Horse owners and enthusiasts of all ages were treated to sights of wide-open pastures and rolling grasslands during the 20th Annual Dream Ride in the Flint Hills this weekend at the Clover Cliff Ranch near Elmdale.
Both in- and out-of-state riders spent the duration of their two-hour guided tours of the prairie reconsidering their preconceived notions on Kansas geography as generally “flat” or “boring.”
Along with its changes in elevation, the nearly eight-mile route showcased acres of shady, wooded areas, dried river beds, sparkling ponds and colorful varieties of wildflowers. The fauna provided much for riders to look at, as well, with several varieties of butterflies, songbirds, waterfowl, hawks, toads and lizards appearing throughout. If natural attractions weren’t enough, there were also century-old limestone walls to ride through and around.
“For years, people will drive by the highway and they’ll only see the outside of Clover Cliff Ranch, so to get to come in, trail-ride, and camp here is extra special,” Dream Ride attendee Mona Stein said. “I talked to someone from Nebraska this morning, and others really do come from all over just to see this area.”
“Truthfully, riding in the Flint Hills is my favorite,” guest Nancy Purkey added. “The big, open spaces, the hills and valleys, the trees, the water tanks, just combine to make it special. Kansas has things that people who drive up and down the highway don’t see. On horseback, you find them. It frees you, it kinda restores your soul a bit.”
Ranch Owner Warren Harshman — who spent Saturday afternoon tailing a tour group on his Gator and handing out water — said inviting guests to the property was his way of making the most of his blessings.
“I was born here, and I’ve lived here all my life, and after 64 years, I still am astonished at the beauty of the Flint Hills,” Harshman said. “I appreciate it every day. It’s a great honor for me to be a caretaker of part of the Flint Hills during this chapter in history.
“I realized quite a few years ago that anything we receive, everything we have, belongs to God. We wouldn’t have this if we didn’t receive it from Him. Mine and Susie’s goal is to honor God with what He’s given us, and one way to do that is to serve people and let other people enjoy it.”
The Friday to Sunday event included three separate chances to saddle up, but there was also entertainment away from the trail. Event sponsors treated guests to free supplies and clinics for their horses as well as a barbecue lunch, a steak dinner and a live concert from country music artist Savanna Chestnut.
Organizers said their original idea for the Dream Ride was only able to evolve and flourish through a collaboration of people who were passionate about their animals and the outdoors.
“Twenty years ago, we came up with the idea of having a trail ride, and it was through a synergy of all these sponsors that worked together — like Purina, Lucas Oil, Protect the Harvest, Heritage Tractor and Flint Hills Vacations — that just wanted to make it a very positive experience for people ...” Better Horses President Ernie Rodina said. “When it comes down to it, no matter what project you sell, people still buy from people. That’s what’s driven us on this.
“The Flint Hills are mystic; it’s really magic out here. There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in the United States, but something about these hills and their heritage is magic. This area has something that no other area has.”