Riding Wild: Documenting 4,000 Miles to the Sacred Headwaters

Meet Aniela Gottwald Aniela Gottwald has a big dream: to ride wild horses from California to Northwestern British Columbia’s Sacred Headwaters, and document it in a film, Riding Wild.

It’s an ambitious goal – the journey is over 4,000 miles. But with hardy wild mustangs and her own fiery spirit (seriously, it’s contagious) Aniela makes it seem doable, necessary even. The purpose of the ride and documentary is to bring awareness to wild places that need protecting.

With Canadian roots, Aniela felt a strong pull to the Sacred Headwaters – a vital wild salmon ecosystem and sacred land for the Tahltan and Gitxsan people, that’s under threat of industrial development.

But the journey is about the places along the way too, the public lands in the West and the wild horses that will be her guide through them. 

For Aniela, it’s all connected.

After losing her father to cancer and losing her Ojai, California home to wildfire, she knows what it’s like to feel things slip away and to hold tight to what’s still here.

I caught up with Aniela a few weeks ago to learn more about her, the horses, and the journey. She was in California and I was in British Columbia – where the journey begins and ends, coincidentally. I hope you enjoy meeting Aniela as much as I did.

Note: This interview has been condensed from an hour-long phone conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.

Meet Aniela:
On her background in the outdoors

I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Massachusetts in a town of only 167 people. At a really young age my father would take me out into the mountains and show me how magical it was out there, instilling a sense of strength and awe at what happens when you’re present in nature.

I’ve been riding since I was around 2 years old. My mom spent her life with horses, and my draw to them has been through her passion handed down to me.

While my love for horses comes from my mom, my excitement for nature comes from my dad. As a young girl, if I wasn’t riding horses, I was taking long hikes with my dad.

On how the Riding Wild project came to be

It was a combination of a few things. I was coming into myself at 19 after my first expedition to Australia, when my dad suddenly passed away.

My dad was the most important person in my life, and after he was gone, nature filled his absence. I went out to the wilderness to find healing. Through that, I began to consider what I wanted to do with myself in this life.

For as long as I can remember, my values have been to treat the Earth as I feel we should treat ourselves, with kindness and respect. There is no disconnection between us and nature, we are nature. I think if people could see that, feel that, there would be more respect for the environment and the different species we share the planet with.

It was the natural evolution of healing and finding the spirit of my dad in the wilderness, that allowed me to dream up a journey in which I could share my love and the inspiration I found there. This was my answer.

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