I can't claim to be the world's biggest fan of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, mostly because you never can fully take the New York out of the boy, but I'm always fascinated by the trail riders who come in every year from miles away to camp out in Memorial Park. They're on their way now, as the Rodeo kicks off next week, and I'm charmed once again by their simple respect for traditions. This story was about the Sam Houston trailride group from Huntsville, and though they don't have far to go to get here, they still face challenges with aplomb.
Sam Houston's bunch is one of 14 groups expected to reach Houston by Friday, some traveling as far as 400 miles away and one coming from the neighbor to the east -- Louisiana. Nearly 4,800 people on horseback and in wagons will camp out in Memorial Park Friday night, then lead a parade through downtown Houston Saturday morning.
This 52-year-old pilgrimage began when four men saddled up for a ride from Brenham, thus beginning the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's trail ride tradition.
The riders have a deep affection for one another -- a type of humor-bound camaraderie that is easily understood in the calming country. No surprise that their love for the land is strong.
Dione Futral, in her 23rd year with the Sam Houston group -- the second-oldest trail -- said that with each passing year, it pains her to see less shrubbery and fewer trees.
"It's getting hard to find camp sites because subdivisions and shopping centers, road houses and golf courses," said Futral, a 54-year-old Montgomery resident who is riding with 250 others in her group this week.
None of that steers riders away, Futral said. Futral said the bond in the Sam Houston group is evident. Everyone has the same appreciation, she said.
"You don't hear the telephone, you don't hear a fax machine or a copier," she said. "You're sitting there and listening and you think, `(Trail riders) used to do that back in the old days -- how did they do it?' "