2,000 Mile Trail Ride

April 5, 2010

English riders to follow Western pioneers’ 2,000-mile cattle trail

12:26 PM CDT on Sunday, April 4, 2010

By ERIC AASEN / The Dallas Morning News
eaasen@dallasnews.com

The English may be prim and proper, but they’re just wild for America’s Wild West.

They yearn to escape their congested roads and hop on a horse and roam where the land is wide open and the big sky seems endless.

For some, seeing old Western movies isn’t enough. They have to explore it like the pioneers did back in the day.

And for a lucky few, that westward journey starts Sunday – after training for weeks in Frisco.

They’ll saddle up at Fort Belknap, a couple of hours west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There, they’ll travel by horse and follow in the footsteps of two Western pioneers, Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, who blazed a cattle trail nearly 150 years ago through Texas, New Mexico and points north.

For six months and almost 2,000 miles, these English men and women expect to venture through dust, mud, heavy rain, hail and lightning storms. They may encounter a horse skull or two and snakes.

James Locke and a team of riders make plans for a 2,000-mile journey along the cattle trails.

They couldn’t be happier.

The inaugural trek, called The Long Ride, is a chance to sit on a horse in the middle of nowhere and ride the way riding was meant to be done, said James Locke, who is leading the expedition.

“The ride is honoring your heritage and the memory of the people who made this country what it is today,” he said.

About a dozen riders, almost all English, will be rotating in and out throughout the expedition. They’ll be roughing it – it’s the Western way, after all – camping under that never-ending sky. A truck will accompany them, carrying feed, water, food and other essentials.

“If they get a shower, they’re going to be lucky,” Locke said. “A bucket of cold water on the back of the truck when nobody’s looking, and that’s it.”

The Long Ride was sparked a few years ago at a dinner party, when one woman who had seen Rawhide declared that she wanted to ride a trail across America.

Locke, who has been leading expeditions around the world for nearly 30 years, said he had a better idea. He wanted to follow the Goodnight-Loving Trail. He was intrigued about the trail after reading about the trailblazers and watching the Lonesome Dove miniseries.

“The American West is alive and well in England,” said Locke, 66.

In 1866, Goodnight and Loving drove longhorns from Fort Belknap in Young County. The trail continued through Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos River, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

The Long Ride, however, plans to travel beyond the trail, ending in Montana.

As Locke planned his trip through the American West, he was introduced to Robert Liner, who operates the Horse School in Frisco. Liner was intrigued and volunteered to host the riders and help them train. He rounded up horses and other supplies.

Liner hopes the trip inspires others.

“The horse is a silent steward to teach us of our own compassion,” he said. “I’d like to think the spirit of the horse unifies people.”

Traveling companions

Locke and his riding partners wouldn’t be able to venture west without Ranger, Peppy, Dancer and Gentleman.

Ranger is the boss horse who’s even-tempered and gentle. Dancer is a chowhound – point him to the horse feed and he’ll be fine. At first, Gentleman was afraid of everything. Now, he’s a softie. Peppy loves to be by Dancer’s side.

Last week, they rested along a fence, enjoying a breeze, as their riders stood nearby.

Horses are free spirits, said Emma Payne, who’s riding with Locke.

“You watch them running and you wish you could be like that,” said Payne, donning a bandana, jeans, chaps, boots and an Australian bush hat. “They run for miles, and they don’t seem to get tired.”

But before hitting the trail, the English riders had to learn how to ride horses American style.

“We’re very stiff and uptight,” Locke said. “Your riding is much more laid back.”

In England, riders put more equipment on their horses, making it restrictive for the animal. Riders perch on their horses, making it difficult to stay on for long periods of time.

“In America, there’s a better partnership with the horse,” said Lisa Waller, another English participant in The Long Ride.

When Payne wants to ride in her home country, she has to walk a horse down a busy road, with cars flying by, to a small patch of precious earth.

That won’t be an issue on this American trek, where she’ll roam the empty land for miles and miles and miles.

“The horses, the camping,” she said, “it’s heaven.”

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