MONTROSE – With more than 4,000 miles behind them, Don Del Monte and his horse Rico are ready to hit the road again to complete their mission: Riding from Kentucky to California to raise awareness for the prevention of suicide and child abuse.
Del Monte had only planned to stay in Montrose for a couple of days, but because of the quarantine many facilities have placed on letting new horses in because of the equine virus, he’s stuck in Montrose, at least for time being.
The Montrose Fairgrounds, like many others in the state, are allowing horses on the premises to stay there or leave, but they can’t come back and no new horses are allowed.
But Don and Rico are making the best of the situation, and will continue to spread the word in the Montrose area. He is scheduled for a “meet and greet” with free refreshments at noon this Sunday at Riverbottom Park, where he’ll continue to tell his personal story of why raising community awareness in the fight against child abuse and suicide are so important.
Del Monte is familiar with both. As a child, his father continually brutalized him; his 18-year-old niece took her own life eight years ago.
But instead of wearing his scars internally, Del Monte is sharing them with the world, using his own stories to help people become more aware that the entire community suffers when child abuse continues and suicides are on the rise.
It's a particularly relevant message here in Montrose County, which has seen a surge in suicides this year, two of them teenagers. The Center for Mental Health says that in 2010, there were 15 suicides in the six-county coverage area of Montrose, San Miguel, Delta, Ouray, Gunnison and Hinsdale. Already this year, from Jan. 1 through April 25, an alarming 14 people have taken their own lives. Eight suicides were in Montrose County, four in Delta County, and one each in Gunnison and San Miguel.
“Montrose has the highest suicide rate per capita in the country,” Del Monte said.
As he rides from town to town, often enduring harsh conditions on his ride, which he calls Saddle Up for Suicide and Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention, Del Monte is selling T-shirts from his website to raise money the for American Foundation For Suicide Prevention. More information is available at his website, www.saddleupforsuicideprevention.webs.com. He can also be reached on his cell phone at 859-351-4791 and is on Facebook.
“Sometimes people call and just want to talk,” Del Monte said. “And some have a group they want me to speak to.”
Del Monte began his trek in Lexington Ky., his home, and plans to travel to Los Angeles, and then back again, for a total trip of almost 5,000 miles. He has already ridden Rico, a 3- ½-year old Tennessee Walker, for more than 1,200 miles.
He works along the way to earn his keep, Del Monte said, and spent the winter in Anton, where he had a job breaking horses.
He and Rico normally travel about 15 to 20 miles per day, Del Monte said, but at times they have traveled as many as 35 miles. He said he’s made many new friends along the way.
“People have helped me, and I camp out a lot,” he said.
He was headed for Grand Junction next to stay with a friend, saddlemaker Don West, owner of Have Saddle Will Travel, who made Del Monte’s saddle bags for the trip. After that, he’s not sure, but the quarantine reduces his chances of finding places to stay along the way.
In the meantime, while he waits for quarantines to be lifted, Del Monte welcomes local speaking engagements to help spread the word that suicide and child abuse are community problems that only communities can solve.
Mental illness, child abuse and suicide are all connected, Del Monte said, and everyone should know the acronym QPR, which stand for Question, Persuade and Refer, when dealing with a potential suicide victim.
Training in QPR is available at the Center for Mental Health on East Main Street, or the classes can be conducted onsite at a business or other locations. To learn more about QPR, call Judy Schmalz, the Center’s suicide prevention coordinator, at 252-3228 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center’s 24-hour crisis line at 252-6220. If you just want to talk to someone, call the Suicide Prevention Talk Line any time at 800-273-8255.
Public awareness and participation needs to be raised to help combat the problem of suicide, because it affects our communities, Schmalz said.
“We want to emphasize that this is a public health problem, and any efforts toward prevention need to be across the board,” she said.
Del Monte is just one person trying to spread that message, but his journey has brought him press attention all along the way. When he was in Limon back in April, the Limon Leader published a story on his trip and his personal story.
“Born with a bipolar disorder and the victim of abuse by a parent during his childhood, he attempted suicide six times during his teenage years,” the article states. “’It was intervention by others that saved my life,’” Del Monte said. “’Ninety-eight percent of those who commit suicide don’t really want to die; they just want someone to help, someone to listen.’”
He began his trip after being laid off from his job as a coal miner, and he said his passion for his mission has not waned along the long journey.
Each year, Del Monte said, 33,000 people in the U.S. die from suicide, and one million people take their own lives worldwide, and that’s not acceptable to him.
“One suicide a year is too much,” he said.