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In a time when humans have become increasingly disconnected with the natural world around us, Aniela Gottwald reminds us of the importance of reconnecting with the wild, in order to better steward it. Aniela grew up in a tiny town tucked into the mountains of Massachusetts, and a reverence for the earth and traditional cultures was instilled in her from a young age. After losing her father to cancer at age 19, Aniela set out on a solo pilgrimage into the wilderness of the Appalachian mountains with her dog Luna, and it was this journey that confirmed her soul’s purpose of protecting the wild.
Five years later, she set out with her mustang Sunna, who she rescued and trained with the help of her mentor, on her first horse packing expedition, and three months later, she completed the Colorado and Arizona Trail on horseback. The peace and stillness she experienced on the trail, along with her respect for native cultures and her connection to animals, inspired her to start Riding Wild, a nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating transformational experiences with nature and animals through backpacking and horse packing trips, with the goal to inspire change through intersectional environmentalism.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Aniela as she shared with us her curiosity around interspecies connection, lessons from her time on the trail, and her inspiration to practice intersectional environmentalism through Riding Wild. Cozy up with your favorite SuperLatte and soak in the wisdom Aniela has gained from the whispers of the wild.
Our favorite first question: What's on your coffee table and does it hold meaning to you?
“Flowers, crystals and treasures I’ve found on my adventures in the wild live on my coffee table, serving as inspiration and a reminder of the magic and beauty that is waiting to be tapped into when we choose to slow down enough to see it.”
Morning rituals help to start your day off on the right foot, and we’re big supporters. Do you have any rituals or favorite ways to start your day?
“My morning routine consists of making myself a matcha or chai latte, sometimes with a green juice, followed by meditating on gratitude, which helps me to find stillness within myself as I start the day.”
The past few years have been incredibly challenging for all of us. What self-care practices have been supportive to your mind & body?
"I feel so nourished when I spend time hiking, riding, and appreciating the wonders of the natural world, the changes in season, and the little moments that bring deep presence. I am most balanced and happy when my circadian rhythms are synced up with nature, when I am eating a diet that is primarily plant based and locally sourced, drinking spring water and spending the majority of my time outside.”
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes you feel alive?
“I feel alive when my mind gently slips away as I feel myself connecting with nature on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. I experience this through the beauty in the embrace of the sun shining down on my cheeks, the wind blowing through my hair as I ride a horse synced into their senses, and the primal groundedness of being human.”
Your relationship and connection with nature seems to fuel many of your passions and the work that you do. Can you share more about this, and how it has led you to devote your time to preserving the wild?
“I think once you become transformed by your time spent learning from nature, you can't help but want to protect it. It’s a similar feeling to the desire to protect a loved one. When you see clearly how much the Earth provides for us on all levels - physical, emotional and spiritual - it seems like an innate human instinct to want to preserve and protect it. We are living in an epidemic of human disconnection to nature, yet I think that one of the best ways to create balance in life is by learning how to reconnect more deeply to nature everyday. Because I’ve experienced so many healing moments in nature, I credit it for much of my healing.
You have a beautifully intimate relationship with your animals, considering that you have spent so much time with them on the trail. Can you share a little with us about the power of connecting with animals, including some lessons they have taught you?
“The precious moments I’ve experienced on the trail with Luna, my white german shepherd, is what first inspired my Riding Wild expeditions. During my first solo trek with Luna, which I did on the Appalachian trail when Luna was a puppy, I had some incredible revelations that birthed a deep curiosity to explore interspecies relationships. It was one of the most profound and humbling experiences to learn to see the wilderness through Luna’s eyes.
Through this, I was showered with all of the most beautiful qualities we wish we could experience more often from humans; her trust, loyalty, silliness, and unconditional love made me feel more present and alive. I became hooked on animal companionship out there because it felt like it was a key to the doorway of a deeper connection to nature. Since then, it has always been a dream of mine to go on a long journey with a dog and a few horses to document our life-changing connection and transformation.”
What are your current dreams and goals for your nonprofit, Riding Wild?
“My biggest dream for Riding Wild is to buy and conserve land serving as both an animal sanctuary/regenerative ranch and a place to host healing retreats and educational horse packing/backpacking journeys. From there I would like to continue to facilitate, share, and create meaningful stories about intersectional environmentalism and transformational experiences with nature and animals, for the purpose of inspiring change.”
How have you been able to use your journey to inspire others?
“Through pouring my heart into my writing I’ve been able to share some intimate moments from my journeys and inspire my community. The most significant way that I think I’ve inspired women in a broader community has been through the work I’ve done to support Patrice Ringlestein and Jade Begay in sharing their story about re-writing the myth of the west.”
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to younger women, or to your younger self?
“The piece of advice I would like to give is something I haven't yet mastered, for it is a life-long journey of embodying self love and confidence. I would tell my younger self to appreciate the lessons and beauty in both the soft and hard moments of life, and to surrender to pain and know that her heart is much more resilient than she realizes.”
Do you have a quote or piece of inspiration you would like to leave us with?
“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” - Terry Tempest Williams
Aniela Gottwald is a conservationist, adventurer, and the founder of the nonprofit Riding Wild. You can follow her on Instagram at @riding.wild.