Despite the high cost of traveling with rising gas prices, kind-hearted trail riding enthusiasts came out in near record numbers to the 12th Annual Cowboy Capital of the World MS Trail Ride.

On Saturday, a total of 82 riders and their horses unloaded at Tarleton State University’s Hunewell Ranch to take part in the event to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society.

Mary Howard, co-chair of the event’s steering committee, reported that more than $20,000 in pledges and donations were collected during the day long trail ride - an amount that organizers say made the event a success although proceeds were a little shy of previous trail rides.

“It all went so very good,” said Howard, citing beautiful weather for riding the scenic terrain at Hunewell Ranch. “It was a little chilly that morning but warmed up nicely. We had a great barbecue lunch and everyone seemed to have a great time and said they plan to come back next year.”

Trucks hauling trailers loaded with horses arrived in advance of the 9 a.m. kick off, with some coming from as far away as Clovis, N.M. Additional teams reportedly traveled from San Antonio and Houston, and points in between.

This year, the youngest rider was six-year-old Tyler Johnston and the eldest participant was Bill “Opa” Dejong, 75, of Dublin.

The team awarded for collecting the most donations was SJ Performance Horses of San Antonio, which included eight riders who brought in $1,343 to be contributed to the National MS Society.

Other teams participating this year included groups from Chili’s Bar & Grill, the Cowboy Church of Erath County, Lillie G Riding Club and the Erath County 4-H Horse Club.

Howard said the local event also brought out two representatives from the Lone Star Chapter of the Texas MS Society who wanted to witness the wonderful event, traveling from Houston to attend.

Individually, several participants were recognized with awards for bringing in large donations, including Ivan Gregory, of Stephenville, who collected $1,107 prior to the trail ride. During the awards presentation, the local steering committee presented Gregory with a breast collar and headstall for his horse.

This year’s second place award went to Stephenville resident Don Morse, who collected $877, and Joe Brown, also of Stephenville, who brought in $450.

Following the trail ride the Stephenville Knights of Pythias served a delicious barbecue meal to 110 people, while others started the bidding as part of a silent auction that included items donated by the riders, local businesses and trail ride sponsors. Howard said more than $1,300 was raised in the auction.

“Our total is down from last, but considering gas prices and everything else, it’s very good,” said Debbie Cole, co-chair of the Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride. “The donations that we counted on Saturday was pushing close to $20,000, but we haven’t received all the money yet.”

In conjunction with the trail ride, those who do not own a horse had the opportunity to support the fight for a cure for Multiple Sclerosis by participating in the Knights of Columbus 5K Trail Run, also held at the scenic ranch east of Stephenville.

Chairman Dan Delgado reported that 25 runners came out to the second annual trail run - up from 15 the previous year - who helped to collect approximately $600 to benefit the National MS Society.

“Last year was our trial year, and this year it has doubled in the amount of participation, so we’re calling it a success,” said Delgado. “We had several come in from Fort Worth and as far away as Beaumont. We’d like to thank everyone who participated.”

Winners from the three trail run categories, include: Open Division, Corey Payne and Megan Stephens; Senior Division, Mike Milford and Kelly Elston; and Master’s Division, Charlie and Donna Elston.

Organizers have already begun to plan for next year’s trail ride and trail run, saying they’ve selected May 1, 2009 as the date to make plans to saddle up again for the fight against Multiple Sclerosis.

Proceeds from the event will go directly to the National MS Society, an organization dedicated to ending the devastating effects of Multiple Sclerosis. Funds received through the MS Trail Ride and Trail Run supports research, education, advocacy and local programs that enhance the quality of life for people with MS and their families.

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs or severe paralysis or loss of vision.

Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 but the unpredictable physical and emotional effects can be lifelong. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are giving hope to those affected by the disease. Currently, MS affects an estimated 400,000 people in the United States and 2.5 million worldwide.

For more information about the Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride and the latest news on their endeavors to fight MS, visit www.cowboycapitalmstrailride.com, or email mstrailridetexas@yahoo.com.