EAST COUNTY — East County resident Stephanie Lloyd and her daughter, Cassie, love to ride horses, although they don’t have as much time for the hobby as they’d like.
In fact, each year, the pair turns its passion for horseback riding into a weeklong historical adventure.
On Feb. 16, the Lloyds pulled on their jeans and cowboy boots, saddled their horses and headed off on a weeklong cross-state ride — one that relives Florida’s history by reenacting the trip Florida cowboys, called “crackers,” would take back home to the east coast, after driving their cattle to the Bradenton area for sale.
The Florida Cracker Trail Association’s Cross State Ride this year celebrated its 26th year, with more than 120 riders participating in the 110-mile journey through five counties.
“It’s keeping history alive,” said Cassie Lloyd, 11.
Stephanie Lloyd, a second-grade teacher at Braden River Elementary School, agreed.
“Back in the old days, the Florida crackers — (cowboys) were called crackers because of the sound of their whips — would drive the cattle across the state to the Tampa area and they would ship (the cattle) from here (to places like Cuba and South America),” Lloyd says. “Florida really was a well-known cattle state. They drove the cattle from east to west. We re-enact their trip back.”
“Everybody thinks it’s so much fun, and it is,” she says. “But it’s hard. By 8 p.m., you’re exhausted.”
Participants start their morning with breakfast around 6 a.m., before readying their horses, making other arrangements and heading onto the trail for several hours of riding, starting around 8 a.m. each day.
An outside company caters meals on the trip, so riders don’t have to worry about transporting food. After a lunch break, a bus transports riders to their morning campsites, and riders move their rigs — tents, RVs or horse trailers with living quarters — to their evening campsite. Riders then are transported back to their lunch location to complete the remainder of their roughly 20-mile daily ride.
“My oldest sister, Lisa (Belsito) has been doing (the ride) for 25 years,” Stephanie Lloyd said. “She really got me into it. She took my nieces and me. She got us hooked. After I started getting horses (of my own), we haven’t stopped.”
Cassie Lloyd, who competes in hunter/jumper and loves horseback riding, in general, has participated in the ride since she was 5 years old.
She said she loves to watch the horses participating in the trip, as well as visiting with the friends she meets along the way.
“Every year, I get thrown into the water trough,” Cassie said, laughing. “Things to look forward to.”
Stephanie Lloyd, in particular, loves the people on the trail, as well. The ride, itself, while relaxing, is tiring, and participants not only ride alongside each other for conversation but also help one another tend their horses and other tasks.
“You talk to people along the way,” Stephanie Lloyd said. “You kind of lose track of time. It’s those memories you build.
“I don’t think people really know the history of Florida,” she said. “It’s beautiful. You see all this land, and it makes you want to protect it.”
The ride is something both she and Cassie look forward to each year. And, although, the duo may have to adjust its participation in the Cracker Trail ride once Cassie starts middle school next year, limiting the number of days it participates, Stephanie Lloyd said she hopes to continue the family tradition in which she’s participated for 22 years and for Cassie for six years.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
The following is a song Cassie Lloyd wrote with a friend while on this year’s trip.
Florida cracker cowgirls pretty as can be
riding through the wind
never to be seen again until next weekend!
Roping and cracking their whips
hoping they’re not in
trouble when they ride in.
Getting bucked around, falling on the ground
hopping back in the saddle, holding on tight
so it won’t happen again.
Tied up our horses and kicked off our boots
taking a little rest to get a little loose.
No cell phones or make-up on like them city folks
We’re pretty as can be
Just the way the cowboys like it!
6 to 7 a.m. — Breakfast
7 to 8 a.m. — Get ready to leave
8 a.m. to noon — Ride
Noon to 1 p.m. — Break for lunch
1 to 2 p.m. — Move camping gear to night location
2 to 5 p.m. — Ride again
5 p.m. — Arrive at campsite
6 to 7 p.m. — Dinner
7 p.m. — Relax with friends or trail festivities
8 p.m. — Lights out
TRAIL RIDE TIMELINE
Feb. 15 — Meet and greet
Feb. 16 — Mandatory rider’s meeting. Music by folk singer Jerry Mincey.
Feb. 17 — FCTA fundraising auction
Feb. 18 — Whip-cracking practice until dark
Feb. 19 — Authentic Western wear day. Music by the Shannon Reed Band.
Feb. 20 — Red, white and blue day. Cow whip poppy contest. After-dinner presentation by historian Nelson Bailey on early Florida history.
Feb. 21 — Authentic Historic Wear Day. Kids showmanship class. After-dinner presentation by Florida poet Doyle Rigdon.
Feb. 22 — Rider awards and dance to the sounds of the Olden New Band.
Feb. 23 — Parade at downtown Ft. Pierce. Reach riding, waterfront camping and pub trot.