MEET THE TEAM
Gwyneth Horder-Payton – Co-Founder, Rider and Filmmaker
I developed a love for ”old California” as a child visiting the Mission style ranch of my godmother in the Central Valley of California. Similarly to the missions, her place was speckled with pomegranate, citrus, and olive trees. So I was long drawn to California even when growing up in Seattle. Eventually I attended UC Santa Cruz, where Leslie Dunton-Downer introduced me to my future husband. After a year in Paris, and years working on films in San Francisco, we returned to Santa Cruz with our infant son. He recently graduated from UCSC, and our daughter, Daisy, is a student at Santa Cruz High. I commute to work in Hollywood where I’m a TV director.
My childhood passion for horses was rekindled when I worked as First Assistant Director on ‘Magnificent Seven’, a CBS Western. When the time came to buy a horse, the show’s wranglers suggested an Arab Quarter cross because I liked to ride fast. I fell for the first Arab Quarter I saw: Chutayo. His father was a Hearst Arabian. Chutayo was young and handsome, beautifully conformed, but not ‘well broke.’ Over years of spinning and bolting, rearing, spooking sideways, bucking, refusing to go forward, pulling back, and what I call ‘exploding from a standstill,’ he never once hurt me, and eventually became a great horse thanks to Deb Cooper’s using the Parelli method of natural horsemanship to help me train him. I believe the key to Chutayo’s success was that he knew I respected him.
Leslie Dunton-Downer – Co-Founder, Rider and Writer
I caught “Mission Fever” as a kid growing up in Santa Cruz, California. When my father took a job in the Peace Corps, we moved to Colombia. At times I got to ride horses in the capital, Bogotá, and on a ranch in the region of Los Llanos. Now I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I work as a writer, most recently of The English Is Coming! a book about the globalization of the English language. It’s a thrill to be rediscovering California with help from many wonderful and knowledgeable people up and down the coast, and I’m excited to see what will happen on the journey. Surprising (and uncanny) things have already happened as we’ve been researching the missions and preparing for the ride. A few hints: Soledad Prison’s entrance gate; a ghost rider and black stallion at Mission La Purissima?, and El Camino Real in Mexico and Spain.
I’ve never had my own horse and I’m the least horsey of the people on this trip. To prepare for the journey, I’ve recently ridden a bunch of different kinds of horses (Arab, Appaloosa, Paint, Mustang, Morgan, Percheron, Gypsy) over periods ranging from one hour to 10 days. A favorite was the gentle gelding El Coronel, a Quarter Horse. I can’t say why exactly but we just got along really well. He was my trusty steed for a long section of the Camino Real on a high desert plain in Xalisco, Mexico. I wish El Coronel could do the Mission Ride, but as it’s hard for him to cross the border into the United States, I’m looking for a horse like him in California. A cowboy friend recommends a well-trained mule. Hmmm…
For the 2012 trail, Leslie rode one of Rod’s horses, Cowboy, whom Rod trained. Click on our Facebook page for a look at Cowboy. For the 2013 leg, Leslie rides perhaps the most wonderful Buckskin Arabian Gelding in all of Santa Cruz County: Jade! His bio and pics to come as the ride date nears.
Rod Rondeaux – Rider and Wrangler-Farrier
World-renowned horse trainer, actor, and extreme stuntman Rod Rondeaux has amazed audiences in dozens of TV shows and films, from The Wild Wild West and Comanche Moon, to 310 to Yuma and Meek’s Cutoff. His current movie project is The Lone Ranger, with Johnny Depp. Rod once excelled in rodeo events, including bull riding and steer wrestling, but it was stunt work that earned him a prestigious First Americans in the Arts Award. No less impressive is Rod’s unflagging commitment to Indian youth. Among organizations he supports are the American Indian College Fund and Red Horse Nation. Named Mentor of the Year by the Santa Barbara Native Arts Festival for his work with young Indians, Rod grew up on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. There, Crow and Cheyenne were his first languages, and the first of numerous Indian languages he’s learned with remarkable speed. Adopted Californian, Crow-Cheyenne Indian, and with many generations of exceptional horse skills in his family, Rod is especially looking forward to connecting the state’s missions on horseback, and to connecting with Indians of all ages along the trail. To learn more about Rod and his ranch in Agua Dulce, CA, visit his website.
