Local TV director leads 600-mile horseback mission
Television director Gwyneth Horder-Payton has temporarily traded in her director’s chair for a saddle. The Santa Cruz resident is currently leading six people on a 600-mile horseback ride from Sonoma to San Diego via California’s 22 Spanish and Native American Missions. Horder-Payton and her team will capture most of the trip on camera, and the resulting footage will eventually be molded into a documentary film.
The idea for the project originated two years ago, when Horder-Payton and her longtime friend, former Santa Cruz resident Leslie Dunton-Downer, took a sunset horseback ride in the hills overlooking the Santa Clarita Valley. It was there that the pair dreamed up what would become the California Mission Ride, which embarked on Aug. 18 from Mission San Francisco Solano. The riders will make a stop at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park on Saturday, Sept. 1.
As an undergraduate, Horder-Payton attended UC Santa Cruz, where she studied philosophy and met Dunton-Downer, who introduced her to her future husband. Eventually, she left Santa Cruz to study film at San Francisco State University. But after her stint as a film student, she left the university to serve as a production assistant for a television pilot.
“I didn’t want to drop out,” says Horder-Payton. “[But] one of my professors was going to decrease my grade for each day I missed, so I dropped out.”
These days, Horder-Payton commutes from Santa Cruz to Hollywood, where she works as a television director. Her credits include Once Upon a Time, Battlestar Gallactica, and 10 episodes of Sons of Anarchy. In 2012, she directed an episode of Justified, the popular cable show about a throwback U.S. Marshall (Timothy Olyphant) who wears a Stetson hat, cowboy boots and a holster.
Horder-Payton’s own dreams of being a cowgirl formed when she first rode a horse at the age of 5.
“I grew up thinking I was a cowgirl during the day and crying at night that I wasn’t,” she remembers. “I was surrounded by my mother’s trophies [that] she won as a girl … but my parents could not afford a horse for me.”
One of the best aspects of the California Mission Ride, according to Horder-Payton, is that it provides her the opportunity to ride—something she enjoys as an adult, but can never seem to find enough time for.
“You see things different on the back of a horse,” she says. “You slow way down.”
The film started out as a way to document the history of the missions, but as the project has progressed, there has been an added emphasis on the communities that surround them.
“As far as all the details about the mission, we’re exploring that,” says Horder-Payton. “But it’s become more about what’s happening today … what communities are doing now.”
In Sonoma, for instance, the culture of the community is centered on winemaking. For that leg of the journey, Horder-Payton and her fellow riders invited Michael Muir, the great grandson of naturalist John Muir, to accompany them in a covered wagon. Muir runs Access Adventures, which teaches people with disabilities how to drive wheelchair accessible horse-drawn carriages.
The emphasis of the Santa Cruz stop on Sept. 1 will be on sustainability, alternative transportation and community-supported agriculture. Several local groups and businesses will meet Horder-Payton and her team at the mission to help spread that message.
Leading up to the local event, the McCrary family, owners of Big Creek Lumber, will host the group’s campsite in Davenport on Friday, Aug. 31. Then, Barbara McCrary will lead the team on horseback through the passage from Waterman Gap to Swanton Road. On Sept. 1, cyclists from People Power will guide the team to Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.
There, the community is invited to join in the fun from 3:30-8 p.m., during which time visitors can purchase dinner, which will feature organic food from local farms and ranches.
The Santa Cruz gathering will also focus on Native American aspects of mission culture. Ohlone Indian Ann Marie Sayers will be a featured storyteller. Sayers is Tribal Chair of Indian Canyon in Hollister: the only land continuously held by the Ohlone people, the first inhabitants of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas.
Horder-Payton explains that when the group started researching the missions, one thing that became clear was the exclusion of Native American history. After visits to two missions where there is extensive information provided about Native Americans—Mission San Jose in Fremont and Mission Dolores in San Francisco—they decided to seek out ways to incorporate the lives and history of Native Americans into the project. “It’s become a very big part of this,” she says.
The California Mission Ride will be at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park, 144 School St., Santa Cruz, from 3:30-8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 1. Admission is free, donations are welcome and food can be purchased. Visit thecaliforniamissionride.org.