Top Trail Horse & Rider 2020
I had the pleasure of getting to know Margot Slater last year when she joined Top Trail. And now I am beyond pleased to present Margot and her partner on the trail, Seger, to you as 2020 Top Trail Horse and Rider. I recently had the opportunity to get to know Margot even better. Using the magic of a video call on Zoom we got to spend some time together one evening last month to discuss life, horses, and Top Trail. I learned a lot about this down to earth, and incredibly kind equestrian …
Believe it or not, before Margot got her first horse, she was fearful of them. When she turned 40 she decided it was time to face that fear. Growing up on the shore of Lake Michigan didn’t allow for much contact with domestic animals but that all changed when she met and married her husband, Bill, in 1978 — a third generation farmer.
Bill and Margot purchased the Slater family homestead farm established in 1879 and eventually began raising their own cattle for a future dairy operation. With a love for animals she eventually became more comfortable with large four legged beasts — so comfortable that she realized the next logical step would be to get a horse.
And that’s what she did at 40 years old.
Journey into the world of horses
That first lucky horse was a 2 year old gelding. The pair learned a lot together and he had the privilege of living his entire life with Margot on the family farm.
Margot has had other horses since then but got the equine love of her life when Seger came onto the scene as a five month old colt 14 years ago. Seger’s breeder was getting out of the business and contacted Margot, offering the fine little colt to her. He was tiny when she got him but that didn’t last long! Seger is now a 16.2 hand tall AQHA gelding with Dry Doc, Doc Bar, and Poco bloodlines.
Life with Seger
Margot trained Seger from the ground up with the intention of her husband to start riding with her but that partnership just wasn’t in the cards. So, Margot gladly adopted Seger and since then they’ve seen and done a lot together. They’ve visited two Michigan islands: Boise Blanc, and Mackinac, ridden Lake Michigan and Lake Huron trails, and camped in many national forests throughout Michigan.
Seger is now Margot’s heart horse and she claims this quote to describe what he means to her: “A great horse will change your life, the truly special ones define it.” ~ author unknown.
Into the forest
Margot’s interest and love for horses and riding opened up a whole new world. There were miles and miles of National Forest trails nearby just waiting to be explored. Trails at Round Lake, Horseshoe Lake, Cedar Creek, Sand Rd, Bigelow Creek, CCC Camp, Rothbury, Baldwin and Hungerford Recreation area to name a few. But it’s The White River area that really captured her heart.
The White River area, better known as Pines Point, is home to 6900 acres of pristine forest. With ever changing scenery, majestic views of the White River hundreds of feet below can be seen while meandering a single trail up and down the hills of the ridge line.
Advocate for the Equine Trail
Her love of Pines Point was challenged in 2007 when the United States Forest Service (USFS) was changing land management plans to enforce the semi primitive non motorized status and begin the process of federal protection of the Karner Blue Butterfly. All of a sudden, everything changed. Trailer parking areas were closed and riding trails were drastically limited. It was obvious that horseback riders were being pushed out of Pines Point.
Margot became involved with a group of other riders to make known to USFS that as users of Pines Point they weren’t going to give up their right to ride there. In a nutshell, in exchange of dropping an appeal Margot had against the USFS, she was able to secure a multi-use parking lot and for 10 years volunteered her time (7-10 days a year) and sweat equity shoulder to shoulder with the forest service rangers building and marking trail, building a water site with hitching posts, and marking campsites.
It was a community effort, with many other horseback riding friends also volunteered their time over the course of that span along with the American Hiking Society, college students, and a variety of local groups. Margot deeply respects and holds in high esteem several of the forest rangers she worked with during the last decade.
Life on the Farm
Margot has plenty of energy and is no stranger to working hard for good things. She and her husband Bill restored the family homestead. She raised their three children while working two part time jobs for 25 years: milking cows every morning with her husband and operating her own in-home salon. For 38 years she grew a big garden and canned hundreds of jars of food, jams and jellies, venison, salmon, and beef. She purchased antiques at estate sales, restored them and decorated the farm house with them.
The dairy herd was retired in 2013. The farm is now used for raising corn, soybeans, oats, wheat and hay crops. It’s also home to two horses — a big change from the 120 cattle that were once the farms main attraction.
With 44 years as a cosmetologist, Margot still enjoys working 3-4 days a week in her salon. Being self-employed allows her to ride during the day and meet with clients in the evenings which allowed her plenty of time to log 2318 miles in the span of one year. Riding and being with Seger is important to her health and peace of mind.
Life Changing Diagnosis
In August of 2016 during a routine mammogram, micro calcifications were detected in one of her breasts. Further tests revealed breast cancer stage 1 and suddenly life wasn’t the same.
Surgery was scheduled for October 19. Eleven days post surgery, determined to ride Seger, Margot carefully hoisted her saddle over her head onto Seger’s back and settled in the saddle and kept on riding ever since. Radiation was scheduled everyday for the month of December.
