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Horseback riders gather for charity


The weather forecasters warned us it would feel like 105 or 110 degrees Saturday (guess they call that the heat index). It was without a doubt the hottest day of the year, but there they were, 19 riders on horses, sweating it out for charity.

Actually, the sweating began before the horses left Wishful Thinking Farms, which was owned by the late Doug Jones. This year, the 18th annual St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital Horseback Benefit was dedicated to him.

As Sheila Taylor’s horse plodded through thick grass, between a wire fence and a dirt road that blazed a white path through a lush green field, Taylor actually felt somewhat cool.

“This isn’t nearly as hot as when I was gathering them up this morning,” Taylor said.

The reason to embark on a two-plus-hour ride was more than just to honor Jones, or raise money for children, although those were the main incentives. The other reasons were simple: To get outdoors and ride.

“I ride anytime I can,” said Robert Wolfe, from Bradenton. “I got them, so I might as well use them.”

The party was led by Karen Perry, an 18-year-old from Myakka City. She’d led the benefit last year when Jones was ill. So the teenager had to fill the shoes of a Seminole with legendary stories of adventures that might make the most roguish swashbuckler cringe.

But Perry did just fine, as did the rest of the riders.

And how were the horses? Well, as they say: A horse is a horse.

They were a bit wild, a bit timid, depending on their mood.

Pistol, a fascinating-looking horse with copper streaks that zipped through white and gray hair, was the first horse to stop shy of a 3-foot-deep puddle of water that broke up the grassy trail.

It stopped, then lowered its head to the water. It looked like it tried to gauge the depth. Finally, with a swat on the behind from another rider, Pistol was brave enough to dive in.

I apologize to the readers for failing to squeeze a quote out of the horse. I even tried taunting the poor horse, asking it why it didn’t just blast into the puddle. The horse whisperer I was not.

So, the horse declined to comment. I’m just glad I didn’t get a horse shoe to the mid-section.

So Pistol’s rider, Christin Galan, spoke for it: “I did it, didn’t I?” she said.

A little farther down the trail, “Grandpa Ghost” had enough of the youngsters. The 21-year-old horse, a great, great grandfather to a few of the horses, and often the first horse a young boy in the area may ride, was sick of the youngsters and their ignorant jockeying — the bumping and pushing for the best position on the trail.

Grandpa’s rebellion began. Ghost began running backward, with young rider Amanda Skolnik fighting to turn the rebelling horse, which she finally did.

But once Ghost got straight, it reared back and kicked the nearest horse, which happened to be “Shadow.”

Oh, these horses.

“They’ve got to figure out who’s the alpha,” said Adrianna Cole, the rider of Shadow. “They like to kick each other all the time. Biting’s good, too.”

Things were much calmer the rest of the way. I was even able to get off my feet and ride on the back end of Perry’s horse, with Perry still saddled and myself facing toward its tail. I felt like a first-grader seated right above the back tire on a school bus. With one hand on the saddle, I was proud to have ridden the horse far longer than eight seconds.

Once the ride was over, all were treated to barbecue and an assortment of pot luck items. It was a Southern feast at its finest.

No doubt, Doug Jones would have been proud.

And hopefully now, a few parents will be able to afford those few shots, or that one surgery, for their children.

Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.