Soccer To Me: Celebrate Texas Independence Day with races, trail rides

Published on Wednesday, 5 March 2014 23:40 - Written by Faith Harper

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Two teams of horseback riders charged at a ball in the center of the pen, playing a modified game of soccer and bonding with their animals.

The horses kicked the ball, while their handlers steered them through and around bodies, all attempting to block and steal the mega-sized, exercise-style ball.

The six riders played the game as part of the 1836 Chuckwagon Race at Diamond B Ranch in the Neches community in Anderson County.

The event was one of several through the day and into the weekend to commemorate Texas Independence Day.

Brenda Jones, of Maydelle, said the game is purely for fun, and the rules change based on who is playing and the size of the area available to play in.

Diana resident Kathy Hawkins, who has been training horses professionally for 17 years, said the game also serves as a training tool for horses to trust their owners.

“They have to realize the ball is not going to eat them,” she said. “Horses are scared of things that come at them. You have to teach them not only that they can kick it, but they have to be able to accept it coming to their body without scaring them because it really scares them for a while until they realize it’s OK.”

Donald Hawkins said training starts with introducing the toy to the animals.

“They are very inquisitive animals …” he said. “They have to go smell it, touch it — something. Then you start making little noises with it, and next thing you know they are touching it and following it.”

The individual horse’s personality also affects how good they are at soccer, Ms. Jones said.

“Some of them are real go getters and they will really go after that ball, and some of them won’t go after it but they will block it,” she said. “Some of them are very aggressive and … others are not.”

Thursday marked the third day of the eight daylong celebration of Texas, and with the majority of icy weather behind, organizers expect a fun-filled remainder of the week.

Other events today included de-monstrations about how to mount and shoot guns on horseback, how to use border collies to herd animals, trail rides, poetry readings, music and dutch oven cooking classes.

The chuckwagon races will begin on Friday and continue through the end of the weekend.

Admission is $20 per adult for the entire day and $10 for children ages five through 13.

For more information on directions and a complete schedule, visit .