Trail rides rustle up Texas history for parishes, schools

March 14, 2023

Students at St. Ambrose Catholic School in Houston watch as the Sam Houston Trail Riders visited the northwest Houston school on Go Texan Day Feb. 24. Based in Montgomery, the trail riders visited the parish before heading to Memorial Park and the annual parade downtown. (Photos by James Ramos/herald)

PHOTOS: Howdy! RodeoHouston Trail rides lasso Texas History

HOUSTON — With a keen and careful eye, Taylor Reilly kept watch over groups of wandering students clad in their best Western wear. The sound of small cowboy and cowgirl boots on an asphalt parking lot at St. Ambrose Catholic School near The Heights were quickly drowned out by squeals of delight as the Sam Houston Trail Ride circled their wagons.

Reilly, academic dean at St. Ambrose, joined her crew of other teachers and staff in wrangling their students to greet the trail riders and their horses (and donkeys and dogs).

Annually on Go Texan Day, this year Feb. 24, the Sam Houston Trail Ride stops for lunch at the school. The Prairie View Trail Ride, one of two groups that promote Black Western heritage, also passes St. Ambrose on Go Texan Day, with the two joining the other 11 trail ride groups trekking into Houston for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

A hat-tip to Texas history, the annual city-wide designation rallies communities across the region to celebrate Texas heritage and signals the beginning of the rodeo.

After dismounting their trusty steeds, several of the trail riders walk their horses over to the edges of the parking lot near anxious and excited students.

“Look at this cow!” a small boy wearing a straw cowboy hat screamed while reaching up to pet what was really a horse.

“No, this is a horse,” a classmate corrects him, also gently tapping the horse’s light brown nose.

“It sure is a horse,” said one of the trail riders, stooping to pick up a little girl in a dark teal dress sporting gold, sparkly boots for a closer look.

St. Ambrose Pastor Father Hieu Nguyen joined his students in welcoming the Sam Houston trail ride.

At one point, the priest climbed a horse with a braided sandy blonde mane and waved to his staff and school, eliciting cheers and laughs, unwittingly recalling the roots of the Catholic Church in Texas: the missionary priests on horseback who rode between towns in Texas frontier land to bring the Sacraments to the faithful some 175 years ago.

Nearly two centuries later, while digital maps help the trail riders course their way through Houston and history, the spirit of the trail ride continues.

Trail ride groups come into Houston from nearly all directions, with most starting their week-long journey on Feb. 18, traveling between 120 and 60 miles.

The Sam Houston group also stayed at Regina Caeli Parish in northwest Houston the night before visiting the students at St. Ambrose.

The Spanish Trail Ride greeted St. Theresa Catholic School students and staff in Memorial Park, while the Salt Grass Trail Ride cheered with those at St. Jerome Catholic School in Spring Branch. Earlier in the trip, the Texas Independence Trail Ride hitched their posts at the Galveston County Fairgrounds next door to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and School in Hitchcock.

Throughout the rest of the rodeo, which continues until March 19, Catholic school students and parochial members are participating in the region’s largest event and the world’s largest livestock show and rodeo.

Some are showing livestock like chickens, cows and rabbits, others are attending with school or parish groups, and some braver (and helmeted) kiddoes are tackling the white-knuckled, pint-sized rodeo of the mutton-bustin’ tradition, where five- or six-year-old kids grab tight onto sprinting sheep.

Students of all ages seeking a less thrilling ride but with no less talent are also entering the art show, with entries (think charcoal, paint, sculpture and more) as diverse as the city itself.