Last weekend, Jewel and Katie Keca bobbed through Grand Forks astride Ora and Phoenix, who clopped their way through town after having spent a couple days resting through the intense summer heat. They walked their way up Highway 3 to Gibbs Creek Road early on Saturday morning, the only hint of their presence in town being the rather undignified three-metre trail left behind by Phoenix on the north shoulder of 68th Avenue after he’d digested his breakfast.
The Ontario-raised sisters (Jewel, 20, and Katie, 25) were on their way to Midway and on to Princeton from there, where they’ll let their horses rest for a few days.
Together, they’re walking towards their end-goal that in fact has little to do with horses, but rather with dogs. Along their trans-Canada trot, the Kecas are aiming to raise $25,000 to support the Lions Foundation of Canada’s guide dog program. Their goal’s sum is approximately how much it costs to raise, train and equip a guide dog that will go on to support someone with vision impairment, diabetes, autism, hearing difficulties, is prone to seizures or requires other pet services.
For Jewel, the motivation stems from her first guide-dog-in-training, Kazi the yellow lab.
“Just through raising him for a year,” Jewel said, “I learned a lot about what [guide dogs] did.
“I learned how dogs and people can really form a team and how dogs can really change people’s lives.”
Of course, the sisters have learned a lot about teamwork and support as their team of five (their brother Joseph is driving their camper van along side them) has made its way across the country.
Jewel and Katie started out from Nova Scotia in 2017 as a duo with just their horses and saddle bags. They made it as far as the western edge of Ontario, more than 2,500 kilometres, before they had to pack it in for the season. They learned from their tired horses and brought their brother into the team, unburdening Ora and Phoenix from the dozens of kilograms of gear – their pace has improved this time, since leaving Kenora, Ont. in early May.
Like the people they’re trying to help by supporting the guide dog program, the sisters are also growing more confident with their experiences.
“It’s taught me a lot to have more confidence in myself,” said Katie. Even when people say it’s a fool’s errand to rein two horses across the continent, she said, “I’ve really learned to trust myself more. I think we’re capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.”
Like the confidence, or bravery, to shrug it off and say that it was no big deal when a prairie farmer threatened to shoot them if they didn’t get off their land, or to deal with a barrage of vehicles that don’t leave enough space for a pair of horses, clopping along the shoulder. (The travellers try and stick to trails and backroads where they can, but sometimes the highway is an inevitability, if they hope to make it to White Rock by early September).
That’s the point of the guide dog program that they are fundraising for too – to lift people up, to instil confidence and to lend support, that extra boost to help people navigate daily life with a some self-assuredness.