By LARRY PHILLIPS
• Leader & Times
Dorothy’s lore has brought another unique couple to Liberal. A couple determined to help others who have experienced emotional trauma find peace and worth.
Richard and Jeannette McGrath of Jackson Hole, Wyo., share a love of horses and God and are using those loves to fund their dream of building their Hearts Up Ranch in Wyoming.
Their method of raising money?
Riding their horses from coast to coast – a trip that will take them nearly a year to accomplish.
“We left Jackson nine months ago,” Jeannette, 29, said Tuesday, while the two were visiting Dorothy’s House in Liberal. “We trailered the horses from Jackson out to the Pacific. We started just north of San Francisco at Point Reyes National Park.
“We’ve just hit our 2,000 mile mark,” she added.
The dream of building a ranch to help treat people of all ages who have emotional scars has long been a dream of Jeannette’s, who was raised on her family’s farm in Connecticut. In her bio on their Web site, www.heartsupranch.com, Jeannette said her mom knew jeanette would always love horses from the time Jeannette was 1.
“The horse I was given when I was 10 was my best friend and shoulder to cry on throughout my teenage years,” her bio reads. “As far back as I can remember, classmates always knew me as a compassionate listener to their problems. One year, I went with my family on a wilderness pack trip for our vacation. It was then that I knew I wanted to work with horses and people for my lifelong career.”
Richard came from an entirely different background, according to his story on their site.
“I came from a background of turmoil. In my early childhood, I experienced violence, the divorce of my parents, and many kinds of emotional pain,” Richard wrote, “Growing up in a city in southern California, I witnessed firsthand the devastating affects and scars left behind by the brutality of gang and mafia warfare.
“From the time I was a small child, all I ever wanted to be was a cowboy who helped people,” he continued. “My friends knew they could count on me, but the cruelty I experienced created much bitterness and anger in my heart.
“I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 22. Knowing I was forgiven of all my sins allowed me to begin on the road to healing. I was able to forgive myself and let God heal my heart so I could find peace.
“My greatest desire is to lead others to the same healing and peace I have experienced,” Richard concluded.
The couple met in college while studying horses and guest ranching. After college, they were married. Together they worked on several guest ranches as program leaders, lived at hunting camps, worked on horse farms and helped at a therapeutic riding facility.
Jeannette started a horse training and lessons business, while Richard acted as the behavior specialist at a school for adjudicated youth.
“Throughout the years, God has faithfully sent people into our lives to remind us and encourage us to follow our dreams,” they said “This support gave us a great desire to ‘pay forward’ the kindness we received and … God ultimately revealed to us the calling of Hearts Up Ranch.”
They put together a board and a project manager and looked for a way to raise the funds to build their dream.
“Basically, we and the board were looking for something unique to do that would get people’s attention for a fundraiser. So, here we are,” Jeannette said, with a chuckle.
The McGraths do not have a team following them across the country or a motorhome full of supplies to fall into every night. They are, literally, hoofing it alone.
“We spend six to eight hours in the saddle every day,” Jeannette said. “We go 15 to 20 miles a day and average about 3 mph, depending on how many times we stop and talk with people. We have to go pretty slow because we have pack animals with us.
“I wish we did have some kind of support bus, because sometimes, we feel like we’re 65 years old,” she said with a laugh. “We’re just by ourselves as we ride across America, and all our support is from all across the country – from online actually.”
As an example, Jeannette said their caravan of horses and mules was in Garden City, as a couple had volunteered to let them stay over there. That’s when Jeannette asked them if there was anything near concerning the Wizard of Oz or Dorothy. The Garden city couple drove them to Liberal Tuesday.
While crossing Kansas, the couple will mainly follow back roads.
“Because there is not too much public land in Kansas,” Jeannette said. “But we’ve gone through a lot of back country in Utah and western Colorado. We try to hit the trails where we can, but we also go right through towns because, obviously, we’re doing a fundraiser.”
Remarkably, their horses (they rotate several) and pack animals go shoeless.
“We do a little trimming on their hooves, and we sometimes use hoof boots – we have gone through a few pairs of them,” Jeannette explained. “The horses’ hooves are pretty tough.”
They have also been blessed to get through two mountain ranges without getting snowed in.
“The day the snows that closed the mountains came, they came the day after we got through,” she said. “It was like, ‘Go. Go. Go,’ because the snow was chasing us.”
She said they also get off and walk with the horses to warm up if they get too cold from low temperatures.
The couple is hoping to raise $2 million for the project and they have goals for each state they cross.
“We’re hoping to get 4,000 Kansans to donate $50 each while we’re in Kansas,” Jeannette said. “We’re actually doing very good so far.”
Delaware and the Atlantic Ocean is their goal, and Jeannette thinks they should make it in May or early Spring.
“This has really been an education,” Jeannette said. “We’ve met so many nice people on this trip, that’s it has just blown us away.
“So far, it’s worked out really well.”