Chris Young: Trail fans saddle up for 100-mile ride

Chris Young

Catching up to more than 100 riders on horseback turned out to be a tougher job than expected, but when they finally emerge from the timber, the sight is impressive.

Roger Landon guns his four-wheel-drive pickup truck down the bumpy dirt road between farm fields as soon as the horses and riders come into view, snaking along the edge of a cornfield.

"Let's head them off at the pass," he says with a grin.

The line of horses, riders and cowboy hats stretches for what seems a country mile.

The mass trail ride is part of the Illinois State Stock Horse Association's annual 100-mile trail ride. The event was a series of rides spread over the past week and based at the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area's Questing Hills equestrian campground near Chandlerville.

The daily rides snake into the countryside, through the property of welcoming neighbors and along equestrian trails in the park, adding up to about 100 miles. Some come just for the holiday weekend and some to stay all week. Others pick their rides a la carte.

In all, about 300 people participate in some or all of the week's rides. Riders come from Illinois and nine other states, including Oregon, Nebraska and Texas.

Riders are recognized for how many years they've participated. Fifteen-year riders receive a belt buckle. Fifteen people have saddled up for 30 to 50 years.

"I rode my first one 20 years ago, and I'm a newcomer," Landon says.

ISSHA secretary Norma Stone of Springfield has been to nearly every one of the 56 annual rides.

"This is my 54th 100-mile ride," she says.

The first ride went from the Illinois State Fairgrounds to Mount Vernon, a distance of about 130 miles. Sixteen riders participated that year.

"The largest one we had was up at Mineral, and there were 168 on that ride," she says.

Landon is riding a pickup instead of a horse because his leg is newly out of a cast.

"This is, by far, the biggest horse event ever held out here (at Jim Edgar Panther Creek)," he says.

Landon lives nearby, just up the hill from Chandlerville. He says he moved to the area in the 1960s, intending to stay a couple of years, and instead built a life. His two sons are his closest neighbors.

He describes the park and its equestrian trails as "beautiful."

"I always did think that Jim Edgar Panther Creek is one of the best-kept secrets in central Illinois," he says.

Landon says organizers hope riders choose to make JEPC one of three permanent stops for the ISSHA. The event eventually will rotate among northern, central and southern Illinois.

Many participants plan vacations around the annual ride.

"Some wouldn't miss this for anything," he says. "The definition of a trail ride is a big, long party where you can take your horse."

State Journal-Register

Chris Young can be reached at chris.young@sj-r.com.