By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (April 29, 2017) – It’s a disease believed to affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is difficult to diagnose, oftentimes disabling and has no clear path of progression.
Erath County is home to a number of MS patients – men and women or various ages and backgrounds. Each has their own struggles. Fatigue, dizziness, pain, depression, blindness and paralysis are the most common of a myriad of symptoms experienced by MS sufferers.
To help shine a light on the oftentimes disabling disease, a group of area residents – horse enthusiasts, patients, caregivers and supporters – banded together in true Cowboy Capital fashion more than two decades ago and organized to raise funds they hope will lead to a cure.
Hollie and Willis Hensley currently serve as head wranglers for the Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride, and Hollie said she has taken part in the event since the beginning.
A horse enthusiast, Hollie’s association was at first to support Ivan Gregory, one of the ride’s founders.
“The National MS Society asked local people about holding a local walk to help raise funds, and Ivan said, ‘this is the Cowboy Capital, we don’t walk, we ride horses,’” Hollie said. “That’s how it all got started. The Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride was the first equine event to be sanctioned as an official fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the only fundraiser of its kind.”
About six years ago, the Hensleys decide to take their love for the ride to the next level and joined the small group of organizers by cutting and flagging trails.
“We try to make the trails new and different each year, to provide new scenery for participants and keep riders coming back to support the event,” Hollie said, adding that over the years the couple has forged friendships with ride regulars and local MS patients present to cheer on participants.
As the event evolved and news about the trail ride fundraiser spread, the distances from which people came also grew. Hollie said a team of participants comes from San Antonio every year and about three years ago, Tarleton State University’s sprawling Hunewell Ranch – where the ride and associated trail run are held – began welcoming campers with overnight, primitive accommodations.
“Willis and I serve as camp hosts,” she said. “The ride has become a successful and lucrative event due to the participants, supporters and sponsors.”
In 2016, the 20th annual event raised more than $20,000 for the society. On Saturday, May 6, the 21st annual Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride will take place at Hunewell Ranch, beginning at 9 a.m.
The funds go a long way. In 2015, National Multiple Sclerosis Society invested $54 million toward more than 380 research projects and more than $122 million to assisting sufferers.
The goals and progress of the society increase annually, and the MS Society is known for putting most of the funding toward its primary mission. Of the nonprofit organization’s almost $233 million in revenue, more than 60 percent of the funds were raised through events like the May 6 ride. About 10 percent of funding is derived from government grants and corporate and pharmaceutical industry support.
The society says that about 75 percent of revenues are devoted to research and patient support, due to the support of more than 500,000 volunteers, 84 cents of every dollar goes directly to that cause.
Trail ride check-in starts at 8 a.m. May 6, with free breakfast provided by TechnipFMC and Cowboy Church Erath County.
Supporters and fitness enthusiasts who prefer to raise funds and awareness on two feet are encouraged to participate in the Cowboy Capital 5K Trail Run and a one-mile Trail Walk. Registration for those events begins at 9 a.m. and the run and walk begin at 9:30 a.m.
Participants are encouraged to raise or donate at least $50 and will receive an official Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride t-shirt. A donation form can be downloaded from the trail ride website.
Rest stops along the ride will include snacks provided by Saint-Gobain Abrasives, and a barbecue lunch will be provided by the Knights of Pythias.
Awards will be given for the top three fundraisers. Individual participants who traveled the furthest and the oldest and youngest riders will also be recognized. Trophies will be presented to the top fundraising, largest and most spirited teams of three or more riders.
Meanwhile participants and observers will have to opportunity to bid on an array of live and silent auction items, donated by area merchants.
Participants have the option to enter Hunewell Ranch Friday night, where primitive campsites must be reserved by calling (25) 485-4416.
“We ask that all campers call before the haul,” Hollie said.
Riders can either sign up the day of the event, or pre-register online or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current negative Coggins is required for all horses. Shoes are not required, but there is a small portion of the trail that is rocky.
Complete ride rules, a map and other details can be found on the Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride website.
More about MS
For some MS sufferers, running, walking and riding are not an option. The progress, severity and specific symptoms in a single patient cannot be predicted. A patient can be completely paralyzed at onset or during relapse, but regain mobility and an active lifestyle during remission, through therapy and with great determination.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, there no specific symptoms or laboratory tests leading to a MS diagnosis. For some patients, proper diagnosis takes years and includes a detailed medical history, neurological exam, spinal fluid analysis and more.
The diagnosis requires damage to at least two separate areas of the central nervous system and evidence damage occurred over a specific time span. Before committing the MS diagnosis, physicians must first rule out all other possible diagnoses.