Every year since 1976, Clifford and Vonda Eubanks, of Logansport, La., spend one week waking at 5 a.m. to the sound of "Cattle Call" on the loudspeaker, pull on their boots, climb on their horses, Echo and Baja, and head toward Houston.
"Our purpose is to get people interested in the (Houston Livestock Show and) Rodeo," said Clifford Eubanks, 61. "And that's what we do, but we sure do have a great time doing it."
The couple joined hundreds during the rodeo's Trail Ride, which welcomes 13 groups of horseback, ranch-loving travelers dedicated to preserving Texas' Western heritage and kicking back with friends.
The Eubankses traveled with a group of 50 down the 216-mile Old Spanish Trail route, starting southwest of Logansport and averaging 30 miles a day.
Accompanying the riders are tractor-trailers carrying food, water and spare horses.
Vonda Eubanks said she and her husband enjoy the trek and use it to catch up with their friends. Their friends agree.
"It's just a good time with friends for us," said Joanne Dougherty, 69, who rides all 216 miles every year. "It's tradition."
The trip isn't all sugar cubes and hayrides, though.
"It's not easy," Clifford Eubanks said. "It's dangerous."
The group was put behind schedule by a tornado that touched down in Pope County on Tuesday. The twister forced them to take cover in a nearby wooded area until lunchtime, Dougherty said.
And on Wednesday, the water truck marking the end of the procession was rear-ended by a vehicle trying to pass.
Larmie Blount, 52, suffered a minor neck injury but said he was happy the horses weren't hurt.
"It's a terrible feeling when you know it's going to hit you," Blount said, "but if you move, it will hit a horse. So you stay put."
In past years, people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the trailers, and one man was trampled by a pair of mules.
"You can't do nothing," Vonda Eubanks said. "But the ride goes on."
Clifford Eubanks said riders prepare for the trip almost year-round.
"The horses need to be in shape," he said, "and the people need to be in shape."
In addition to training the horses to trot roadside, travelers now have to put borium or non-skid horseshoes on their animals' hooves, as governed by the Rodeo Commission for the protection of the 900- to 1,100-pound horses.
"It's a lot of work," Clifford Eubanks said.
"But our biggest problem," he said with some sarcasm, "is this group of crazy (people) who keep trying to ride to Houston."