"This is about endurance," said Kenney, musician, artist and leatherworker. "It's about overcoming tragedy."
Kenney is on a quest to ride from California to New Hampshire, capturing stories of families she meets along the way. Last week, Kenney's journey brought her through Monett.
"I've wanted to do this since I was a little girl," Kenney explained. I had a horse when I was growing up. I had to sell it when I went to college.
"It came as a huge surprise when I got the news that my parents were divorcing," she continued. "My family had to deal with the anger and depression.
"I was working at Ricochet Ridge Ranch in Mendocino, Calif., and had this strong desire to get another horse," Kenney said. "Between Lari Shea [owner of Ricochet Ridge Ranch] and the horses, it healed me."
That is when Kenney decided to fulfill that childhood dream of riding across country on horseback.
"I wanted to hear people's stories, to study human relationships," she said. "At first I focused on stories about divorce, but this ride is ever-evolving. That focus has changed. Love comes out in every story we hear along the way."
Kenney is making the solo ride across the country on the back of Sojourner, the Arabian horse she acquired from Shea at Ricochet Ridge Ranch, and together they are forming a solid connection one to another as the miles pass by.
"He was a spooky horse when I first got him," Kenney said. "He shied at everything. He was a shivering, shaking mess. He had broken a girl's legs at Ricochet Ranch. I wasn't sure about him at first.
"Then I got my sister up on him one day, just to ride to the end of the driveway," Kenney continued. "What could go wrong, right? We were only going to the end of the driveway. Then Soj spooked and my sister went off the back and hit her head and had a seizure.
"I was done with the horse," she said. "Finished. And the next day he was a completely different horse. The difference was like night and day."
Confident, Kenney started planning her ride. Sponsored by Kent Feeds and Easy Boots, Inc., she and her fiance Walter Rowland, mapped out the route they hoped to take to accomplish her lifelong goal.
"We have a GPS and cell phones and have taken precautions along the way," Kenney said. "Walter follows behind in a vehicle, and sometimes he's right beside me."
"People stare and then start to veer toward her and Sojourner," Rowland noted. "Sometimes I drive ahead to make sure the road is in good condition or that there are no bridges out. But there have been times that it's been me and the truck between her and traffic. I stay close."
"Generally, most drivers are respectful," Kenney said. "I've never really been scared. And we try never to be too far from town."
Kenney admitted that she had romanticized the idea of the coast-to-coast ride, glossing over the more realistic rigors imposed by Mother Nature.
"The heat and the flies," she listed. "Sometimes the traffic. Getting up at 3 a.m. to get as many miles behind us before we have to stop in the heat of the day. And the poison ivy. That was really bad."
But Kenney said there are untold rewards along the journey as well.
"This has been the best experience of my life so far," she said. "It has made what I already knew clearer. Your dreams are individual to you. They are a calling. That's what you have to follow."
Kenney and Rowland are a little over half way through their adventure, and thus far, things have gone very well.
"Soj is the strongest that he's ever been," Kenney said. "He's put on weight and built muscle tone. He's never taken a lame step, knock on wood.
"He's taken on the craziest obstacles," she continued. "Cows still freak him out a bit. He sleeps outside our tent at night like a dog."
With over 1,900 miles behind them and approximately 1,500 to go, Kenney is excited at logging the next major milestone, the 2,000- mile mark.
"The 1,000-mile mark wasn't so great," she said. "We celebrated with poison ivy. Between the itch and the steroids and the heat . . . well, I'm looking forward to the 2,000-mile mark."
So far, they have traveled through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and part of Missouri. The couple and Sojourner rested and recuperated from the rigors of the road at the home of Gary and Cindy Wellbaum in Monett. The remainder of their journey will take them through portions of Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
"I will end up in Bath, N.H., at my childhood home," Kenney said. "We'll winter over there, and I'll set up a leather-working shop and focus on making and painting custom guitar straps."
Just thinking of the cold coastal winter ahead helps Kenney push through some of the hottest parts of her trek. There are other pleasures, too.
"During the heat of the day, we generally try to find a shady tree, so we can take a power nap, or a stream or lake to swim in," Rowland said. "And sometimes we just take a break for a couple of days to let the horse rest."
"But the lesson here is that there are wonderful people out there in the world," Kenney said. "Everywhere we go, people are open to us, to sharing their stories.
"I've found that no matter what, no one is alone," Kenney continued. "There is always someone there to help you through whatever it is that you're going through. There is always someone to help.
"That is a powerful and beautiful thing."
Those interested in following her blog about the adventure may log onto www.linnykenney.com.