This picture shows Crow when he was around 2 years old and very happy to see Rod, who’d just returned from a long absence. Crow is a Buckskin Foundation Quarter Horse who was rescued as a PMU baby at only a few months old. Rod trained Crow using his unique approach to the relationship between human and horse, predator and prey. Rod notes that creating a real and meaningful rapport is about “building trust, respect, and confidence to enhance the natural ability of both.” Crow has a great disposition, at once calm, sweet, and playful. Most of Rod’s favorite horses are on his California ranch, but one, a Mustang mare named Windy, is currently on a ranch in Texas. For pictures of Rod and Windy on a historic ride, check out photos taken by Rod’s wife, photographer Rachael Waller. Rachael also took the pictures of Rod and Crow used on this Team page.
Troy van Gorder – Rider and Wrangler
I have been riding and jumping horses for over 30 years in the US, UK, and Germany. My background started in Equitation, then moved to Jumpers, Fox Hunting, Polo, Competitive Medieval Equestrian games, Dressage, and ‘Natural Horsemanship’ training. My work with eastern martial arts, competitive fencing, Alexander Technique and Centered Riding® have also taught me about biomechanics and sports psychology. I love the challenge of working with horses and I love teaching riding. Working in harmony and communicating with these wonderful animals is the most amazing thing to me. I live in New England and have traveled a lot, but never to California. I do not know much about California’s past, and I know even less about its missions. But I have long been interested in medieval and renaissance European history. On the ride, I look forward to discovering California and its history, and am especially interested in the impact that European cultures had when they collided with Native peoples.
Daisy Payton – Rider and Twitter Queen
So I’m 16 years old and a sophomore at Santa Cruz High School. I’ve been riding horses since I was 3 but my mom says 4. (You can decide who to believe.) I’m doing this trip because it’s a once in a lifetime chance, and it’s an adventure that not many people experience. Also, I get to meet cute guys. This trip is going to be really amazing. There will be drama and fights and opinions and I will most likely be the start of some of them. I will probably end up bringing out the worst in some people, like priests or something. When I was in 4th grade, I studied all the missions and did a project on San Juan Capistrano. Now I get to go to all of them and spend real time at them instead of just a few hours on a field trip. I think that’s a privilege.
My horse Trigger is actually a Haflinger pony, about 14 hands. Trigger’s quite fat and a little small for me but I honestly don’t care because he’s the only horse I can trust on such a sketchy ride. He’s a sturdy, sure-footed little guy and he can make this trip. But because of how stubborn he is, we might have some attitude issues. Trigger is like a 14-year-old kid, sassy. Riding another horse in front of him makes him so jealous! He shuns and ignores me for weeks until I sincerely apologize. This ride will be great for him because he needs to lose weight and he will love the adventure.
August 2012 update: Daisy broke her ankle and it’s just been put in a big cast. She wants to ride anyway, but will it be possible? To be determined soon…
Post-ride update for 2012: Daisy completed the northern journey in spite of her broken ankle & Trigger turned out to be the wild trail pony of the West, trotting the whole way from mission to mission, up hills, down valleys, across beaches…you name it. Trigger will be back for more great trail times in 2013.
Peter A. Newfield – North Ride Manager
It has been a pleasure to work in the film industry as a key grip and location manager for 31 years. I have also been honored, as a location professional, to receive top prizes from COLA (California On-Location Award), most recently in 2011. My prior experience was in the building and farming trades. I greatly enjoy interacting with people and animals alike. In fact, I got involved with the Mission Ride partly because I have a weak spot for horses. I’m also interested in Californian history and land; one of my favorite activities is photographing wilderness areas throughout the northern part of the state. I am helping the riders forge their trail between Sonoma and San Miguel, and once the team has set out, I will be their point man on the route.
Melissa Duge Spiers — PR & Fundraising
Melissa lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and four children. A graduate of Barnard College at Columbia University, she has been a technical writer, cocktail waitress, secretary, project manager, karate instructor, blogger, actress, and textbook editor. Melissa currently oversees the PR and marketing for Predog Snowskate and the California Mission Ride, and is working on her first novel.
Cindy Kus– Assisting Peter Newfield
An explorer by nature, I have stopped at every mission I have ever been near in my California travels. I am intrigued by their architecture, gardens, graveyards, and the impact they have had on this state historically. Coming to California over 30 years ago from northern Michigan, I found diverse work: in the film and entertainment industry, at a farmer’s market, and at Santa Cruz Adult School (where I’ve taught a range of classes). Recently I completed a program in library and information studies. I enjoy being around horses and people, and am thrilled to be working on this project.
