LIGONIER — During the school year, West Noble Middle School Principal Melanie Tijerina is calm and collected, as she puts out fires one at a time. So when her friend and mentor Beth Carter suggested she participate in the first June Ride from May 31- June 10 with the Michigan Trail Riders Association, she was initially hesitant.

Tijerina isn’t a stranger to horses and riding, but wasn’t a master equestrian. She currently owns two horses at her home outside of Wawaka. Rebel, her trail horse, is 17.

“It had been a lifelong goal of mine to own horses. I got our first horse when I was 31 years old. When we got our first two horses, in the middle of the night, I’d look outside the window and make sure they were still there. Tijerina’s daughter finished 10 years of 4-H last year and graduated high school.

“When she graduated high school, I was left with what I want to do with that,” she said.

The Michigan Trail Riders Association’s goal to maintain, utilize and promote horseback riding and the right of horseback rides to ride on public land. Over the last 80 years, they’ve created a trail system in Michigan. The first June ride takes place the course of 10 days and travels over 200 miles. MTRA also helps maintain the trails. In 2017, members donated 1,920 hours of labor to help maintain the blue dot Michigan Riding and Hiking Trail.

“She (Beth) convinced me to go with her this year,” Tijerina said. “I agreed to go. Towards the end, I got nervous about going. I feel like it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because she was helping me, it made it a doable thing.”

This was Carter’s second ride.

According to Tijerina, she was never a runner, so participating in the ride was similar to a non-runner doing a marathon.

Participants can choose to complete the ride in a variety of ways. If one rider and horse complete the journey, both the horse and rider get a certificate and a trophy of completion. If a participant brings two horses and rides one every other day, only the rider becomes certified. If two people alternate riding every other day, only the horse gets certified.

“I could have taken two horses up there. People choose to do different things,” she said. Tijerina and her horse traveled 22 miles per day.

On this trip, there were a lot of newly retired people, Tijerina noted. A second June ride intended for families will spread out over a longer period of time.

“I thought about quitting a couple times, but I told myself, ‘I have to finish. You got to get through those last two days,’” Tijerina said.

“It took us about 4-5 hours a day, which is way more than I’ve ever done before in my life,” she said. “I bought her as a trail horse, fairly sure she could do this. She did really well until the second to last day. On day nine, I could tell she was sore. Both she and I had to take Tylenol. I had one physical problem myself. I strained my ankle in the stirrup while I was riding. My ankle was pretty swollen,” she said. The swelling has gone down some already, she said.

Tijerina credits her continued love of horses to the Noble County Saddle Club and 4-H club.

“We had to have so many people help us,” she said. “Those two organizations taught our family everything we know about horses. We’ve owned the horses for 11 years and I anticipate always having a trail horse. Once you get into a sport, it pushes you to grow in your sport.”

With 4-H, her daughter would compete in the horse barrel competitions.

“As I watched her do that, I realized that wasn’t going to be my thing. I needed it to be a relaxing hobby,” Tijerina said. She describes the ride as “not a competition as much as it is an endurance ride. You’re attempting to finish for yourself, not beating anybody.” People must be members to participate in the rides with MTRA.

At the first June Ride, there were members from Texas, New York, Indiana and Michigan. During the ride, every night, there was a camp meeting.

“One night, they honored someone doing their 50th crossing,” Tijerina said, impressed. “I was just doing it for the first time.” She is looking forward to future rides.

“My goal is to continue to ride. In a few years, Beth and I are planning to go out west and do a saddle drive,” she said.

Tijerina said, “In my hobby outside of school, constantly needing other people to guide you, you’re never too old to learn new things or try new things. Push yourself to do new things.”

More information on the Michigan Trail Riders Association can be found at www.mtra.org/TrailRides.shtml.

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