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Saddle Up for St. Jude


Article & photos by Tommy Brannon

Mike Howell’s 11th annual Saddle Up for St. Jude trail ride was held April 28-30, 2017 at Chickasaw State Park near
Henderson, Tenn. In addition to the trail ride, the whole weekend was jam packed with fun activities.

Mike said that he and his extended family including his wife, children, mother-in-law and sister in law – a total of about 14 people – spent the week before the trail ride in preparation. The Howells have been running the rental stables at Chickasaw State Park for 12 years and started the Saddle Up for St. Jude trail ride the second year there. Mike said that he does not rent horses for this trail ride; the rental horses get the day off. The 75 riders on the trail ride all brought their own horses.

Chickasaw has a camp ground specifically designed for horse trailers, next to the rental stables, with hook ups, easy trailer parking, and a bath house. The whole weekend was set up and run for family fun – and to raise money for St. Jude. Mike said there were 24 sponsors for the weekend event, all donating money and services.   

On Friday folks enjoyed some good food at the Fish Fry and Chili supper, then sat back and watched the Mississippi Pony Pullers do their thing! Teams of ponies – mostly Shetlands, with a few Welsh – show their muscles in an age-old sport called “pony pulling.” The sport traces its beginnings back to the agricultural character of the state. “A lot of these people are second- and third-generation pullers whose families once worked horses on their farms,” said Eddie Stroupe, President the North Mississippi Pony Pulling Club. The teams first must pull double their own combined weight a distance of six feet. Then, more weight is added until a winner emerges. A good team can pull about four times its own weight and championships are often decided by a matter of inches. Those are some tough, strong ponies!

On Saturday after breakfast served on site, the official trail ride started at 9:30 a.m. Some of the trails through Chickasaw are wide enough for cars and some can be a knee-knocker challenge. One experienced rider commented that when going through the woods, “I actually had to pay attention and ride my horse.” Riders were divided into groups depending on their and their horse’s abilities. Each group had its own trail boss who knew the lay of the land.  

After the ride, there was, again, plenty of good food – barbeque and all the fixins. At 1:00 p.m., the Rodeo started, organized by Tommy Wilbanks and his Calvary Rodeo Productions of Booneville, Mississippi. There was bull riding, junior bulls, bareback bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing, mutton busting (sheep riding), and steer wrestling. 

At 5:30 p.m. the auction started and then, starting at 7:00 p.m., there was live music by Theron Gean and The Cowboys. Theron Gean is a farrier, and he travels all over to do his farrier work. He also loves to sing older country music. He is very talented and has an amazing voice; some say he sounds like Conway Twitty.

Sunday morning breakfast started early, again, at 7:00 a.m., followed by Cowboy Church at 9:00 a.m.  Of course, all the funds raised over the weekend went straight to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

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