“Cancer is life changing. The treatments are required to rid your body of the disease. Afterwards it’s up to you to figure out setting your mind, heart and soul straight. In my case my type of cancer is known to return so I’m on a daily medication to help prevent it from coming back. I will hit my five year mark cancer free this year. I don’t really like saying it out loud as if the cancer can hear me,” Margot shares.
She continues, “as a woman of faith I am blessed knowing God’s walking with me, my husband, children, their spouses and my grandchildren. My family is so supportive. My friends have been wonderful but it’s Seger who deserves credit for carrying me on my darkest days allowing me to process, in the sanctuary of the forest, what I went through and also having to mentally prepare myself if the cancer returns. I won’t lie, it took a couple years out on the trail with Seger to sort it out.”
Best Riding Friends
It was during that time she joined West Michigan Trail Riders and met her now dear friend Kristy Mosher. Kristy and Margot really hit it off. “I chuckle because Kristy is about 20 years younger but we both love exploring new areas to ride, have similar riding styles, and enjoy the quiet of the forests,” Margot relates.
“Kristy challenges me, inviting me to join groups she’s involved with and I’m blessed and grateful for her friendship. She invited me to join Top Trail Horse and to join two affiliate groups. We’re BRF’s (best riding friends on the trail of life) in Double Trouble and we’re also in Scoot Bootin Boogiers.
“By partnering together for the first time in Double Trouble we both rode as much as we could to reach the top riders in the group. Once we did that we were determined to hold our position to stay in first place — which was no easy task. Top Trail has the most outstanding riders in the United States. Neither of us dreamed we would end up in first place. It’s a great memory and achievement for us and our horses.”
What’s the perfect way to spend a weekend? Traveling, camping, and riding with friends of course! Margot tells us, “after a long day of riding there is nothing better than cooking a fine dinner over the fire with friends, then later sharing a campfire, sipping adult beverages while listening to the Whippoorwills and coyotes and looking up at the stars. I meet new people every year. There are so many wonderful equestrians out there!”
Riding with friends is one thing. Riding alone is another.
“Since joining Top Trail, I’ve never ridden alone as much as I did last year,” says Margot, “I found riding alone builds confidence, allows you to hear and see more of your surroundings. It promotes an even deeper bond between horse and rider. Seger knows that he is the only horse and his attention to our surroundings are much more acute. His nature is to think before reacting and he takes such good care of me.”
“I really found I grew more and that the time flew by! Four or five hours would be over in the blink of an eye and I wondered how I lost track of time. I felt so at peace, content and refreshed —out there alone on the trail with Seger.”
Preparation and Conditioning the 2000+ mile Equine
Top Trail is a real motivator to get out and ride! Margot knew she was riding a lot— ever since 2016 she would log a few hundred more miles on the trail. Looking back, she now considers those years as conditioning for Seger last year’s 2317 miles.
Some people have the wrong idea about this level of riding. At the top levels of any activity you can do with a horse, there are naysayers. We believe the health and well-being of our Top Trail Equines is priority number one. We do not promote overriding an equine or harsh training methods but we do encourage growing in horsemanship and always putting the equine first. Top Trail doesn’t offer cash or fancy prizes to our top riders. What we do provide is a cool way to measure the time you spend with your horse, mule, donkey, or even pony, in terms of mileage recorded with a GPS. While doing this you may just ride enough one quarter, or one year, to win a cool little token of your accomplishment and some recognition to help you celebrate.
Margot told us that she caught wind of some folks voicing negative opinions about the miles she and Seger accomplished last year. She says this, “Let me assure you that Seger is in fine shape, spirits, and isn’t forced to go out on the trail. He is willing and I know him better than anyone. Our partnership is mutual, so I ask of those negative commentators, be happy for us.”
Although they didn’t reach their 2,400 mile goal for 2020, Margot is still satisfied with our final miles. “I’m blessed, honored, and humbled to own the 2020 Top Trail Horse and Rider title! And it was our first year as new members. Seger is most deserving of this title and once again I am struck by the impact he has had in my life,” she says.
Shout Out to Robin and Beau
“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be recognized as 2020 Top Trail Rider next to Robin Morris and her mule Beau, both being Top Trail Legends (in fact, the Legends Division was created BECAUSE of Robin and Beau — haha!!). Many times Robin and Beau have achieved the honor of Top Trail Horse (Mule) and Rider. Robin’s achieved miles, the gorgeous and challenging terrain she rides throughout the mountain trails of Montana, plus her grit, fortitude, and stewardship are admirable. It’s most definitely what legends are made of. I tip my hat to her.”
So as you can see, Margot is passionate. Passionate about faith, family, friends, her horse, trail advocacy, work, and having fun. Set your sights high, be passionate, engaged, enthusiastic — perhaps next year you will be the 2021 Top Trail Rider!