Founder of Texas Cattlemen's Trail Riders watched as cowboys rode into town at Memorial Park

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than 2,000 trail riders arrived at Memorial Park Friday afternoon for the start of the 90th annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

After a nearly two-year hiatus, the riders traveled from across the state for the start of the rodeo which officially begins Monday. Organizers said Texas is the only state in the country that has a trail ride like this one.

"We've got 10 separate rides coming in and about 2,000 riders total," said Kacey White. "They come in from all across Texas. They ride for an entire week. They've been riding since last Sunday, and they're going to converge here on Memorial Park. Then (Saturday) morning, they're going to go downtown for the parade."

The riders come from as far as Prairie View, West Columbia, Beaumont, Hempstead, and Magnolia.

The Texas Cattlemen's Trail Riders were the first to arrive at Memorial Park Friday. They've participated in the event for 34 years since it was established in 1985. The group traveled 60 miles from Magnolia, Texas.

Willie Nelson, Jr., 84, has been riding with the trail riders since the 1950's and is the founder of the Texas Cattlemen's Trail Riders.

This year, he's watching from the sidelines as his group was the first to make its way into the park.

"I started riding the trail ride in 1955, and I rode ever since. I'm not riding this time because age has caught up on me a little bit!" he said.

Many of the trail riders are coming in on horses and covered wagons and have been traveling for nearly a week.

They were set to sleep overnight at Memorial Park and travel to the start of the big rodeo parade in downtown Saturday.

Cathy Johnson brought her son to the park to watch his first trail ride in person.

"It's so wonderful to see people coming back and doing things again," said Johnson.

"This is such typical weather for these poor trail riders. Every year, cold and rainy. They are brave and they come in."

White said, since the 1950's, the trail rider event has been a celebration of western heritage in Texas.

The last trail ride was in February of 2020, a week before the rodeo was officially shut down due to COVID-19.

On Thursday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo lowered the COVID-19 threat meter from red to orange due to positive cases and ICU numbers declining.

Health experts said the orange level still signals a significant and uncontrolled amount of the virus in the area.

Those who are unvaccinated are still urged to social distance and wear masks, especially if they are visiting the rodeo where millions of people are expected to attend over the next three weeks.
Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.