While some people spend years trying to find a passion or hobby, Garden City local Joyce Adams was lucky enough to discover a love for horses early in life, and has now dedicated her life to working with them.

The dedication to her lifelong passion is even noticeable when you call Adams and hear her voice mail message that says, “I’m probably out riding, so leave me a message.”

Adams founded the Miles of Smiles Therapeutic Riding Program in 1997, which blended Adam’s love for horses and teaching special needs children. The program offers horse riding lessons to special needs children in southwest Kansas.

“Just watching the kids gain some self confidence in themselves and see them improve their physical and mental abilities is amazing,” Adams said. “It gives them something to do, and in their minds, it makes them equal with everyone, because they’re doing something that a lot of kids don’t do.”

After several years as the director of Miles of Smiles, Adams took a step back from the organization in 2007. However, she wanted to continue working with horses, so Adams decided to pursue a longtime dream of hers: endurance riding.

In endurance riding, a rider and horse compete on long distance trails, attempting to finish the trail in a certain amount of time.

Adams began with the Santa Fe Trail Race which had to be completed in 10 days. It began in Santa Fe, New Mexico and ended in Gardner, Kan. After her success with the first race, Adams was hooked.

Now with several endurance races under her belt, Adams has been training with her eight-year-old Arabian mare, Girlfriend, to complete the Tevis Cup Race on Aug. 1, a 100 mile race that must be completed within 24 hours.

The race begins in Robie Park, Calif. At several checkpoints throughout the trail, the rider’s horse must pass a veterinarian check to be able to proceed. The vet checks heart rate, pulse, muscle tone, lameness and several other health factors. The riders use checkpoints to hydrate, eat and take a short nap.

Adams said her goal is to simply finish the race.

“By the time you get about 50 to 60 miles into this race, half the riders will have been dropped out,” Adams said. “For the Tevis cup, if I complete it, I will get the exact same buckle coming in last as the same person coming in second. It’s completion, and that in itself is an accomplishment.”

Adams is also using her personal journey as a vehicle of support for Miles of Smiles.

Adams is seeking donations, either a lump sum or donations based on the number of miles she completes. All proceeds will go to the Miles of Smiles scholarship fund to support special needs kids who could not otherwise afford riding lessons.

“I dedicated my whole life to Miles of Smiles, and for a long time endurance riding was something I wanted to try, but between my job and Miles of Smiles, I didn’t have time to do something personally for myself,” Adams said.

Adams said attempting to raise funds for Miles of Smiles scholarships while taking part in endurance races is a way for her to continue giving back to the program.

To prepare, Adams and Girlfriend have been working on conditioning. Girlfriend was fitted with shoes and padding by Janel Reimer, who has been Girlfriend’s farrier for three years, to ensure the horse’s hooves are in top condition.

Reimer and three more of Adam’s friends will travel from Garden City to the race to help take care of Girlfriend and Adams during the checkpoints.

Reimer said she’s excited to help Adams succeed, and to take care of Girlfriend.

“It’s a big undertaking. I’m going to be there in whatever way I can to support them and encourage them,” she said.

Adams expects the trail will be a challenge. The terrain is not similar to the Kansas trails she and Girlfriend have practiced on.

In California, the trails have steep altitude changes, ranging from sea level to 6,000 feet, as well as rocky ground and extreme heat. At night, Adams and Girlfriend will only have the light of the harvest moon to guide them through the rest of the race.

Despite these potential setbacks, Adams said she won’t let the elements discourage her from succeeding, nor will she drive Girlfriend to exhaustion for the sake of finishing the race.

“My horse is not a super fast horse and that’s okay with me. We’re usually in the back or middle so I can relax and enjoy the ride,” Adams said. “I just want my horse to last me a long time, so I don’t see the purpose in pushing her that hard. The scenery is fantastic, the trail is incredibly difficult, but I still think we can do it.”

Adams said endurance riding has changed her life and will continue to be her passion. She said she’s not “going to fall apart and cry” if she doesn’t complete the course.

“This has been a whole journey from the first of the year. We’ve trained, I’ve studied these trails and I’ve met some super nice people in this whole process,” Adams said. “You develop friendships that you didn’t know you could. I’ve got three people from Garden City coming out and using vacation time just to be part of my crew. You can’t ask for more camaraderie than that.”

People interested in making donations should make checks out to Miles of Smiles, in care of Joyce Adams, 3415 Golden Crest Dr., Garden City, KS 67846.