The Wandering Riders 4-H Club was among the top two horse clubs in Portage County in the 1960s-‘70s, rivaled only by the Y-Knots. There were many other clubs, peaking with over 300 total kids enjoying horse 4-H projects during those years, but it always came down to the Wandering Riders in the Southern, less affluent, part of the county and the more affluent Y-Knots up North. Among all of us in Portage County were the very elite of riders in the entire state of Ohio. We all competed against one another. Some of us were close friends, others were mean and not so friendly, but we were all rivals once we entered the arena. The competition was fierce, and we all worked hard to win, especially us poorer kids.
Our parents were very involved, as are most parents with their kids competing in anything. One year, Dad and several of the parents decided that us kids needed to do something as a reminder of how it was when the folks were younger. It was kind of a “How the West was Won” lecture. You know, the “I walked a mile to school,” or “We had to hitch the horses up to go to town.” But Dad and Jack Lewis and Mel Linton and Mr. Hensley came up with the idea that the Wandering Riders should have an old-fashioned trail ride and campout under the stars. Us kids were all into it for sure. So the plans were made. We would start in Rootstown at our practice ring and ride to our farm in Paris, then have a cookout and campout. Dad mapped out the 20-mile route through the backroads and we started early on a Saturday morning.
At first, everybody was really excited. By about the third hour, our butts were sore—as much as we all rode every day, there was no preparing for this. It took us about six hours to reach the farm. We were all walking pretty wide as we waddled over to the corral and watered, fed, tied the horses. Then, sore as we were, we headed for the campground in the woods. Some had tents to pitch. Several of us guys set up in the bed of our 1963 International Harvester stake-bed pick-up truck with a canvas draped over the livestock racks. We played football in the field. Yes, tackle, boys and girls. Rough game with all the thorns and rocks. Then we took a break for burgers on the grill. And when it started getting dark, we divided up into teams and played capture the flag. It was pretty late when we settled into camp.
Sitting around, watching the fire and turning in one by one or in small groups. Us guys were sacked out under the tarp in the back of the truck. About three in the morning a thunderstorm woke us with a torrential downpour. That tarp started sagging and leaking under the weight of the rain—a wet, chilly, miserable several hours to dawn. We all were questioning why we did this. But the sun came up at daybreak. We were all soaked. Socks laying on cinder blocks next to the fire while parents were frying eggs, bacon and beans. The warmth of the fire, the morning sun, our sore bodies, and swapping tales of our adventure all added up to a 1 Peter 2:17 “Love the brotherhood” moment. I know where some of my saddle mates are. Others I’ve lost track of, but Wandering Rider, Y-Knot or any of the others, they are all welcome anytime at my campfire. Nothing better than horses, friends and trail rides.