There’s a lot to learn when you step outside your comfort zone and brave the elements like a genuine Florida cowhunter.
Story and photos by Christine Hamilton
Put about 500 horses and mules with riders and teamster wagons; add in a savvy cow crew of Florida cowhunters and almost 400 Florida Cracker-type cattle; and drop them in the middle of the thick saw palmetto brush country of Osceola County; and you get one Great Florida Cattle Drive.
From Sunday, January 24, through Saturday, January 30, the drive is following a trail through private and state lands roughly 50 miles long, skirting Lake Kissimmee along the way.
And, no, it’s not for sissies. Folks have camped in the rain and discovered how easy it is for your horse to come untied in the night. They’ve also seen Florida’s beautiful untamed country in the way Florida cowhunters have always known it, remembering to appreciate things like nighttime stars and a hot cup of coffee.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget. Here are three good lessons I’ve learned so far:
No. 1: “Yay!” for slickers.
It has been the best thing I packed: my oilskin slicker. The often stubbornly wet Florida weather is why no cowhunter sets out without a bright yellow slicker tied behind his cantle. Here’s a heads-up for slicker-makers: how about something other than yellow? I met one Florida cowgirl who’d love to find a pink one.
No. 2: Watch out for “flag.”
I don’t know what its scientific name is, but cowboss Mike Wilder calls it “flag” and cowhunters don’t ride through it. Of course, I learned the reason why the hard way.
It’s tall, reedy and grows in marshland, and a thick patch can bog a horse or cow down very badly. Which is why you pay attention to deer and cattle trails through wet grass country: the critters know the safe places to walk. Which leads me to….
No. 3: Be thankful for brave horses in the backcountry.
The little Florida Cracker Horse loaned to me by a young lady named Sorrel Panaro wallowed through that stretch of flag I mistakenly pointed him toward like a hero—he didn’t balk or quit but carried me through to becoming a wiser horsewoman.
It’s an unforgettable experience, and one this Western Horseman editor is grateful to tag along with. Watch for the full story in the April 2016 issue.
Find Out More!
The cows come home at the new Silver Spurs Rodeo Arena on Canoe Creek Road in Kenansville, Florida, at noon on Saturday, January 30, and the public is welcome to join the Trail’s End Celebration.
Officially put on by the Florida Cow Culture Preservation Committee under the auspices of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Agricultural Museum, the 2016 Great Florida Cattle Drive is supported by sponsorship dollars from across the state including the Dodge Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo and Seminole Feed.
It also wouldn’t be possible without the help of hundreds of volunteers from all corners of Florida’s cattle and horse industry.