By Joshua Winata
Killeen Daily Herald
KEMPNER – Corralled down at Divided by 3 West Ranch, a colorful bunch of characters greeted horseback riders with tall tales and big mouths, but even bigger hearts to match.
On Saturday, the Kempner ranch hosted a Saddle Up for St. Jude trail ride that raised more than $1,600 for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. The medical facility, based in Memphis, Tenn., is one of the world's premier centers for research and treatment of catastrophic pediatric diseases and handles about 4,900 patients annually.
"Our goal in holding this event is to help the children of the world who are stricken with diseases like cancer, AIDS and sickle cell anemia," said Tracie Chaney, head wrangler and ride coordinator, who owns the ranch with her husband, Jim. "It doesn't really matter to St. Jude what the problem is. If you need help, they're there to help you whether you can pay or not. If a family can't pay for the care, that's not an issue with them."
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the only pediatric research center where families are not charged for treatment that falls outside of insurance coverage, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Patients are accepted by physician referral when the children or adolescents are newly diagnosed or have a disease under research and treatment by the St. Jude staff.
"We got some literature from St. Jude for a trail ride, and we thought, 'We're set up for that. That's a piece of cake,'" said Jim Chaney, trail boss.
For a minimum personal donation of $25 for adults or $15 for children, about 40 participants took part in 10-mile trail rides that started at Divided by 3 West and wound through the wilderness of the Hoffpauir Family Ranch. Maneuvering on horseback through the wild grasses and gently rolling hills, riders navigated their way around rocky walkways, prickly cacti, forests of cedar and trickling streams.
Saddle Up events are held year-round in various towns across the nation to raise money for the hospital. They all center around a horseback trail ride, but each one incorporates different attractions such as dances, cookoffs and competitions. Next year, the Chaneys hope to host another trail ride, adding live music, hayrides and a livestock auction to the program.
The socially conscious owners of Divided by 3 West Ranch actively contribute to a variety of causes, from Cal Farley's Boys Ranch to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and St. Jude's Hospital is one group with which they have been interested in getting involved for a long time, Jim said. Such organizations are especially esteemed by Tracie, whose granddaughter suffers from cerebral palsy.
"There's so many worthwhile charities out there that need help," Jim said.
The Chaneys specifically research and donate to organizations that apply the bulk of the funds received directly to those who need it, Jim said. According to the St. Jude's Web site, an average of 85 percent of every dollar received goes to the immediate needs of the hospital.
Many of the riders who participated in the horseback fundraiser Saturday heard about St. Jude Children's Research Hospital through radio and television advertisements and were inspired by the center's work with children.
"This is one of the best charities in my eyes. That's why I'm out here today," said Mark Myers, whose daughter Ashley, 8, an avid riding student at the Divided by 3 West Ranch, raised $195 for the event.
"If it was one of our children, we would want to go to St. Jude," added his wife Gina, who mounted a horse for the first time ever to participate in the trail ride.
For others, the cause hit closer to home. When Kempner rider Kayla Butler was part of the local 4-H Club, a fellow member Natalie McMullen was diagnosed with leukemia and sent to St. Jude, which covered all the medical expenses.
"We've always tried to do it to support her. We have a chance to do it now," Butler said. "It's a really good organization."
Temple resident Sharon Mooney, who joined the trail ride with her niece Kaylee Lynch, 9, and coworker Colleen McKinney, has had first-hand experience with the tragedy of pediatric disease. She recently lost another niece, Nicole Dyer, 3, to cancer despite rigorous treatments at St. Jude.
"Unfortunately, she didn't make it, but we heard about this ride on the radio and knew it was a good cause," Mooney said. "We love trail riding. We just wanted to help support them and enjoy the beautiful day. Kaylee's had the time of her life and made some good memories."
McKinney, an experienced barrel rider who recently moved to the area from Colorado, also enjoyed her first trail ride since arriving in Texas and raved about the beautiful Hill Country scenery.
"It was just gorgeous with lots of different terrain and different things to see," she said. "When we were up at the high point and just stood there looking around, it was like, 'You know, this is the real life. This is freedom.'"
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-6481