'We’re trying to bring the horse back'

By Sharon Dooley | sklscoops@cox.net

Night rides along the trail, one set of horse and rider after another set, each rider wearing a safety glow stick on his or her back — the image is something to see, said Tom Moody, who serves as president of the Panhandle Saddle Club.

“The last night ride we had was a harvest moon and even with that, you can’t see anything,” Moody said. “All you can see is that stick in front of you.

Tom and Carol Moody prepare to participate in an area parade.

“A horse can see 10 times better than a person at night,” he added. “You really have to rely on your horse.”

Now in its fourth year, the Panhandle Saddle Club has come out of its COVID-19 safety hibernation, with monthly meetings resuming each first Wednesday at David’s Catfish House, 1296, N. Ferdon Boulevard in Crestview.

The Panhandle Saddle Club plans several trail rides throughout the year.

A day after the May meeting, Moody and his wife, Carol, hosted a backyard lunch paired with her signature Key lime pie at their ranch for five core members. The members discussed upcoming trail rides and a few changes to the club operations.

“David (Mossow) just initiated an application that covers just a little bit more than just riding with us,” Moody said.

Prior to COVID-19 the Panhandle Saddle Club accepted anyone who was interested in participating in its group activities, which include parades, military family days, both daytime and night trail rides, and kayaking in the summer.

The Panhandle Saddle Club returns to activities after the COVID 19 shutdown.

The application is designed to ensure safety, David Mossow said. He attended the lunch with his wife, Jo Ann Mossow. It was Jo Ann who introduced riding to her husband.

“When you ride with a group, you have different types of horses just like people,” David Mossow said. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt, and we want them to have a great time.

“It’s family oriented,” he added. “We try to get families involved. Parents bring their kids.”

Filling out the application and going through a small vetting process, which ensures that the potential member is safety oriented, is about all it takes to join the Panhandle Saddle Club. There are no dues, and a horse isn’t necessarily required.

The club rides in the Crestview Veterans Day parade.

Member Lee Ann Bays said that the meetings serve a purpose.

“It’s educational for people who are just getting into horses,” Bays said. “We have guests come and speak.”

Speakers may include veterinarians, equine experts, and occasionally a country line-dance instructor. That meeting saw members dancing the night away.

Bays serves as the club’s parade chairperson, lining up appearances and details such as the cleanup crew — people to scoops up horse droppings along the routes.

“Whatever parades that Crestview has, the local parades, we go to those,” Bays said. “The people really like to see the horses.

“We get dressed up. We dress up our horses, and the horses look really pretty,” she added.

Before each parade, Panhandle Saddle Club members receive a safety brief as well as parade etiquette.

The purpose is to keep the riders, the horses and the parade watchers safe.

The parades don’t allow for up close and personal, but the club finds way to share their love of the sport and the animal with others, Tom Moody said.

“We did quite a few rides with the military before the virus came,” he said, adding that “we’ll do it again soon.”

As part of military family events, club members bring along their horses; controlled rides give both children and adults a chance to safely experience the feeling of being on horseback.

While Tom Moody serves as president, the only other official of the Panhandle Saddle Club is Pat Rocha. She acts as secretary, and she attended the lunch with her husband, Mike Rocha.

Pat Rocha grew up in Destin, saying that in the mid-1960s, horses were her transportation.

“It was fun. We would ride to the beach,” she said. “There was one house on Holiday Isle, and the lady was really nice.

“She would give us water for the horses,” Pat Rocha continued. “She even kept the hay for us to give the horses.”

As an adult, Pat Rocha talked her husband, Mike Rocha, into riding; he is now as active a member as she.

Members of the Panhandle Saddle Club masked up for a parade during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pat Rocha also brought the kayaks into the mix. In the summer months, the only times cool enough for horse and rider is early morning or night. The kayaks, she said, keeps club members busy in the summer as they take them on area creeks and lakes.

The club claims about 80 active members, covering Milton to Navarre, DeFuniak Springs to Destin, Crestview down into Niceville and Fort Walton Beach, Tom Moody said.

“There’s a lot of horse people in this area,” he sad, adding that “we’re trying to bring the horse back.”

For information about the Panhandle Saddle Club, visit www.facebook.com/PanhandleSaddleClub.