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Going the Distance
Reprinted from
Star-Telegram.com
Posted on Thu, Apr. 22, 2004

'Horse people still hold to their culture of hospitality. I find that generally true.'; Open road, friendly strangers beckon horseman on epic quest

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Riding alongside the highway on his sorrel gelding, Gene Glasscock looks singularly antique. His ruddy face, his tired gray hat, his patched saddle all show a lifetime of wear.

Only his smile appears fresh. His handshake is still firm and friendly. At 69, he is not at the end of his road just yet. He's a long way from it.

He has been in the saddle for 19 months; he has another 21 to go.

Glasscock, a native of the Farmersville area in northeast Texas, is on a 20,000-mile mission to visit the contiguous 48 states of the union and the capital city of each one. On horseback.


SPECIAL TO THE STAR-TELEGRAM/JIM SPEECE

Gene Glasscock rides beside a road in Burleson, where he spent Tuesday night with newfound friends.

Glasscock greets a newborn Tennessee walker at McDodi Farms in Burleson on a stop in his 20,000-mile journey to 48 states. He has made one previous long ride, from the Arctic Circle to Ecuador, but he says this one will be his last.

He is, in equestrian terms, a "long rider." A horseman who lives to be in the saddle, a rider who is summoned by endless stretches of time and distance.

This is his second mammoth trek. In 1984, he took off from the frigid Arctic Circle in Canada and, two years later, finished his ride in the jungles of Ecuador. It was a dangerous trip that brought him close to raging rivers, political unrest, bandits and tropical diseases.

"I ended up doing some missionary work in Paraguay," he said Wednesday morning as he saddled up for another day's ride. "I fell in love with the young people there. That's why I do this."

Glasscock asks for donations to the Philip Scholarship Fund, a scholarship that helps students from Paraguay attend Pensacola Christian College in Florida.

A spokesperson at the college said it has received donations in Glasscock's name for years.

Wednesday's ride was a short excursion from the home of Jim and Dodi Speece south of Burleson, to another residence in Crowley. All across the country, he has moved from family to family. Occasionally, a hotel will invite him in. Thursday and Friday nights he is scheduled to stay at the Stockyards Hotel in Fort Worth.

Mostly, he is flagged down by strangers who are heartened by his quest and want to help.

"People have been extremely kind to me," he said as he pulled the cinch tight on George, his 7-year-old Tennessee walking horse. "I get to have a glimpse of different cultures. I certainly eat well."

He said he has spent only a handful of nights sleeping at fairgrounds or in vacant barns.

"Horse people," he said, "still hold to their culture of hospitality. I find that generally true."

The Speeces are horse people. They raise Tennessee walking horses.

"I've been seeing about him on the Internet," Dodi Speece said. "I have a friend in Hill County who called me and asked if we could put him up and we said yes, of course."

That same friend called the Wilshire family in Crowley and made arrangements for tonight.

"He is just a delightful person," Speece said. She calls him "an easy keeper," using a term generally applied to horses. It means he is no bother at all.

Glasscock is using two horses as he passes through Texas. George is tall and muscular. Tossi, a bay-colored mustang, is short and wiry. Tossi was the pack animal for Wednesday's ride.

There is another horse along on the journey. Frank is also a Tennessee Walker, but he has had hoof problems and is taking a few days off with a new friend in Hill County. As soon as a farrier gets him back on his feet, Frank will rejoin the team.

"I wish Frank was here," Glasscock said. "You'd like him. He is really the personality here. He's had a 103-year-old man on him, several governors of several states, and he is the one that wound his way through a crowd in Richmond, Va., and found a young girl who was ill. He gently nibbled at her cheek."

Glasscock said that he might sell George when the trip is over, but Frank will definitely go to a therapeutic riding program somewhere.

"He can just sense when someone is ill. He is so kind, you can feel his kindness. I do miss him. I do."

Still, he insists, the other horses do fine. Every day is a blessing to him, he said. Except maybe the days when the skies open and the rain falls.

He doesn't keep a rigid schedule. He just keeps heading away from one state and toward another. His next capital city is Oklahoma City, up Interstate 35.

In all, Glasscock's venture is an unceremonious passage. He has no entourage, no escort. He doesn't ask for interviews. He'll just hand out a card with Pensacola Christian's address on it and ask that you mail the donations to the school.

He does like to make contact with people at the state capitals. He has met with dozens of governors, or state tourism people. Only one state snubbed him entirely.

Weeks ago he couldn't get any recognition from Gov. Rick Perry's office in Austin.

Glasscock will shuffle through the pages of his small, worn address book for the names and numbers of people who keep track of him. There is a woman in England who keeps a Web site on him. A woman in New Jersey talks with him on the phone frequently.

He just keeps riding. He figures he has a couple of years still to go. And he won't be the first to do it. What is being called "the longest continual equestrian trip of the 20th century" was done over the same route back in 1912-1915. Four horsemen from Washington state made the epic ride, logging 20,352 miles.

Glasscock will be the oldest rider ever to do it.

He takes pride in that, but quickly says this will be his final long ride.

Rubbing the blackened leather on his vintage saddle, he said it has been patched too many times. "And it shrunk," he said. "It fit me just right 50 years ago. Now its too small."


Contributions

Donations to honor Glasscock's ride can be mailed to Philip Scholarship Fund, Pensacola Christian College, 250 Brent Lane, Pensacola, Fla. 32523.


ONLINE: www.geneglasscock.org
Art Chapman, (817) 390-7422 achapman@star-telegram.com

   
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           (817) 896 7073

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