Monday, September 24, 2012

The Long Ride by Lucian Spataro Jr., Ph.D.

Many of the books I have reviewed on this blog are books I picked out to read and felt were good enough to spread the word.  Occasionally, I receive requests from others to review books.  Somewhere along the line I got on a list to review romance novels and had to correct that in a hurry since romance is as far from what I want to read as you can imagine.  The last book I was sent by a publisher not only made me blush, but turned my stomach, so I refused to review it.  In fact, after reading the first few pages I wrote such a scathing response to the publishing company, shaming them for publishing such rubbish, that I feared I may have gotten myself black balled from the literary community.  I say this, because I know I've been recommending a lot of books lately, and I wanted you to know that I do have discriminatory tastes, and I do turn a lot of requests for book reviews away.

So, you can imagine my relief when I was contacted by Kate at KSB Promotions to feature a book about a man's record-setting journey to ride Arabian horses across the United States and spread the word about saving the rainforests of the world.  Finally, something came along that was appropriate for my blog and my interests.  And then when I found out the various ties this book and the people involved in the Ride Across America have to Arizona, I got really excited.

In fact, the author and rider, Dr. Lucian Spataro Jr., resides not too far from me and rides his horse in the very place where my daughter and I got lost while letterboxing a couple of years ago.  Long time readers may recall that we ran into some horseback riders who were also lost.  They went one way, we went another, and my daughter and I eventually found our way back to the parking lot just as the sun was setting.  That raspberry iced tea Snapple I had when I got to the hotel lobby was the most delicious drink in the world on that day.  Nothing makes a person appreciate the basics more than extreme thirst after being lost in the desert.  That experience made me empathize with many of the challenges Dr. Spataro faced on his long ride.

Though this wonderful coffee table book was printed in 2011, the actual ride across America began on May 19, 1989.  Tucson horse breeder, Bazy Tankersley of Al-Marah Arabians, volunteered her horses for the journey.  Dr. Spataro is an environmentalist who chose to combine his adventure of setting a record with educating our countrymen about the impact that the destruction of rainforests has on the world.  The book chronicles his coast to coast journey of 2,963 miles beginning in Huntington Beach, California and ending 150 days later in Maryland.  That's an average of 19.75 miles per day on horseback.

The horses were conditioned and trained on the streets of Tucson for four months to prepare them for city travel.  A total of three gray Arabian horses participated:  AM Sweet William, AM Sea Ruler, and AM March Along.  The temperatures ranged from 130 degrees in the shade in Twenty Nine Palms, California in May to 15 degrees in Maryland in October.  At times the pavement could reach over 200 degrees, and they had to soak the horse's hooves in water buckets.  With all the traveling, metal shoes needed to be replaced faster than the hoof wall could grow out, so Easyboot stepped in to provide an alternative.  The horses wore Easyboots on all four feet for the majority of the journey.

Dr. Spataro began the ride at a weight of 165 pounds and ended the ride at a weight of 143 pounds.  The combination of not having enough fat for cushioning and not getting much time off from the saddle resulted in him having to include Tylenol in his breakfast menu.

With his description of some of the traffic challenges he faced, I could not imagine that he could make it the entire distance without an accident.  All you've got to do is read my blog to hear about all the times my horses or I got injured from them spooking at loud noises and sudden movements.  Dr Spataro did have one accident, but it wasn't due to a spook.  A tractor hauling a trailer ran them off the road, the horse stepped in a hole and the two of them rolled down a ravine, the horse rolling right over its rider.  They both injured an ankle and hobbled a ways until the horse shook it off and stopped limping.  However, Dr. Spataro could not make it up the ravine with his severe sprain, so he sent the horse up on a long lead and had it stand by the side of the road until someone spotted the riderless horse and realized something was wrong.

At the same time that Dr. Spataro was riding from the west coast to the east coast, another rider mounted up on the east coast and headed west.  I guess she was hoping to beat his record, but in her case, she and her horse were struck by an inattentive driver, ending their efforts.  Both recovered just fine.  Dr. Spataro rode on with his injured ankle, determined to complete the goal.

Nature offered just as many threats as the cities they traveled through.  At one point, horse and rider had a standoff with a herd of wild mustangs, as well as running into a hungry pack of coyotes.  There is only so much that you can prepare a horse for, and the rest of the training takes place when the problem presents itself.