Julian Buchan – Project Intern
After a false start studying Biology at university in Edinburgh, I decided to stay in Scotland and spend a year honing my painting and drawing skills at the highly traditional Leith School of Art. I subsequently moved back down to London to study film at the Wimbledon College of Art, where I am currently in my first year. I specialize in video, animation and photography but remain a keen painter and illustrator. (Here is a link to my website: jaggeryandtheend.tumblr.com) I will be blogging, writing, photographing, and filming along the way, mainly covering the ride on four wheels rather than four hooves. Words cannot express how excited both the Biologist and the artist in me are for taking on this challenge. And being the rookie of the team it looks like I’ll have my work cut out for me.
Nuno Sá Pessoa – Special Guest Intern
Nuno left his native Portugal in 2007 to attend the European Film College in Denmark, where he lived & breathed cinema 24/7. Returning home to Lisbon, he began a freelance career as Video Editor and Cameraman, with two of his experimental films selected for festivals in France. He later worked as TV Director and Video Editor for the company Gil & Miller, and shot and edited two documentaries about wine: Mother Vine and Azores: From Lava to Wine. Nuno and former colleagues from the European Film College recently formed Skookum Films, in Lisbon, to pursue independent film projects. He adds, “I am particularly excited about joining the CMR team because I grew up listening to Native American myths and legends read to me by my father at bedtime. I am keen on learning the truth about Native Californian history, and on finding out what Indians are doing today.”
BILLY WATERS — PROJECT INTERN
After starting my studies in Electrical Engineering at Syracuse University, I realized that my true passion was in film. I have worked on numerous personal projects since 2007 and have just recently moved from Massachusetts to the west coast to pursue the professional side of the craft. The mission ride caught my interest because it’s a great opportunity to see the west from an entirely unique point of view, and I would be lying if I said that my love of classic westerns wasn’t a key factor. As a newcomer to the area, I feel a need to familiarize myself with California’s colorful history, and what better way to do that than to travel down from mission to mission getting a first-hand look of where it all happened. I have always known that I had some California Native American Ancestry, but have only recently begun to learn more about it. My family has some Yana roots and conveniently enough, the ride starts fairly close to the area.
Lindsey Wallraff– Head Intern & Post-Production Manager, North Ride
I am a 4th-year film student at California State University, Monterey Bay. I am currently working on my capstone project, a documentary film entitled “Given Away for Love,” which was inspired by my own story of adoption. At CSUMB I have been on the Dean’s list each semester, had several student films selected for school film festivals, and helped produce the on-campus festival “TAPS.”
I am so excited to be working with the California Mission Ride team. I’ll be wrangling the film footage every night – as well as during post-production – and I’ll be holding the reins of (and doling out shower privileges to) the sacred crew RV that will be following the ride!
WANTED – RIDER and WRANGLER-FARRIER
We are currently scouting around for two male wranglers of diverse backgrounds and ages to do the full ride with us in 2012, and 2013 if possible. One of the wranglers would have some experience as a ‘farrier,’ or horse hoof and shoe expert – this will be key to the ride’s success as we cover hundreds of miles over varied terrain. And while we’re at it, since we’ll be spending downtime together, including camping between missions, we’d also love our wranglers to be top trail cooks, great singer-guitarists, and engaging storytellers (but not so engaging as to upstage Jay when he busts out a Shakespeare monologue or a Ponce de León impersonation). Before we get carried away with our wish list, we’ll just say if you or someone you know could be interested, please be in touch via the contact page on our website!
July 2012 update: A big welcome to Rod Rondeaux, our new Rider and Wrangler-Farrier! See Rod’s bio above.
WANTED – HORSES & HORSIES
Are you a sweet-natured trail horse who’s up for a California adventure?
Note to any Wrangler interested in joining us: Since horses have individual personalities and travel best when they readily find their place in their herd, we’re keen to include horses that are gentle and respectful (and won’t bite or put up a fuss with the likes of Chutayo, Trigger, and Graham, not to mention “Bucephalus”). The ideal horse would have done a long trail ride or two, and be comfortable spending the night in varied settings, from a spectacular rural pasture near the Camino Real, to an old mission paddock, and even a city parking lot enclosed by portable equipment pulled out of a support vehicle. Horse feed along the way will be top quality, and we’ll do our best to have plenty of good water. In some areas, notably in sensitive agricultural zones, horses will be required to use “bun-bags,” those strap-on manure catchers. So any horse joining the ride needs to be OK with wearing a “horse diaper” from time to time.
July 2012 update: A big welcome to Crow, the horse Rod Rondeaux will ride in 2012 from Sonoma to San Miguel. See Crow’s bio above.