Provides lots of fun for the family
It all started with Ovid Evans and his love for riding horses. One morning in 1966, he invited Roger Choice to go with him to find a place where adults and kids alike could ride and have some good family fun on horseback. They pulled up to Mr. H.C. Ray’s place and found him out discing up a garden plot on his tractor. “Mr. Ray pulled up right beside me and I asked him if he would sell us 8-10 acres of land for a riding club. He said NO and left on his tractor to make another round. Roger was ready to go, but I said I know him…he’ll come back. He did and this time killed the engine on his tractor. He told us if you’ll let my kids ride in it, I’ll let you have it for $1 a year lease just to make it legal. I asked him to give us at least 10 years because of the work we would put in it. He said NOPE and made another round. The next time he stopped, we finally agreed on one year at a time for $1 a year and it’s been going ever since.”
A meeting was called at the DeBerry Café with all the people that were interested, including Mr. Ray and Ms. Margie. All agreed to meet the next Saturday morning and work all day, stopping only for a “sawmill lunch.” Jimmy Turner brought his tractor and dug post holes, and Peanut Lawson came and did the electrical work. Evans was the first elected president of the club. Other officers included John Goolsby, Faye Jernigan, David Johnson, Travis Burgess and Mr. Ray. “We elected two sergeants-at-arms,” recalls Evans. “If you got rough, they’d take you off there and send you to the house.” The Sabine Riding Club was now ready for its first Opening Day. Events included barrel racing, pole bending, flag race, and rescue race. It began at 10:00 in the morning and lasted until after midnight. The Club’s membership soon soared to 300 members. The ladies ran the kitchen, the men kept the arena in good shape, and Dan Johnson fixed all the snow cones.
The Riding Club ran smoothly each week with members sharing responsibilities and having lots of good family fun. According to Evans, “We never had any trouble. We always worked with each other. The Highway Patrol would come by every Saturday night and drink coffee and eat hamburgers with us. Then they’d go out there and stop us on 79 and give us a ticket on our way home. Usually somebody had trailer lights that weren’t working. We worked hard, but we had a lot of fun. We played together—Mama, Daddy, and the kids. If it would go to raining, we just kept on riding. We were cowboys and cowgirls. My family rode for 25 years or more.”
This spring will mark 47 years of continual riding at the Sabine Riding Club. Opening day is on March 23, and the Club will ride 13 weeks (excluding the weekend of the rodeo May 17-18). Membership fees are $35 for an individual and $45 for a family. Non-members can ride and pay $5 per event. Members pay $3 for all events which include barrel racing, pole bending and speed race. Riders are divided into age groups: 6 & under with help (can lead them on a horse or ride with them), 6 & under w/out help, 9 & under, 10-13, 14-17, 18-39, 40 & over. Each playday begins with “exhibition” barrels which does not count toward points. ““Our pattern is bigger than Marshall’s so many times, professional barrel racers will come out and ride exhibition to practice their horse on a different pattern,” according to Shelby Ray Crooks, longtime member of the club.
At each playday, ribbons are awarded for 1st-4th places and points are recorded for each contestant. In 6 & under with help, each rider receives a ribbon. “We encourage the young kids to come out and learn to ride,” says Martha Ray Cox. “That’s what it’s for so they can take their time and learn.” At the end of the riding season, points are totaled for each member and awards are given. Riding begins at 7:00 pm each Saturday night. The arena is located off Highway 79 North about a mile past River Hill. Turn on FM 1186 and then on CR 317.
Today the Club has about 75 members with many of the Ray family still active. Beth Ray is the Club’s president, Teresa Ray, secretary, and Terry Ray, now owner of the property, is a permanent officer. Other officers include Liz Wright, Christy Brevard, Chelsey Lawhorn and Brenda Lightfoot. “We have no plans of stopping the riding club,” says Martha, “not until any of our kids say they don’t want to do it anymore. We’re on our third generation now, and we’re always having new additions, so we anticipate being around a long time!”
For more information, contact Shelby Ray Crooks, 903.754.0493 or check out the Sabine Riding Club Facebook page.