Riding the trail to the Dixie National

Published 1:38 pm Friday, February 24, 2017

Frank and Shelly Riley have spent most of their lives loving and caring for horses, mules and donkeys rescuing many from kill pens and abuse situations and nursing many back to health so participating in the Dixie National Trail Ride to Jackson is an event of pleasure.

“We carried two wagons teams this year, “stated Shelly Riley, “All the animals were rescues or slaughter-saves. We drove one wagon and our grandson Hunter Duke with his own team drove the other. Jacob Leach of Florence rode with us as well as our old English bulldog, Jeb, who is another rescue animal. Other local riders included Gene McQueen, Perry Sorey, and Chris Hawthorne.”

Riley stated they have participated in the trail ride many years on horseback but this is only the second time they have entered wagons in the train.

The Mt. Olive Wagon Train started in Smith County and when the train reached the Boswell stop Frank Riley had to leave and she drove the team the rest of the way to the MS Fair Grounds herself.

“It was a little nerve racking at times,” stated Riley. “These were log-pullers that Frank had retrained to the wagon and they had bonded with him. He told me not to spoil his team so I had not been working with them and I had been driving only on the country roads for short distances.”

The Train would move their trailers and trucks to the next stopping point before doing the next day’s ride rolling out about 8:30 a.m. and there were 18-22 miles between camps sites, which was a good day’s ride.

Riley estimates there were probably 30 wagons and 250 horse riders that rotated in and out during the week. In Jackson the Human Society of Northern Texas out of Fort Worth joined them adding two Great Danes along with their wagons, riders and horses.

Shelly Riley states that eight-year-old grandson Hunter Duke is a competent horseman and controls his own mules and wagon.

This Prentiss Christian second grade student drove his team pulling a John Deere green open wagon and was among the four Mt. Olive Wagon Train wagons selected to lead the parade into the Mississippi Coliseum.

For the first time in 37 years the Mt. Olive Wagon Train won 1st place in the Dixie National Parade held on Saturday.

Riley states she rode her big Belgian draft horse in the parade, a rescue from a kill pen in Oklahoma. The gentle giant was a kids’ camp horse out of Montana and weighs about 2,000 lbs.

The biggest problem Shelly Riley had was getting up on her back.

The Dixie National Commission selects four wagons with outriders (two people on horseback each wagon) from each wagon train to enter the Coliseum and Riley’s wagons were among those selected.

“Fellowship with other horsemen sitting around the campfires at night and sharing food from the chuck wagon that provided the evening meal, doing things the old fashioned way are what appealed to me,” stated Shelly Riley. “The most difficult thing about the journey is making sure the team stays in good shape to make the whole ride. Keeping the animals comfortable, making sure gear fits properly, checking collars and gear to see there are no rubs on the animals and keeping a check on their feet takes up a lot of time.”

In a different setting from their usual the animals have to be encouraged to eat and drink adequately.

In addition, there has to be adequate food and clothes for a week for people comfort. “We sleep in our wagons each night,” states Shelly Riley, “so we had to be prepared for the weather.”

“Not many people can say they have ridden in a covered wagon 100 miles and sat by a campfire each night swapping horse stories,” laughs Riley. “It’s not for someone who is not an outdoor person. We get to see the country-side at a slower pace. When we reach Boswell we drive through the campus and all the residents come out to greet us.

At Richland the school children watch us pass by. It’s a sight many of them have not seen before. The pleasure you receive is really hard to describe unless you have experienced it for yourself. It’s also the love and passion for the animals.

The weather is unpredictable and there is hard work involved. The animals have to be taken care of regardless.

Some of us grew up with our parents having mules and wagons but how many these days can say they rode 100 miles in a mule pulled covered wagon?”