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Horses return to city

November 16, 2008 12:36 am

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Riders in the Urban Trail Ride head down Washington Avenue in Fredericksburg. lo1116trailjump.jpg

Beverley Peyton (left) and Sharnette Ryckman watch the horses and riders pass Anne's Grille in downtown Fredericksburg. lo1116trail.jpg

Mansfield Montague, president of the United Horsemen's Association, saddles his horse for yesterday morning's Urban Trail Ride.

BY CATHY DYSON

Mansfield Montague looks like a man who's comfortable on a horse.

He can get gussied up for parades and cover his quarter horse, Storm, with all kinds of shiny accessories.

But for yesterday's event, the Fredericksburg Urban Trail Ride, the man most people know as "Monty" dressed down a bit.

He wore a black cowboy hat and sweatshirt, blue jeans and leather boots that he'd broken in long ago.

The "working saddle" under him was equally worn and dusty, and its horn was covered with duct tape.

Rolled up behind him was a long raincoat, the kind that Curly might have worn in the movie "City Slickers."

Montague and the 35 other riders didn't need jackets during the humid ride through downtown yesterday morning.

But if Montague had put on the black slicker, he probably would have looked even more authentic.

"Doing stuff like this, you ain't supposed to look fancy," Montague said as he sat with his feet in the stirrups. "You're supposed to look like a cowboy."

Being a cowboy--and honoring black cowboys from the past--is what the Stafford County resident is all about.

Montague is president of the United Horsemen's Association, a regional group that started in 1985 to let young people know that men of color rode horses, even though they're not found in the movies or history books.

In the 30 years after the Civil War, between 5,000 and 8,000 blacks, mostly ex-slaves, drove Texas cattle along trails north and west, according to the book "Black Cowboys." They represented about a fourth of the working cowboys in that period.

When the United Horsemen's Association first formed, most members were black like the cowboys they honored. These days, the group includes people of all races.

"If you have that love for horses, you're welcome to join us," said Angela Stephens, the group's business manager.

The association puts on various events to introduce children and their parents to horses. They tell them what's involved in their care and handling.

Montague is a stickler for safety, the same way he stresses that people follow the rules or go elsewhere.

The members look for every opportunity to ride, and they're regulars at the Christmas parade in Fredericksburg.

Montague hopes they'll be part of another parade this winter, for the inauguration of Barack Obama.

So does state Sen. Richard Stuart, a Republican from Westmoreland County. He's hoping the Stafford-based group will be included.

In a letter of recommendation, he said the members' "willingness to pour energy and enthusiasm into the lives of so many is outstanding."

Yesterday's ride was sponsored by the Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation Department and Police Department to benefit the Virginia Recreation & Park Society.

For Montague, it was a chance to share, as when he pulled Storm up to a woman from Maryland and chatted.

There are 39 other associations for black cowboys, from New York to Georgia, and his group rides with every one of them.

Members even ride on Thanksgiving morning and New Year's Day.

(All the events are listed on unitedhorsemen.org.)

Like many of the riders, Montague was used to the attention caused by a pack of horses. As the group clopped along Caroline Street, people came out of shops and stores to watch.

Children waved. Adults smiled. John Carey stepped out of the Virginia Wine Experience store and sang, "Happy trails to you."

Montague, a self-employed truck driver, grinned through most of the ride. He especially liked showing others how easily he got into the saddle.

He'll be 60 next month, but he still trots up to his horse, puts one leg in the stirrup and throws the other over with one smooth movement.

Just like the cowboys in the movies, but with color.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com





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