“Cris and Forrest are living their dream.”
The Nevada, Missouri, horsemen left home June 1, 2021, on horseback with one packhorse headed to South Dakota’s Black Hills.
“It’s something I always wanted to do. We decided the window of opportunity was right and just took off,” said Cris Rodriquez.
“I really hadn’t even ridden horses until about two years ago. But then got into riding with Cris and here we are,” added Forrest Drury.
“We really don’t have a set route, just follow our instinct, with advice we’re given along the way,” Rodriquez admitted.
They do have solar powered cell phones with maps and also use a GPS global positioning system.
Traveling an average of about 23-miles per day, the horsemen ride both major highways and country backroads.
“We try to take in as much of the different landscapes as we can,” Rodriquez said. “We have ridden up to 36 miles in a day, but that’s too much as hot as it’s getting.”
“The best part of the journey though has been meeting all of the people,” Drury insisted. “Everybody is very congenial, welcoming, interested in what we’re doing.”
“So many of the people told us they dream about doing a similar trip. They say taking out and riding cross country is what they have wanted to do. But just never had the determination to do it,” Rodriquez said.
From Ottawa the riders followed nature trails including the Santa Fe Trail to Council Grove. “We stayed there last night, and rode around the lakes today. We are camping at Alta Vista Park tonight, and heading northwest toward Fort Riley tomorrow,” Rodriquez said last Wednesday afternoon.
“We often call ahead to the Chamber of Commerce or city office to see what accommodations are available,” he added.
Rodriquez, 63, recently retired from working for the state of Missouri, and Drury is an eighth-grade history teacher.
“We met at our cowboy church about six years ago, and became friends,” Rodriquez said. “Forest got interested in riding horses, too, and we’ve had some great times. This trip is the best of all.”
Formerly an accomplished endurance competition rider for about 15 years, Rodriquez changed to the cowboy life. “I had Arabians, rode several 50-mile endurance rides, but then got into stock horses,” he said.
Wednesday afternoon, they were riding a 14-year-old sorrel Quarter Horse called Peppy and an 11-year-old buckskin stock horse named Dust. A 17-year-old gray gelding, half-Arabian and half American Saddlebred, called Uno was serving as their pack horse.
“All three horses are broke to ride and to pack, so we trade off every day,” Rodriquez said. “Each of us will ride a different horse and the third horse will be used for packing our gear.”
All three horses are owned by Rodriquez who shares them with his friend Forrest. “I have eight horses at my place near Nevada. They’re all broke to ride. Children as well as adults including senior citizens come out to enjoy riding them.”
The men have become interested in team roping. “We’ve only been roping about a year, so we’re not into competition, but it’s a lot of fun,” Rodriquez admitted.
Actually, the senior rider is an all-around horseman. “I like everything there is to do with horses. I’ve had the opportunity to judge extreme cowboy races in several states,” he said.
Horses graze roadsides, pastures and even lawns along the route and throughout the night. “We make sure they get enough salt, and sometimes stop in a town and buy them grain,” Rodriquez said.
“We water the horses in creeks, ponds and waterholes as we ride,” Rodriquez said. “We have a bucket if we need to carry them water.”
On the hot humid days, the riders are most conscientious to keep their horses hydrated watering about every hour. “We have our own canteens and carry extra drinking water for ourselves on the pack horse,” Drury noted.
Packing the horses is no small task. “We’ve had to learn how to make adjustments with our gear so it’s balanced on the horses. There’s about 30 to 35 pounds on each side,” Rodriquez said.
For their own nourishment, the trail riders carry jerky and trail mixes. “We sometimes stop at a café or a quick shop and get something to eat,” Drury said. “Several families have invited us in for supper and even provided breakfast before we start the next morning.”
With bedrolls, the horsemen typically sleep on the ground under the stars. “However, sometimes people have welcomed us to stay in their barns, even residences,” Rodriquez noted.
To prepare for the long journey, Rodriquez worked his horses every day. “I live six miles out in the country and rode into town to get them in shape,” he said.
The horses each got a new set of shoes before starting out, which the riders thought might get them to their destination. “However, we already had one horse lose a shoe in the mud. Heartland Horseshoeing School sent out a rescue squad to get us back on the road,” Rodriquez said. “We might have to seek some local farrier assistance at some point on the journey.”
With about 35 more days on the trail, the horsemen hope to complete their 1,000-mile ride by July 15.
“A lot can happen between now and then,” Rodriquez admitted. “We don’t know our exact route, but we hope to travel some on the original Oregon Trail and the Pony Express route.”
Upon reaching Mount Rushmore, they plan to tour the Black Hills, but then it’s a long way back.
“We aren’t going to ride our horses all the way home,” the riders agreed. “We have friends who are bringing a trailer to pick us up for the return trip.”
“God has given us this lifetime opportunity. It’s so much fun, we might do it again,” they said.