Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Backbone Trail Cowgirls Complete Ride Saturday. One, Ruth Gerson, is 82 years old.

Backbone Trail Cowgirls are setting out to ride the entire Backbone Trail on horseback as the first group to do so

Five courageous ladies are embarking on a major challenge of skill and adventure in a couple of weeks. The Backbone Trail Cowgirls are setting out to ride the entire Backbone Trail on horseback as the first group to do so since the trail was completely opened end-to-end and officially designated as a National Recreation Trail.

Update: 82-year-old Ruth Gerson and four friends will complete their horseback ride of the 67-mile Backbone Trail on Saturday, 7/23. They began their journey on 7/18 at Point Mugu State Park.

The trail, which goes from Pt. Mugu State Park in Ventura County to Will Rogers State Historic Park in the Pacific Palisades, was officially designated as a National Recreation Trail by US Secretary Sally Jewell and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis on June 4, 2016. By averaging about 11 miles each day, their journey will cover the 67 Backbone Trail miles of mostly rugged terrain with some pretty hefty elevation changes along the way.

This trip was spearheaded and organized by Ruth Gerson, 81 yr, who first rode the trail almost exactly 25 years ago. She will be riding her 19 yr old Mustang, Crystal. The other participants are Jeanne Wallace, with her 21 yr old Quarter horse, Dill; Janet Peterson, 63 yr, with her 19 yr old Peruvian Paso, Sunny; Tracey Potter, 53 yr, with her 9 yr old Red Roan, Scooter; and Kimberly Gustafson, 45 yr, with her 12 yr old Spotted Draft Quarter Cross, Chief.

These ladies have chosen to do this ride for 4 reasons: to publicize the Backbone Trail as a National Recreation Trail, to inspire others to be adventurous, to demonstrate that age is only a number for horses and riders, and to illustrate the need for equestrian and hiker trail camps in the Santa Monica Mountains!

Their trip will begin at the Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park on Monday, July 18, 2016 and finish on Saturday, July 23, 2016. They will camp near the trail each night and have their horses in corrals or high lining them. No hotels for these women! They have a support team of friends who have volunteered to take on various tasks such as pre-riding parts of the trail to identify obstacles, clear brush and downed trees, drive the rigs from campsite to campsite, bring dinners in the evening, meet with water for the horses where the trail crosses roads if it's very hot, and help in any other ways needed.

What an amazing journey this will be! These women will be riding across the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The views will be spectacular, not to mention the wildlife and wildflowers. It won't be easy, but they all share a common thread, a sense of humor and a sense of purpose.

California State Parks, National Parks Service and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy are all strong supporters of this ride and have made every effort to ensure that all goes well. There are 2 non-profit organizations also supporting the ride: Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (SMMTC – and Recreation & Equestrian Coalition (REC – Park Watch Report (PWR – is a website and phone app for State Parks that is used to improve trails and address safety issues by engaging the public; they are also supporting the ride.

The Backbone Trail Cowgirls will provide a daily update of their adventure on the Backbone Challenge Ride 2016 that will be posted on the SMMTC website (

Biographies of the five ladies:


Kimberly, 44, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Kimberly has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Toledo and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Kimberly moved to California in 2002. She has been riding her horse in the Santa Monica Mountains for about 9 years and enjoys trail riding with her husband. She takes great pleasure in riding with friends, learning new trails, and exposing her 12 yr old draft cross Chief to new experiences. Kimberly is a strong advocate for the preservation of trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. She has been a member of ETI Corral 36 for 9 years and has served on the board for 4 years as the membership chair. When Kimberly is not riding or doing home improvement projects, she works as a consultant in the Oil and Gas Industry with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Her Motto: Work hard/play hard!!


I was born in Brooklyn, New York 81 years ago. I came to San Francisco in 1946 by train, at a time when you could walk between the train cars by pulling open the heavy doors, feeling the wind as you hopped across the connections and opened the door to the next train car – all of which disappeared when OSHA and the insurance industry changed everyone's lives. Attending 10 schools just to finish the 8th grade was an education in an adjustment to living in many varied places and getting along with new kids all the time. I never lived anywhere longer than 5 years until I built this house. I'm here almost 40 years, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of the past moving around to new places with new people.

