MODDERSVILLE — Two hip replacements weren’t enough to keep Jane Gruenberg Davis, 92, from traveling 240 miles across Michigan on horseback a couple of weeks ago.
She was born in Ann Arbor and her folks were city people, but she has adored horses as long as she can remember and was born with a desire to ride.
“I would say it’s a passion,‘ she said. “It has to be a passion if you’re 92 and ride across the state.‘
Davis, who now lives in Moddersville, her daughter Linda Gruenberg, trail adviser Don Kleyer and several other people took the couple-week trip in June.
Gruenberg said her mom hadn’t done the trail in a while and had been busy traveling and with other things the past 15 to 16 years.
But she dreamed of doing the trail one more time.
Davis has done the trip over 30 times in her life on various horses and this year broke a group record of being the oldest person to make the trip. The previous record was held by a man in his 80s, Robert McIntee, who rode the approximate 240 miles in 2003, Gruenberg said.
Kleyer, who owns the trail riding group Shore to Shore Trail Rides Ltd. that made the trek, said he also checked with the Michigan Trail Riders Association and they said nobody in their group was even close to Davis’ age.
“It was inspiring actually,‘ he said.
More than half of us will be dead before we hit that age and then when people are that age they’re sitting on the couch and crocheting, he said.
This is an activity that requires stamina, tenacity and determination. Over the years there have been adults in their prime, their 20s, 30s and 40s, who attempted the trail but for some reason could not make it.
So the fact Davis did this is “quite phenomenal actually.‘
RIDING HORSES ALL THEIR LIVES
Davis was probably 8 or 9 when she first rode a horse and at 10 or 12 she started to exercise horses before taking lessons.
She passed this passion on to her kids and their family vacations were spent traveling across Michigan on horseback.
Gruenberg was 8 years old the first time she did the trail and did it every year from then until 18, but there are pictures of her as a baby in someone’s arms while they’re on a horse.
Her favorite childhood memory is going across the state every year with the horses and her mom.
“It is a family passion,‘ she said. “Maybe more among the girls than the boys.‘
She has two brothers that thought the women were crazy for doing the trip but they still helped with the horses and hay.
Riding horses across Michigan is nothing to scoff at and it takes some serious training to prepare for a trip like the one they did in June.
Gruenberg, who lives in Sweden, came back to train with her mom on May 1 and they rode four to 10 miles almost every day for six weeks.
She said they started dreaming of doing this trip about two years ago after Davis got a hip replacement. She also got a new horse that was “full of life and energy.‘
“So we’ve been planning it a long time,‘ Gruenberg said.
TRAVELING ACROSS MICHIGAN
Davis was nervous the first day, but excited too. They were starting a big ride.
They started the journey by getting the horses’ hooves wet in Lake Huron and at the end of the trip planned to wet their hooves in Lake Michigan.
The second day on the trail they rode 20 miles, and when they finished that she knew she could go that distance.
However, this trip was a little different for her this time.
“When you’re young you can do it all yourself,‘ she said. “But when you get older you need help.‘
Luckily, she had her daughter with her and many friends riding with her on the trip to keep an eye on her. She even got to ride with some of her friends’ grandchildren, who are the same age as her friends were when she first rode with them.
Probably the hardest part was getting up early, Davis said.
They often got up early because they wanted to take advantage of the morning hours of riding before it got hot. Sometimes they were on a trail by 5:30 a.m.
Usually they would walk the first and last mile of the ride which is part of “good horse rules.‘ Then the rest of the time the terrain would determine the gait.
Because they had to be up so early they would try to go to bed early and the last meeting in the night might be around 8 p.m.
Kleyer would talk about any problems they might face and how to solve them. For example, warning them about a part of the trail that was swamped and that the horses would have to go through water.
“Then you go home and go to bed,‘ Davis said.
They might play some music there or do other things for a while though.
They did a rotation where they would do two days of riding and then one day of resting and cleaning like laundry, so two days on and one day off.
She said there was a point when they just kept going, and it was beautiful. She got to feel close to the horses all the time, riding them and brushing them.
Even when it was raining it was nice, as the horses moved well through it and they didn’t have to deal with the heat, Davis said.
She never fell off and she was not worried about it.
“I try to plan not to fall off,‘ she said.
Gruenberg said the worst part of the trip was when her mom’s horse shied hard on the pavement and her mom could have fallen. She didn’t fall, though, and stuck like glue.
Sometimes her mom would get tired around noon if they’d been riding since 6:30 a.m. and wouldn’t get her horse to keep pace with everyone else’s.
So every day they were the last ones into camp, but then “all of her friends would cheer,‘ Gruenberg said.
Whenever they entered camp for the night the first person to seem them would give a yell and others would join in “and it always felt like such a triumph that we made it.‘
And her mom was always happy and smiling.
Gruenberg feels very lucky. Another mom that age could be in a nursing home or dead, so she is so so blessed.
HOW’D SHE DO IT?
Gruenberg thinks a difference between her mom and other people was that her mom was a physical education teacher and was always in excellent shape.
Davis taught for 35 years, first in Midland and then at Houghton Lake.
She was always running on the track or court with her students and even without them she lived an active lifestyle. Instead of suggesting going to a restaurant she would want to go hiking or take the horses to the Badlands, Gruenberg said.
However, now she might be at the age where she needs to take it a little easier.
Gruenberg started talking about doing the trip next year and her mom told her to wait until she had gotten through this one.
If they do the trail again, “my gut feeling is no she won’t be riding,‘ Gruenberg said, though she might still be on the trail in a vehicle with them.
Davis said she wanted to do the trail again because she hadn’t done it in a couple of years.
“To have horses on a trail is the top of the world,‘ she said.
It would only be possible for her to do the trail next year if she was able to get help, she said.
But it’s not like the old days when she could do it her self. It would be fun to be on the trail in some capacity and watch others do it, but she doesn’t expect to do it on horseback again.
She doesn’t feel one way or another about that fact and it’s not a big issue at all.
She’ll still ride while she can ride and will still enjoy life. There’s a lot of life to live, but riding is her most favorite part of it, she said.
And she’s always done things she loved to do.
“I only know I keep going and there’s no reason to stop so far,‘ she said.