But she quickly realized that route involved too many high-speed bridges for comfort. To avoid those roads, though, meant going straight south, and then east, to "the site of my most exquisite pain — where I filed for divorce and took their father out of the children's daily lives," she writes.

Stewart had no desire to see anyone from that time in her life. But as she approached the town on horseback at four miles per hour watching familiar landmarks grow closer, she found that old acquaintances were simultaneously watching her grow closer.

"It was a tremendously healing time for me to be able to stop and talk with people I went to high school with," she says, "and they didn’t care if I’d left town when I got divorced and all that — that was in my mind. So it was very healing."

Stewart says if something continues to come back to you year after year, like her wish to take this ride, “there’s probably a reason for it. And if you are able to do it, you’re going to feel like you’re in your skin for the first time.”

In "The Big Quiet" she writes: “My identity had been scrubbed clean this week with a thousand beads of sweat on the washboard of my horse’s walk. Starting with makeup. This person here cared only to make the next mile and fall softly on those she met.”

That sort of letting go could be frightening, even for her husband, she said.

“I had to reassure my husband, bless his heart, that I wasn’t going to ride off and just forget about our life together and realize this is what I really want to do,” Stewart says. “I was the same person when I came back. It was just that while I was gone, I felt more like my real self than I ever had in my life.”

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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