As much of a tradition as the rodeo itself, more than 2,000 trail riders hit the road each year in the days leading up to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The event is a recreation of the Old West, and multiple rides have annual camps in the area.
The Spanish Trail Ride, established in 1961, made overnight camp Thursday in the Garden Oaks Sears parking lot at 4000 N. Shepherd Dr. The Prairie View Trail Ride, established in 1957, camped at Community of Faith Church at 1024 Pinemont Dr. They were among 12 trail rides that convened at Memorial Park on Friday, three days before the start of this year’s rodeo.
Joe Cantrell is in his 42nd year as trail boss for the Spanish ride and his 46th year overall participating in the annual tradition.
“We have a really good bunch of riders, even though we’re a bit smaller this year,” he said as the group prepared to leave Friday morning.
Two generations of the Cantrell family lead the ride, with his son, Larry, serving as the assistant trail boss. The ride is dedicated to preserving western heritage by teaching younger generations about western traditions and past life in Texas. Four generations of riders carry on the traditions of this 114-mile ride, started by “Punk” Dugat and fellow riders in Sour Lake more than six decades ago.
That history keeps every proud generation driven, even as the ride shrank to about six wagons this year, according to Joe Cantrell.
“We’re still going to keep on trying to keep up the heritage of our forefathers,” he said.
Myrtis Dightman Jr. serves as trail boss for the Prairie View Trail Ride Association, which is the oldest African-American trail ride in the United States. The ride began in 1957 and was approved in 1958 as the rodeo’s first African-American trail ride. Dightman’s father was the trail’s co-founder of the ride in Hempstead.
During the ride’s overnight stop at Community of Faith, the association hosted “Black Go Texan Fun Night” at the church, with attendees dressing up in their best western wear for games, food and dancing.
Dightman Jr. has been riding horses since he was 2 years old and relishes the ride each year.
“One thing about rodeo and cowboys, it’s just like a family,” Dightman Jr. said on rodeohouston.com. “When you go into downtown Houston, Texas, and over a million people are hollering and screaming at you, to see the smiles on those kids’ faces, it’s exciting to me. It brings tears to your eyes.”