PORT ISABEL — It’s a sight most don’t see every day.
During their drive this week, Lower Rio Grande Valley motorists might spot a group of horseback riders journeying on the roads of several cities.
Tuesday, about a dozen Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders embarked on their 60th annual ride.
The group began their ride in Port Isabel and will venture through several cities to reach their ultimate destination in Mercedes.
According to Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders chairman Alfonso “Fonzi” Garcia, the organization was created in 1960 by a group of cowboys in Donna.
“Their ride used to happen in two days,” Garcia said. “So they did some hard riding in that time.”
This year’s participants plan to spend the next four days riding and camping in cities along their way to Mercedes where they will have a parade.
“Everybody works so we have small numbers and then we increase when people start getting out during the week,” Garcia said. “The whole thing is just to keep the cowboy tradition alive because we’re a dying breed.”
According to Garcia, the Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders usually have about 35 to 50 members.
“It fluctuates. Last year we had a rider come from Houston,” he explained. “So he rode with us all week and then he took off so it’s open to everybody.”
Garcia traveled with the group by truck and took photos of the riders, which included his son, Christopher Salvador and daughter, Felicia.
“I don’t ride anymore, but it’s a joy to see my kids ride,” Garcia said. “We’re family-oriented.”
San Benito resident Sam Esparza said he became a member of the Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders in 1975.
“We’ve lost some members, some get older and then we get new members now and they’re enjoying the ride,” he said. “We have all kinds of people riding with us.”
Sam said he began riding horses with his dad and brothers when he was a kid.
“I’ve loved it ever since,” he said. “It feels good riding. When I’m on top of a horse, I feel like I’m a young person again.”
Sam participated in the annual ride along with his wife, children, grandchildren and son-in-law.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “My kids grew up with horses. This is all family oriented and we do it every year.”
Sam’s daughter, Samantha Esparza, said her parents introduced her to the annual ride when she was young and she has been participating every year.
“The tradition is to keep going every year and to keep doing it for my kids that are starting,” Samantha said. “They’re young now and are getting to know responsibility and about learning how to care for animals.”
Samantha said ever since undergoing a surgery, she hasn’t ridden a horse in the past year and a half, so she has been working toward being able to ride again.
In the meantime, she continues to drive along with her organization members during the annual ride.
“You don’t need a horse to join the ride,” Samantha said. “The Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders is a good organization to join.”
DID YOU KNOW?
• The Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders was founded in 1960 and provides financial, moral and instructional support for 4-H and FFA projects.
• The group annually sponsors youth events at the Rio Grande Livestock Show in Mercedes.
• For more information, visit the Tip-O-Tex Trail Riders’ Facebook page at https://tinyurl.com/vsycy6f.