When I arrived in Marin County, CA I began riding horses. I had 5 lakes, a mountain, friendly ranchers, and 2 beaches for riding as well as Muir Woods. I bought my first horse for $100 without first riding her; and I have bought several more also without first riding them. I have been very fortunate to have enjoyed the partnerships with some wonderful horses, all of whom taught me something along the way.

I went to Pomona College for 2 years majoring in non-academic activities of tennis, fencing, swimming, skiing, shooting, flying airplanes, riding horses for Kellogg Ranch and other pursuits. From UCLA I received a BS in psychology with a State teaching credential; and afterwards, I taught at UCLA's Fernald School.

After many interesting years, I was revitalized when Grant found me. With my wonderful husband, now deceased, we had a fabulous life together filled with love, humor and fun. We rode our horses locally and in the Sierra, and we traveled to many places. I have been involved with trails in the Santa Monica Mountains for the past 50 years. Besides boarding horses, I have 4 great horses – a 19 yr old Mustang mare, a 10 yr old Buckskin mare, a 31 yr old Sorrel mare (Tevis 100-mile Ride), and a 29 yr old Spanish Mustang gelding.

I am doing this ride for 4 reasons---to publicize the Backbone Trail as a National Recreation Trail, to show how grateful I am that at 81 yrs I can ride this far, to inspire others to be adventurous, and to call attention to the lack of trail camps for horses in these mountains and especially along the Backbone Trail.


Janet introduced herself to horses when she purchased her first horse at a charity dinner in 1998 and Janet's life changed forever. The horse, named Precizjon, was an Arabian mare and took Janet over hundreds of trail miles until she died in 2015 at the age of 30.

Janet lives near Auburn, Ca, with her husband and a menagerie of rescue animals. The Sierra Nevada is her back yard and her favorite place to ride. As an industry leader in foodservice procurement, she held numerous executive positions with popular chain restaurants. Her move to Auburn from Irvine, CA, was to signify retirement for Janet, but her entrepreneurial spirit and love of trail riding crossed paths when a tragic motorcycle vs horse incident on a nearby trail signaled the need for better communication between trail users and park management. Her goal now is to encourage every trail user to step up their commitment as park stewards and use ParkWatchReport to keep park management updated on trail conditions and safety issues.


I'm a 74yr. old California Native born 2 hours away in Long Beach. My love of horses started at a very young age. Walking home from school, my sister and I stopped in every field to pet the horses. We learned a box of sugar cubes brought them to us. In 1950 my dad moved our family to Idaho Falls thinking it would be better to raise his kids on a farm. There I met Brownie a horse owned by the farmer next door. The farmer gave us permission to ride Brownie whenever he wasn't out pulling a wagon. We rode double as often as possible. Fast forward and we are back in California. In 1967 my son's grandfather bought our boys each a pony. 1968 still not knowing much about horses my husband bought me an 18 month old filly that I started riding at 2yrs. old. She came with a free breeding to a Doc Bar Stallion, so at 5 yrs. old I bred her and got Abby, the mom of Atticus 25yrs and Dill 21yrs. Dill is the quarter horse I will be riding on the first organized BackBone Trail ride to highlight its recognition as a National Recreational Trail as well as the Trail's accessibility and need for campsites along the way.


Born and raised in Connecticut, I moved to California in 1997. I have a daughter, Isabella, who lives in Hollywood, a Chihuahua named Rico Suave, and Scooter, a 9 year old Red Roan horse. I have been in medical sales for over 18 years and currently sell products for cataract surgery. I moved to Agoura across from Paramount Ranch in 2013, and then realized that I wanted a horse to ride on all the beautiful trails that surrounded me. That's when I walked into Ruth Gerson's ranch and asked her to teach me to ride. And she did!!! She also helped me find the perfect trail horse, Scooter, just several months ago. He is trail savvy and takes really good care of me. I'm excited to be part of this adventurous experience with 4 women who have so much knowledge about horses and the history of the Santa Monica Mountains! I believe I'm the least experienced, but I will be the one who gains the most out of this trail ride!!!


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