Trail Riding Gals
Edmond parade goers are in for a real treat! This year, the city's 4th of July LibertyFest Parade will be graced by more than thirty ladies riding by on horseback, beautifully clad in apparel honoring the state's Victorian and western heritages.
They call themselves Oklahoma's Parade Gals, a division of Oklahoma Trail Riding Gals of more than 100 women of all ages bonded together by a love of horses, nature and the pleasure of each other's company. Wanda Christensen is the chief organizer of TRG's Parade Gals.
"I had been interested in getting our group involved in parades for a number of years," said Christensen. "The state's many Centennial themed parades and the opportunity to dress in period costumes really inspired a number of our members to have fun while honoring our state."
According to Christensen, some of the "Gals" will be wearing gorgeous turn of the century gowns and riding habits. The costumes are authentically reminiscent of those worn by affluent Victorian ladies who leisurely rode their horses in the park on Sunday afternoons. They were created by one of the original Parade Gals, Phyllis Dragus, who also designed the costumes for a number of period movies, including the Civil War epic North and South.
"Our gowns have an authentic look but also are designed to be comfortable in all types of Oklahoma weather," said Christensen. "They have split skirts and multiple detachable layers for different activities. Unlike the Victorian days, our riders enjoy grooming their own horses and only a few choose to ride side saddle. Women have earned some rights we're just not willing to give up."
In addition to the gowned riders, Trail Riding Gals also have equally stunning western riders in the parades. These ladies are outfitted in more traditional Oklahoma riding wear, but all dressed up for the occasion. The colors and fabrics, which complement those of the period costumes, are given a celebratory touch with gold sequins and fringe. The horses also are decked out, many with beaded breast collars and brow bands.
The Parade Gals recently took first place in Guthrie's 89ers Day Parade held in April. Christensen said it was quite an honor, since there had been more than 400 entries. In addition to Edmond and Guthrie, the Trail Riding Gals will also be riding in style for other Oklahoma parades, including those in Oklahoma City, Mulhall and Chandler.
"We'd like to be in as many parades as possible," said Christensen. "It's a wonderful opportunity to be part of an event that's so special to this state and to let people see a part of history that was so feminine and elegant. Our goal is to represent Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl Parade."
Oklahoma's Trail Riding Gals was loosely formed in 2001. According to Terri Folks, the group's main organizer/facilitator, it all began when a small group of women who had met on a trail ride went to dinner and decided to network and trail ride together for safety reasons.
"We met for lunch a couple of months later," said Folks. "The number of women had grown to about thirty. Since then, we get together once a month either for a trail ride, equine clinic or just dinner. There's more than a 100 of us now, and we stay in touch mostly through email. I already had a horse oriented website, so it became the primary means of alerting members to activities and upcoming events."
Folks said the ages of the Trail Riding Gals range from 18 to 75. Most are Baby Boomers who are living their dream of owning a horse and trail riding whenever they can. She explained that trail riding is now the country's top growing equestrian sport with more than eight million riders nationwide.
"Some of us have tents and others own elaborate horse trailers, complete with living quarters," said Folks. "We also have varied backgrounds and careers. But, whether it's beside a campfire or at a local restaurant, it's just fun getting together and catching up. Many of us have become close friends. There are no qualifications, dues, rules or officers. Everything is done on a volunteer basis. What we have in common is a love of horses, the sport of trail riding and enjoying each other's company. We also share a real pride in being represented in so many Oklahoma parades."
Trail Riding Gals get together regularly for local trail rides, such as those at Bell Cow Lake in Chandler and Lake Carl Blackwell in Stillwater. Some members even venture out to Southeast Oklahoma and as far as Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
"Oklahoma has many beautiful trail riding areas all over the state," said Folks. "Some are just great for inexperienced horses and riders. Others, like those in Southeastern Oklahoma, are more challenging due to elevation changes and rocky terrain. We often pair a beginner horse and rider with a more experienced rider and seasoned horse. It has a calming effect when novices are confronted with a fear of steep hills, flowing water, bridges and even railroad tracks."
Anyone who would like more information on trail ride opportunities are encouraged to visit Folks' website www.oklahomahorseonline.com. If you would like to become a member of Oklahoma Trail Riding Gals, you can email Terri Folks at [email protected]
For more information on Edmond's LibertyFest, visit www.libertyfest.org.