MANATEE -- David and Megan Reed began taking part in the cross-state Florida Cracker Trail ride 11 years ago, retracing the Florida cattle drives of more than 100 years ago from Manatee County to Fort Piece.
David Reed saw it as a way to build his relationship with his daughter, at that time a Haile Middle School student.
It would also build self-reliance, perseverance and responsibility, he said.
"It can be a very difficult ride. It is can be a endurance ride rather than a trail ride. The weather can be drenching wet, cold, muddy, or dry and dusty," he said.
All that time in the saddle and camping at ranches across the state can also build enduring friendships.
For the 26th year, the Florida Trail Ride sets off at 8 a.m. Saturday from Kibler Ranch off State Road 64 in East Manatee.
Megan Reed, a Lakewood Ranch High School grad and an Auburn University graduate with a degree in animal science, will join the ride at Duck Smith's Bar Crescent S Ranch in Hardee County.
"It's just a great thing to be part of that Florida history and hang out with friends," Megan Reed said Tuesday.
"Unless you're a working cowboy, you don't normally get to ride all day long," she said.
The ride from Kibler Ranch to Duck Smith's place is expected to take four to five hours.
Turnout for the Cracker Trail Ride has constantly numbered about 250 riders, said David Reed, a former Florida Cracker Trail Association president and trail boss.
"The Florida Cracker Trail Association is over 300 members strong. We are a history conscious, trail-riding group which includes all riding genres and horse breeds. Every make and model of horse trailer, pick-up truck, camping equipment, tack and
gear may be seen on our rides. The youngest riders may be on lead-lines while the oldest rider on the 2012 ride was 82 years old," said Marie H. Jones, recording secretary for the association in an email.
"The focus of the association is to draw attention to the ranching history of Florida. We seek to preserve and show respect for the heritage of our ancestors, and also make the public aware of the need for 'green space' rights-of-ways throughout the state," she said.
The six-day ride ends with a parade through downtown Fort Pierce. Participants would like eventually to have a send-off with some fanfare from Bradenton as well.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1