She rides six hours a day and networks by night.
“Call me after dark,” says Meredith Cherry mysteriously when asked about her cross-country trip to raise awareness of domestic violence. Her horse had no comment.
The two of them, Cherry atop her horse Apollo, began their journey from the Penn Valley Rodeo grounds. Organized by Gil Dominguez of Touchdown Productions who filmed the event, the sendoff was attended by family and friends and served as the launch of a 10,000-mile campaign to spread the word about domestic abuse. Cherry plans to visit shelters, radio stations, victims and women’s groups to bring awareness of the dangers of abuse.
“I’m a survivor,” she said. “When I left my husband, I was thinking of what I wanted to do with my life. I decided I wanted to travel with my horse and help other women.”
According to Cherry, many women don’t know what to do when they realize they are in an abusive relationship.
“When I was in that situation, I didn’t know about the resources that were available to me,” she added. “I only learned about them afterward. And before it became physical abuse, I didn’t realize it was also emotional abuse.”
Cherry rides 12 to 15 miles a day, five days a week, and stays wherever she can wrangle a room. Now near Eugene, Org., she will soon move on to Seattle, networking along the way. She uses her phone and social media to connect with “fellow travelers”—those supportive of the effort to increase awareness.
Dubbed “Centauride” by Cherry, the sojourn aims to span 48 states in four years, clopping from Nevada County to Maine. A map of her trip, along with reflections on her life, safety, care for horses and assorted ruminations can be found on her website, centauride.org, where you can follow her on her journey.
“Apollo and I are healthy and moving,” she said from Eugene. “It’s going very well and I’ve had a lot of support. Part of my journey is to make people aware of what I didn’t know.”
Often abusive relationships evolve from an affectionate and caring one into a controlling and hurtful one, Cherry explained. That often changes gradually over time and escalates before people are fully aware of what’s happening. Also, a victim may become isolated, either because the abuser won’t allow interactions or because the victim feels shame or embarrassment.
“It never starts out bad, it starts wonderful,” Cherry said. “By the time it turns abusive there is a whole complex level of control that the abuser has put into place.”
She said abuse is never really talked about, leaving the victim feeling alone and helpless. For many, it’s a situation that seems to lack a solution.
“Little things build up slowly that are almost always control-based,” said Cherry. “The need for the abuser to always be right. To make you feel small. Or to make themselves feel right.
“The victim slowly gives up little bits of control,” she added. “In a healthy relationship, arguments happen. In an abusive relationship, the victim always has to step back and give up control.”
A feeling of helplessness prevents the victim from leaving or seeking solutions. “What are they going to do?” said Cherry. “They don’t have others to talk to. They don’t have a bank account. They don’t have a car. There is no easy to get out.”
Cherry, who was married for 12 years, said she was not aware of any supportive services or shelters available for victims like her. She never heard anyone talk about domestic abuse. And she felt powerless to leave.
“It took years and years before I went from being a strong and independent woman to being a submissive abused victim,” she said. “It took me a while to realize it was abuse. It started as psychological and emotional. It slowly became physical. Then, once I realized it was abuse, it was very hard to leave.”
She said her husband prevented her from getting help or getting out.
“I was isolated from other people,” she said. “I was geographically remote, I had no access to a vehicle of my own and I had no access to money. It didn’t seem like I had any way out.”
Cherry has logged 800 miles so far, riding through cold and rainy weather at times, talking with support groups, shelters and victims — all the while taking care of Apollo.
She said if she can help other women become aware of the many resources available to them, her journey will have been successful.
“It’s a silent problem,” Cherry said. “I realized that have the opportunity to do this with my life—that I can take this journey. So, I decided I would make it count.”