I got a chuckle out of the number of times he had to trot around and locate a phone in order to do a radio promotion, handing his horse off to strangers so that he could concentrate on being interviewed.  Riding in running tights made him a target for some less tolerant characters he came across.  His statistics regarding the number of permits his team had to obtain will horrify you.  By the time he reached the White House, he didn't care anymore and did a photo shoot on the lawn without the proper papers.  However, the President had bigger problems than a horse on his front lawn.

For instance, in the time that it took Dr. Spataro to ride across the state of Missouri, a chunk of rainforest the size of Missouri had been destroyed.  (Long pause.)

Why do we need the rainforests?  Well, first off they hold way more resources to offer than lumber, such as medicines.  Entire species of plants and animals have gone extinct due to this destruction.  Anytime that happens, it alters the ecosystem and climate, most often in a bad way.  I'm always talking about the ecosystem on a much smaller level, such as when I felt bad for killing a gross looking spider only to find out that it helps keep the cockroach population in check, and like the time I got excited over finding a kingsnake in my yard because I knew it would get rid of that rattlesnake that nearly bit my husband.  Now when I walk out my front door and find a big old tarantula waiting to come in, I just shut the door quickly, say, "Ew ew ew ew!", and let it live.  I'm really making an effort to research all unfamiliar plant and animal life here in the desert instead of just outright eradicating it out of fear that it might get in my house, kill my dogs or poison my horses.  It's always best to learn about what you don't see that what you do see keeps at bay.

The primary causes of deforestation are logging, fuel wood gathering, cattle ranching, forest farming, and population increases.  What can be done to prevent further rainforest destruction?  Dr. Spataro suggests avoiding eating fast food products that come from rainforest countries, reading food labels to avoid buying packaged food from rainforest countries. avoid buying tropical wood products, boycott, lobby, and find alternatives.

I truly enjoyed the book and did nothing but read it for three days straight -- not because I had a deadline for the review, but because each time I set it down, my mind was occupied with what I just absorbed and I wanted to pick it up to read more.  My husband can attest that I talked his ear off over lunch for an hour about nothing but what I read in The Long Ride.

So far the book has won the following awards:

  • 2012 IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Gold Award for the book "Most Likely to Save the Planet"
  • 2012 Benjamin Franklin Bronze Award for Autobiography/Memoir
  • 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award finalist in Environment, Nature and Travel Essays

Dr. Spataro was also featured in Clinton Anderson's No Worries Journal, Summer 2012 issue.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to support programs that promote sustainability and environmental restoration efforts.  Visit for more information.


Jamethiel Crabb said...

Thank you for this review :) I started riding endurance in January and I love books about long rides-this is perfect! I just finished reading Last of the Saddle Tramps, by Messanie Wilkins. It's the story of a Maine woman who travelled to California-in the 1950's! One of the things I like best was the way it was written really gives you a feel for the times and the thought processes of someone who lived then. You may like it in your oh so free time :)

Cut-N-Jump said...

I hope there are positive changes to be made in the world before long. I try to buy earth friendly when I can, recycle and do my part. So many others don't though and could care less. Sadly their carelessness affects us as well.

Linda said...

That's an amazing story. I've often wondered what it would be like to ride a horse across the country. I've heard of people walking and biking it. There's also a guy in a wagon that goes around throughout the country. I saw him once and his website was on the side of the wagon, but I can't remember what it was all about. He came through our town. I imagine though that it would be easier to take a wagon through rather than a lone horse.

Cindy Durham said...

The first person (I think) to do this was Messanie Wilkins and she did it back in the 50's or 60's. There is a book called "The last of the Saddle Tramps" which I just finished last month. Great book. I think I would love to read this one as well. I think it would be an interesting ride to say the least, but heck I can barely do a few hours!
Thanks for the review.

Cindy Durham said...

oops, I should have read all the comments first. I see Jamethial just said pretty much the same thing I did. *waves at Jamethial* and yep, it is a great book.

Cut-N-Jump said...

Linda- I know Gerrard from Ideal Harness was on the one driving group- talking about taking his Friesians on a trip with the wagon and sorta see where it goes. He was figuring to be gone about 4 months.

Super nice guy and I hope he was able to do it. We never heard one way or the other about it though.