Arkansas man travels by horse through Janesville in journey around America

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

JANESVILLE—It took Tye Sturgeon more than an hour to travel about five miles along Highway 14 west of Janesville on Tuesday.

He rode Edward, his 12-year-old American paint horse with nothing but a saddlebag of provisions, his sponsor-plastered riding shirt and a trusty cowboy hat.

The 20-year-old has been riding almost every day since he set out March 15 from his hometown of Batesville, Arkansas, with the goal of traveling through every continental state. Sturgeon is trying to raise $30,000 for Western Wishes, an organization that helps children who have faced adversity achieve their cowboy-themed dreams.

Sturgeon depends on the generosity of strangers for food and a place to sleep. That hospitality came from the Thoms and Zastoupils when he hit Janesville.

Self-proclaimed “horse people” Andrea and Roger Thom opened their westside home to Sturgeon when his previous host, Heather Kraus, who lives east of Janesville, contacted the Thoms and said Sturgeon was heading their direction.

Andrea Thom's confidence in Sturgeon compelled her and her husband to open a guestroom Sunday and Monday to the ambitious cowboy.

“He's quite a nice young man,” Thom said. “He's super polite. We felt very confident he was a good person and had him stay.”

“They were real generous with me. They're good people,” Sturgeon said.

“They gave me a bed to sleep in,” he added. “That was nice.”

He set out Tuesday morning for the Zastoupil home, located next to the family store, Thom's Texas Traditions, halfway between Janesville and Evansville.

“It strengthens my faith that it is a good program,” Thom said about Western Wishes. “I think it's very legitimate, and I think it's a good cause.”

“I think it's awesome,” the Thoms' daughter Amy Zastoupil said. “It's a good thing to do for the kids that couldn't do it otherwise.”

Sturgeon was set to spend Tuesday night in the Zastoupil barn with Edward, but sleeping without the comfort of a bed isn't new to Sturgeon, he said.

Sometimes, with nowhere else to go, he'll tie his horse's reins to his wrist and camp beside the road. Edward eats all the grass withing reach before Sturgeon wakes, relocates and goes back to sleep as the horse continues to graze.

Sturgeon averages 10 to 15 miles a day, depending on the weather and Edward's condition. Sometimes he leads his horse on foot to give Edward a rest.

Sturgeon estimates it will take him three or four years to complete his journey. With 800 to 1,000 miles behind him, he knows there's plenty of road ahead.

But he doesn't just ride. Sturgeon gives speeches about his journey to help spread awareness. He has spoken in schools, churches, the Future Farmers of America, 4-H clubs and more, he said.

Growing up, Sturgeon wanted to be a pro bronco rider, but an injury put that vision to rest. A video about Western Wishes inspired him to raise awareness for the organization so others would have a chance to chase their dreams.

“As soon as I turned it off, I knew I had to do this ride for them,” he said. “I just felt called to do it.”

Nearly six months later, he's traveled through four states, Wisconsin included, raising money and awareness. He's got his sights set on Iowa and Minnesota next. He has help from a team in Arkansas mapping his journey, but he's mostly winging it.

“It's a cowboy ride. They didn't have stuff set up 100 years ago, so I don't figure I will now,” he said.

Sturgeon grew up watching westerns, which became part of the inspiration for his journey.

“Nowadays, you can't really go out and ride the plains like you used to, but I can do a long ride,” he said, “and that's every cowboy's dream, so I basically get to live it.”

Winter is coming, which means snow, hail and ice are on the way. Sturgeon has ridden through it all, but the summer heat is tougher on Edward than the bitter cold, he said.

“I would rather it be snowing right now,” Sturgeon said.

Despite the length of his journey and the challenges before him, Sturgeon is prepared to finish his mission. He hopes to meet more generous people like the Thoms and Zastoupils along the way.

“There's three kinds of people in this world: There's people that want, people that could and people that do,” Sturgeon said. “Be a person that does something.”

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