Gin and Finley ride across America
Tara Thissel, BLM Oregon Public Affairs Specialist
“The first step to making things happen is to believe they are possible.”
Finley, and his adventurous rider, Gin, recently completed a several-months long journey across America.
First, meet Gin: the most endearing, gentle, wise, full of try, animal-lover you’ll ever find. She grew up with her mother and two sisters in eastern Pennsylvania, fangirling over Young Adult books, lip-syncing indie-folk songs, and harboring small animals.
“I could never fit a horse into my family's apartment, so riding and owning one felt like a fantasy,” Gin said. “To overcome these thoughts, I acknowledged that I don't have to believe in my success as much as I have to believe in my ability to try.”
She’s a thinking girl, Gin. Always imagining, searching, and scheming with the confidence of a toddler in swimwear. A few years ago, she randomly wondered how she would survive being homeless. Those thoughts morphed into a solo walk across America, which she completed in 2019. She was barely out of high school at that time – only 18, shy, awkward, and away from home for the first time.
“It was incredible,” she said. “I grew in such unimaginable, wondrous ways.”
Then came a second trip from coast to coast, this time on a bicycle-trailer combo named Sal and Faith. What’s a girl to do when she’s already walked and cycled from the Atlantic to the Pacific? Do it a third time on horseback, of course!
Meet Finley: a six-year-old, $125 gelding, “all-American wonder of a horse,” as Gin calls him. Finley was gathered from the Palomino Buttes HMA in Oregon in 2021. He is Gin’s first horse and first ever mustang! The two came together by nothing short of fate.
With a ride in mind and a passion for mustangs, she hopped in with a friend and casually attended a wild horse adoption event in Tennessee. Interested adopters had three days to view available horses ahead of time, but Gin could only attend at the last minute. She made it with enough time to only glance at single photos of each animal. Finley caught her heart with his beautiful, well-defined conformation, flowing forelock and smooth gait. But there were 17 other adopters ahead of her, and each could choose up to three animals.
She briefly considered finding an already trained horse, but in true Gin fashion, she questioned herself: “What have I done to deserve this horse, to reap the benefits of someone else's years of hard work?” It just had to be a mustang. “I really wanted the challenge and the immense honor of having a horse that I could learn from and grow with from the ground up,” Gin said. “It’s not for everyone, but it was right for me.”
And with a stroke of good fortune, every other adopter chose a different animal, leaving Finley available for Gin. “I love Oregon mustangs in particular, with my favorite HMA's being Palomino Butte and Stinkingwater,” she said. “Palomino Butte horses have stunning, sleek faces with some of the best conformations I've ever seen, akin to a foundation quarter horse.”
The first few weeks with Finley tested her to the max. A month in and he was still barely touchable. “We were both in this strange new world and I was grateful for the absolute humbling. I felt a greater comradery with my horse because of it,” she said.
A change in stabling locations and a new opportunity to grow with an experienced instructor changed their course for the better. Gin connected with mentor Sea G. Rhydr through the Long Riders Guild – the world’s only international organization for equestrian explorers – and spent four months with her, preparing for the cross-country adventure. “I owe a lot of my success to Sea,” said Gin.
The horse and human duo started their journey in New Jersey when Finley was only 120 days out of holding. At the time, he wasn't comfortable being touched by strangers, so Gin led him across the entire state. But after a week, he was resting his head affectionately on her shoulder, and by central Pennsylvania, Gin was riding with just a rope and halter. “One of the best things about Finley is that he has a lot of try,” Gin said. “And he’s noble and stoic, with a raptor-sharp eye and maturity beyond his years.”
Together they traveled over 3,600 miles, visited 10 states, crossed 3 rivers and several mountains, and made dozens of new friends.
Gin describes a favorite memory of their trip like this:
“I got to take Finley back home to Palomino Buttes, where he was born in the wild just south of Burns, Oregon. Up to that point, he had spent two-thirds of his life there. We arrived back exactly two years after he had been gathered, on the dot! While I kept his reins in hand, I did not direct him while we were in the Herd Management Area. I wanted to let him choose our way.
He brought us to the base of a small canyon where there was a natural spring with green grass, something I never could have known existed by looking at my maps. It was so unlike the rest of the sagebrush country that surrounded us. More than anything, what warmed my heart was seeing that, when we needed to leave, he didn't resist. I was so worried he wouldn't want to go with me. But he left with his ears forward, not looking back.”
So, what’s next for these two? Gin will be on the east coast for the foreseeable future, going to college and contemplating her latest adventure idea: kayaking the Yukon River across the span of Alaska. Fin is resting easy on Lopez Island in Washington with Sea, free-roaming acres of property and enjoying an occasional ride to town or into the backcountry.
“While we may be apart now, on opposite ends of the country like before we met, I'll see him again soon. I could never leave Finley forever,” Gin said. “He’s my equine soulmate and we have an unbreakable connection.”