Florida Cracker Trail ride honors state's early ranchers

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MANATEE COUNTY - The Florida Cracker Trail played a big role in Florida’s history. And to commemorate the trail and keep the history of the trail alive, every year The Florida Cracker Trail Association steps back in time and re-enacts the events that occurred along that trail.

Members of the association, 146 horses and riders in all, left Bradenton Saturday morning to travel across the state on horseback. They go along State Road 64, then cut over to State Road 66 -- the original trail the cowboys took long ago on their cattle drives across the state.

Sometimes they ride across ranches, sometimes along the road. They detour off State Road 66 in Sebring to go by the Cracker Trail Elementary School and wave to the kids.

They ride 5 to 8 hours a day, then camp out at night. "We do camp fire entertainment, we have people who are musically gifted," says association president Charles Mercer.

And they eat good. "We have catering; we have Pat’s Barbecue."

Grover Johnson doesn't ride a horse, but he has a very important job. “They call me the number one man in the number two business…I pull the potty wagon with the porta-lets on it."

They've got it a lot easier than their forefathers, but it's still a tough ride. “It's terrible, but it's fun, and your adrenaline kicks in, and it’s one of these important things," says board member Bonnie Williamson.

It's even tougher for the horses. They have to train for the trip. "An athlete can't go out to run unless in training; the same with horses. They are doing all the work, and we're kind of sitting back and cruising along," says association member Danny Word.

One of the youngest riders is 6-year-old Aaron Hamsher. He says sometimes his horse Jose acts up. "He sometimes freaks out and he jumps, and sometimes jumps over ditches."

His mom Lisa, a mother of 8, has 7 children and 8 horses on the ride. She says it's good for them. "It gives them responsibility. They are the ones that have to take care of their animals, and it teaches them that things down the road, little bumps and stuff, they’ve got to control their horse. And the Cracker Trail is great, because it teaches them our history of where we’re founded and stuff."

The riders will cover 110 miles and arrive in Ft. Pierce on the east coast Saturday morning. They'll be welcomed with a parade in their honor, followed by horseback riding and camping on the beach. A history lesson everyone on the ride, and all those who watch them go by, will long remember.