Like many riders, Tammy Halsey’s love of horses started in childhood. “It was in my blood,” she said Saturday as she was saddling up her sorrel quarter horse, Miss Bunny, in preparation for a ride at Pawnee Prairie Park.
Back then, Halsey said, she would ride horses on her aunt and uncle’s farm near Whitewater, because she had none of her own.
Now she has six – including the 25-year-old Miss Bunny – and has helped her children and grandchildren learn to ride.
“When I became an adult, I said, ‘OK. We’re doing it!’ ” Halsey said, laughing.
“It’s a great time.”
Halsey was one of around 60 horse enthusiasts and their equestrian pals who gathered at Wichita’s Pawnee Prairie Park, 2625 S. Tyler, on Saturday for an afternoon of riding and to show their support for it.
Wichitan Lindsey Fry, who organized Saturday’s “Pack the Park” trail ride, said Pawnee Prairie was one of Wichita’s jewels even before the city acquired the land it sits on in the 1960s and 1970s. Development of the trails there started around 75 years ago when local horsewoman and teacher Irene Plumlee, who died in 1992, would ride there, Fry said; the current trail system is named in her honor.
Ever since, it’s been a place where people who live in and around Wichita can enjoy a slice of nature on foot or horseback.
The park sits on 625 acres and features about 12 miles of marked and unmarked trails along Cowskin Creek.
We just wanted to put together a ride for a lot of the horse people in and around Wichita to come out and enjoy Pawnee Prairie and lucked out on a really pretty day to be able to do that.
Lindsey Fry, organizer of Saturday’s trail ride at Pawnee Prairie Park
“We just wanted to put together a ride for a lot of the horse people in and around Wichita to come out and enjoy Pawnee Prairie and lucked out on a really pretty day to be able to do that,” Fry said of Saturday’s free trail ride.
“A lot of these people have been out here before,” she said. “And we even have some new people that haven’t ever been to this area.”
Horses in shades of gray and brown, black and white walked, trotted and galloped down the trails, splashed through the creek and crossed the park’s three wooden plank bridges in single file. On their backs, riders chatted and laughed. Even a mule was among them.
Along the trails, some riders stopped creekside to admire the water or take in nature.
Others snipped away at low-hanging branches blocking the winding trails. Many carry shrubbery clippers while riding, Fry said, to help maintain the area.
“A lot of people have been riding out here for 30 years,” Fry said. The riders are “old to young to everyone in between.”
Development of the trails there started around 75 years ago when local horsewoman and teacher Irene Plumee, who died in 1992, would ride there, Lindsey Fry said. The current trail system is named in her honor.
For some in Wichita, however, the park has been a subject of recent controversy. At a Wichita Park Board meeting earlier this year, dozens of people voiced displeasure over the city’s longtime ban on bikes in the park.
Bicyclists and their backers at the meeting said they wanted the park opened up so they can use the trails, too, and so children living in nearby neighborhoods had a safe place to ride.
But horseback riders also cite safety as the reason for keeping it a bicycle-free zone, saying allowing bikers on the paths – many of which are overgrown with shrubbery and trees that block sight lines – would likely spook the horses.
For Fry, like Halsey, horses have been a lifelong love. She was at Pawnee Prairie Park on Saturday with her 19-year-old Paso Fino, Esmeralda – a majestic, prancing mare. But she began riding there as a toddler with her father, Terry Fry.
He’s ridden there for around half a century.
People come from Sumner County out here and north of Wichita. From all over.
Terry Fry, horse owner and enthusiast
“People come from Sumner County out here and north of Wichita. From all over,” Terry Fry said.
“We’re just getting everybody together to have a good time on horseback,” Lindsey Fry said.