Catherine Hunter said she was not expecting the answer to her prayers.
She said she prayed for guidance in December 2002 and asked what she should do in her life. "When I got, 'Get on your horse and ride around the country to talk about peace, my response was, 'What? Who, me?' "
Hunter, 46, said she had never considered herself a peace activist, and for a few months, the Gowansville, S.C., resident wondered how she would eat, where she would stay and how she would keep her horse safe. Eventually, she said, the wondering became stressful, so she put off a book of fiction she had been writing, sold all but four pieces of furniture, her truck and a box of clothes, and wrote down what she would tell people about peace. On Oct. 25, she mounted Count of War, the 19-year-old thoroughbred she has raised since its birth, and, calling herself the Peace Rider, left for New York's Ground Zero.
After stopping for the winter near Asheville, N.C., Hunter saddled up. She completed one milestone on her journey yesterday as she rode Count of War to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. Dressed in black, from shoes to cowboy hat and the studs with the silver peace symbols in her ears, Hunter led a prayer circle and spoke to small groups at each monument about her journey.
Hunter hopes to arrive at Ground Zero in 25 to 30 days. Afterward, she said, she will travel -- by trailer -- to North Carolina, where she plans to return to writing and teaching riding, and continue talking about peace. Hunter said Count of War was named for his ancestors Count Fleet and Man O' War
About 10 people joined Hunter on the grass behind the Vietnam Memorial yesterday. Some belonged to the D.C. Anti-War Network. Laurel Jensen of Alexandria filmed Hunter for a documentary about dissent.
Hunter, who said her lodging -- and that of Count of War -- has been taken care of by an informal network of horse people, told the group that her trip was a spiritual journey, not a political protest.
She said the Iraq war could be put in a positive light: "I see for the first time in the history of our culture, across the world, people are uniting in protest and calling for peace."
Hunter then said she believed that world peace could be achieved through inner peace and described four elements to inner peace: suspending judgment, replacing fear with faith, forgiving, and following divine guidance.
Hunter picked up more of an audience at the World War II Memorial, where passersby stopped to pet her horse or watch her speak.
She said she was particularly touched by the reaction she received from a man wearing a VFW hat, who skeptically asked her what she was doing. When she told him she was riding for peace in a spiritual mission, he said he appreciated it and asked her to say a prayer at Ground Zero for him. The people she has met along her journey have ranged from those who agree with her perspective or are fascinated by her horse to those who, like the man yesterday, seem dubious at first but become supportive when they understand her mission, Hunter said.
"I think when people realize that I'm not protesting anything and I'm just for world peace and I'm not against the war or anything like that, they're okay," she said. "Who can't get on board with world peace?"