‘Emotional healing starts on the trail’ for Megan Gray of Buffalo Moon Expedition, who’s traveled 25,000 miles on horseback, helping people along the way.
The definition of expedition in the Oxford dictionary is “a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration, scientific research, or war.”
Megan Gray’s definition of an expedition: An attempt to make it from A to B.
And this is what she does. On horseback.
For each Buffalo Moon Expedition, Gray sets her sights on two points. Then she lets the dots connect between the two in whatever way they choose. Essentially, she sits back and watches while the dots connect themselves.
Recently she decided to take a trip through Illinois, ending in Burlington, Iowa. I had the chance to talk with her about her trip, and I found out new things about horses, people, and so much about the way Megan Gray approaches life.
I called her one summer evening while she was parked on the side of Michigan Avenue in Chicago, waiting to give horse-and-carriage rides. Where she stood it was 55 degrees, an oddity for a summer evening. Instead of complaining about the chill, she giggled about it, as if to say she found it refreshing. Our conversation was equally so.
On the Buffalo Moon Expedition blog Gray maintains, she describes the goal of her expeditions: “to explore the planet by horse while helping people achieve emotional freedom.” Which led to my first question: “What does emotional freedom mean to you?”
“Whenever we’re able to go on any kind of adventure,” Gray said, “we have experiences. Through those experiences comes a form of personal catharsis. We can come to an understanding of an authentic relationship between humans and animals — and humans and our planet. And we can give back to the world more of ourselves — to others and to ourselves. Emotional freedom is the existential piece that gets us to where we need to be.”
Gray’s Buffalo Moon Expedition is an exercise in getting in touch with herself and the world around her. A spiritual event. But I was also curious about the tangibles: the planning portion of each trip.
I asked how many trips she’s taken. “Ten,” Gray said. “All have been a success, whether they were stopped or not. All have been over 150 consecutive miles. I took a hiatus from 2012 to this year. My total number of miles is about 25k.”
Gray and her horse stay with gracious hosts along the way. I wondered how she finds them. She replied simply, “I usually wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m leaving.’ I open up a Google search and type in ‘Stables within 20 miles.’” What she finds after the search string is a something like a hotbed of serendipity. She knows someone who knows someone at the nearest stable, and after she stays there, that someone sends her farther down the road to someone else they know. She rides a wave of human generosity. And she usually gains friends in the process.
After not having been on a Buffalo Moon Expedition in a few years, Gray felt the itch to head back out. Her horse Evangeline had been her partner for all prior journeys, but Evangeline was no longer able to take a long trip. So Gray let another horse step in, and that companion was Shadow.
At the time of our conversation, Gray has accomplished a portion of the Illinois-to-Iowa expedition. She started out with a friend, but some unexpected health challenges arose for her friend and the trip was suspended. But Gray and Shadow will continue their journey.
I asked Gray how far she travels each day. “Our average ride per day is 11 miles, but I tend to do about eight. We walk a leisurely pace. I use an eight-pound saddle. My training style is finesse, not force. Every sentient being needs a purpose to feel whole. Unfortunately, with animals, we imposed that upon them…but without that purpose, they probably wouldn’t be doing so well.”
“Do you give your horses treats?” I ask excitedly, as giving treats to my dog is one of my main joys in life. That’s when Gray shows me that, in addition to being spiritual, she is also smart as hell: “No. I don’t give my horses treats. Ever. Horses get disrespectful if you keep feeding them treats. Fingers become carrots. And their appetites get wonky. I need their appetites to always be stable so they can walk well.”
She doesn’t withhold treats because she’s stingy or simply because they may start acting out. She withholds treats also because she must make sure their bodies stay well nourished, so that their trips are not harder on their bodies than they need to be. She also noted that she stays lean, so as to not burden them with extra weight. She regulates herself in order to ease the existence of another. A practice in grace.
Any great explorer can tell you the journey has a meaning of its own, but no journey can be accomplished without wisdom and care. The first portion of Gray’s Illinois-to-Iowa trip may have been halted, but it will be accomplished — that’s for sure.
I finished my interview with a question that had been tugging at my sleeve. I wanted to know the dark side of these trips. If there were parts that made her not want to return to them, if people had ever made her sorry she believed in the good in them. I asked, “Megan, has anyone ever been cruel to you while you’re out there with your horse? Or cruel to your horses?”
Her response came with immediacy and certainty: “Not really, no.” She mentioned that every now and then, someone suggests that her journeys are an escape from life. That being in a saddle is equal to copping out on life. But spend five minutes with Gray, and you will know it’s quite the opposite. For her, “It’s about being more in touch with life.” But it’s not just that — it’s about being in touch with the rest of the humans who are here, all under the same moon, going through life as well.
Which leads us to a piece of the big picture. Gray mentioned that she is “about two seconds away from a PhD in psychology.” Some further digging on her reveals that she has traveled as an individual and family counselor for over 2,000 miles. She encountered over 1,000 families in various stages of crisis and other relationship dynamics and assisted them in the only way we, as humans, really heal: through genuine human connection.
Life is hectic, and hard, and filled with noise and all the problems we bear.
But when one woman jumps onto a horse for another day of her Buffalo Moon Expedition, she feels the weather more intensely than those speeding around her in their automobiles, which she calls “a cocoon from the world.” She hears her breathing, the gravel underneath her horse’s feet, the breeze in the trees.
I hung up with Gray feeling lighter. Happy that a soul like hers is traversing the Earth at the same time mine is. We end our conversation, and her words stay with me.