It’s a magnificent sight that almost no one in Manatee County sees.
I’m talking about the Florida Cracker Trail Ride that starts at Kibbler Ranch in East Manatee and meanders across the state to Fort Pierce.
This year, a record 236 riders took part in the weeklong event, which commemorates the cross-state cattle drives from more than 100 years ago, said Jennifer Osterling, trail boss.
I missed seeing the riders off this year, but I have been at Kibbler Ranch many other times, carefully stepping around horses and riders, and taking in the whole scene of camp fires, cowboy garbed men, women and children, and those beautiful horses.
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Then with a sheriff’s escort, they head east along the shoulder of State Road 64, into a barely risen sun, for a weeklong journey to the other coast.
I don’t recall seeing many others come out to watch the riders, unless they are friends or family.
Susie Hoshaw, who has been an emergency room secretary at Blake Medical Center for 24 years and is a breast cancer survivor, got my attention with her account of making her first ride this year.
She was so determined to beat cancer and ride the Cracker Trail that she told her husband, “If God wants me, he will have to pull me from the saddle.”
That’s pluck, worthy of any cowboy or pioneer.
Susie got the wheels in my head turning when she described the triumphant experience of riding into Fort Pierce, where the town comes close to shutting down to greet the riders with a parade.
Riders can take their steeds up to a tiki hut to order a drink, or amble into a fast-food drive-through to order a hamburger. They can even ride their horses into the Atlantic Ocean at Fort Pierce for a refreshing end to the exhausting ride.
You have to wonder if maybe there should be more fanfare with the Cracker Trail Ride’s departure from Manatee County, which has a rich cattle history and remains an important center of beef production.
Crazy thought probably, but I bet folks would turn out if the ride started in downtown Bradenton, and was maybe tied in with a fest of cowboy culture and food.
Yes, I know there are traffic concerns, and probably a logistical nightmare to solve. Just a thought.
Hoshaw, who has lived in Myakka City with her husband, Ed, for eight years, made the ride this year with some of her friends, including Robert and Kathy Wolfe, Denise Wooten and Allison Smart.
“I had breast cancer in 2010 and hoped to go in 2011 with Denise, but I wasn’t up to it,” Susie told me.
“I am doing wonderful. I went back to work a year ago and haven’t had a sick day since.”
Highlights included having her 11-year-old granddaughter, Jordan Stickler, a sixth-grader at Nolan Middle School, riding along with her for a few days.
But Jordan, a member of the Nolan volleyball team, had an obligation to play in a tournament the same week, and Grandma brought her home.
“I just about had to hog-tie her to get her to come back to the school, she was having such a good time,” Susie said.
Other highlights included camping at Duck Smith’s and other ranches across the state, steak dinners cooked along the trail, and swimming in ranch lakes with her horse.
Then there was the entrance into Fort Pierce.
“It’s a huge, spectacular event,” Susie said.
Susie’s husband stayed home to take care of the couple’s other horses and their business, Manatee Mattress.
But he was there to greet her in Fort Pierce.
“She is a very special lady and she had an absolute ball,” Ed Hoshaw said.
Lots of planning goes into the movement of so many riders, ranging in age from 4 1/2 to 82.
“Jen Osterling, the trail boss, did a really great job coordinating everything,” Susie said.
Participants and organizers are already starting to plan for next year’s trail ride.
Osterling, who works at a new eatery in Myakka City, Jessie’s Deli, said her daughter, Leah, participated in the ride for the first time this year.
And she seems intrigued by the idea of making the send-off in 2013 a little more grand.
For more information on the Cracker Trail Ride, visit www.CrackerTrail.org.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet: @jajones1