SAN ANTONIO – Through horsemanship and dancing, a local group aims to amplify the skills and work of African American cowboys and cowgirls. San Antonio Royal Steppaz Trail Riding Club aims to connect members with nature and history and inspire the next generation.
The local trail riding club was founded during the start of the pandemic by Ronnie Jones and LaShondella Ford.
“We wanted things to do so, it just tied in and was perfect for us to be outdoors,” Ford said. “So, we got into horsemanship. After that, (Jones), our (club) president asked if we could start a Trail riding club. We started from there.”
They began with 35 members. Since then, they have helped rehabilitate and re-home five rescue horses, several members have purchased a horse of their own and they’re opened stables.
“This is a lifestyle,” Jones said. Jones serves as the club’s president. “This is an everyday thing for me, for most of us. Even the ones that just came in, they’re learning. It’s the best feeling ever, and we just want to motivate everybody to try to step out and do the same thing.”
Nearly 90 people now make up San Antonio Royal Steppaz and embody the cowboy life.
“As the Black cowboys and cowgirls, how we preserve the legacy is (by) teaching others how to ride,” Ford said. “(How to wear) the cowboy hats, the boots (and) keeping (the cowboy culture) going, like making country cool. (We want to make) sure that we are, like, giving others the opportunity and access to own horses and to ride.”
Ford and Jones have passed on the same lessons of horsemanship they received from Roy Ford, LaShondella’s father, and Jones’ grandfather. The group calls him “Pops”.
“I started riding horses when I was nine (years old),” Roy said. “My dad had me breaking horses, and I broke horses until I about about 13 in Louisiana, and we moved to Texas.”
In San Antonio, Roy said he has helped train horses for those in his neighborhood. According to the cowboy, it takes courage to train horses, but for him, it is therapeutic.
“You got to let the horse know you’re not afraid of them,” Roy said. “You got to be like one package (with the horse). Nothing scary about it.”
28 years ago, he purchased and began to work the land the Royal Steppaz use today.
“When I first came out, this (was full of) trees,” Roy said. “I cleared it out, and built it up with blood, sweat and tears. And now, this is what’s left of it.”
It’s a piece of land full of legacy, lessons, and passion for horses.
“I am really, really happy. Like, this was our father’s thing. He taught us,” LaShondella said. “If it hadn’t been for him training us, and then giving us this opportunity to, you know, to own property, (we wouldn’t have) this opportunity.”
The group wants to give back to the community by teaching any person interested how to ride a horse.
“Horsemanship (is) being around family, making those connections, friends participating in trail riding events and just riding horses and being free in nature,” LaShondella said. “That’s what we really like. That’s our theme.”
Jones wants to encourage others to experience a trail riding event with other groups.
“It’s like a parade. Let’s say a Mardi Gras parade just out in the country, you know,” Jones said. “Hundreds of party wagons, thousands of horses and trillions of people (celebrating cowboy culture).”
Another big part of their group is line dancing.
“I built them a stage so they can dance,” Roy said. “Oh, and boy, do they go, they go.”
Roy said he’s proud of his daughter, nephew and every member that has brought life back to his piece of land.
“I see how excited they are to learn,” Roy said. “I was out here for a long time by myself, but they started coming in and watching me ride, and it’s just been fun. When I come home, I feel much love. They all just shower with me with love. If you ever want to get excited, get your horse (and) go on a trail ride.”
The San Antonio Royal Steppaz’s next community event will be March 20th during the All Ladies Trail Ride which will feature live performances, food and horseback riding. The all-day event will take place at the Bexar County Junior Livestock Show Grounds at 7701 FM 1346.