At a parking lot along NASA Parkway in Webster on Tuesday, horses sidled up to the water trough instinctively while ladies and gentlemen queued up at the portable toilet trailer.
This is a place where cowboy hats and boots serve a practical purpose: It was a much-needed stop along the route for horses and riders who have been on the trail since Saturday morning, braving torrential rain and blistering cold, all in the name of tradition.
Dario Romero, an 82-year-old trail ride veteran, bobbed his head and waved his hands along to loud music blasting from the wagon's speakers.
Trail rides have been an integral part of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for 60 years, and the Texas Independence Trail Ride — a 200-member cavalcade making the 92-mile trek from Brazoria each year since 1961 — is just one of a dozen rides that will converge at Memorial Park on Friday to kick off the rodeo.
The cavalcade stopped and picked up a handful of female students from the Girls Inc. organization at Chinquapin Prep. Miya Connor (ninth grade), Destiny Davis (11th), Alejandra Badillo (12th) and Jennifer Hernandez (11th) were selected to ride a portion of the trail with a female trail boss: Rose Doucet, a small but spicy lady with spurs on her boots and feathers in her hair.
For my part, I was assigned to the covered wagon led by the Lee Road crew from Rosharon. To my left sat Dario Romero, an 82-year-old trail ride veteran who bobbed his head and waved his hands along to loud music blasting from the wagon's speakers, selected by Ruben Longoria from a little red iPod.
On the front bench, Sam Longoria held the reigns for Star and Julie, 4-year-old half sisters on their first trail ride. Friends and family members, including Sam Longoria's 14-year-old son, flanked the wagon, singing with abandon and encouraging the young, strong horses along.
By two o'clock, the clouds had burned off, and the day was perfect for an afternoon outdoors. Together we made the rest of the trek to the Johnson Space Center, stopping at schools and holding up traffic along the way.
There, on NASA's grounds, the cavalcade will dance, eat, camp and rest before the next leg of the route. Wednesday, they head to Pasadena.