A 30-Year Old Tradition: Tex Mex Noon Stop for Valley Lodge Trail Riders as They Roll Into Town for the Houston Rodeo
On a sunny Thursday the BBQ on the parking lot adjacent to the I-10 is hot and hard at work getting chicken and sausage ready to go with beans, rice, salsas, and guacamole. There’s enough to feed a hungry crowd of trail riders making a noon stop on their way to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. It is a tradition Molina’s Cantina has been doing for the last 30 years: meet the trail riders and serve them a TexMex lunch.
The Valley Lodge Trail Ride is one of 13 trail ride groups participating in the annual Houston rodeo. Every year since 1959 the Valley Lodge trail riders travel the 75-miles from Brookshire to Houston on horseback, in a trail wagon or horse-and-carriage. It is a family affair of several generations riding together. Young ones look just as confident on horseback as their (great) grandpas. Barbara Arlington—who was born in post-war UK but lost her British accent growing up in Texas “and summers in South Carolina,” she said, putting on a heavy Southern drawl—came in her daughter’s carriage, drawn by Mambo, so named for the swing in his motion Barbara explains, taking a couple of mambo steps.
At 28 years Mambo is a very old horse but you wouldn’t know it looking at him. Strong in limb and body, he looks ready to tackle the last stretch to downtown Houston like any of the horses. Still, it is his last year before he retires and becomes a therapy horse, said Barbara who’s had Mambo since he was four. Therapy horses help disabled kids (further) develop physical, emotional, behavioral, or cognitive skills, and it is what Barbara does when she’s not collecting a plate of chicken fajitas on her trail ride into Houston.
Young 15-year-old Brittany is proud of the braiding she did on her horse May’s manes. Her manes look and feel soft, groomed and meticulous. Brittany is hoping to join the barrel racers one day: May is an American quarter horse, a breed that shines in short sprints, making it the perfect breed for barrel racing. For now, Brittany is quite content to be in the trail ride parade.
Long before the trail ride is getting ready to pack up and leave, little Riley is patiently sitting on horseback, waiting. He sits and looks, ever so content. His mom Beth seems equally relaxed, reigns in hand and ready to go in her horse-drawn carriage.
And then the trail riders start to move. Horses shake their heads in eager anticipation as the wood-spoke wheels on the wagons begin to turn. It is time to ride to Memorial Park where they set up camp and join all other trail ride groups for the traditional parade into town.