2002-07-05 / Front Page
Saddled up and ready for NYC
Texas rider has been on a mission to raise funds for Sept. 11 victims
Texas rider has been on a mission to raise funds for Sept. 11 victims
By carolyn o'connell
A Texas cowboy, his horse and dog set out on a cross-country journey to help the lives of people whose lives were tragically altered Sept. 11. Along the way he discovered his capabilities and the beautiful, indigent and wealthy America.
Les Nichols, 41, began his journey in November with J.J's Cowboy, an 11-year-old thoroughbred racehorse, and was accompanied by his dog, Posse. His mission, called the American Posse, is comprised of a group of people who would assist him along the trail. His intention is to raise $2 million which is to be donated to the N.Y. Policemen's Benevolent Associa-tion for Widows and Children and the N.Y. Firefighters 9/11 Distress Relief Fund.
Starting from the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, Nichols set off traveling approximately 5 miles an hour which landed him in the city of Long Branch eight months later.
Last week his ride brought him to Seven Presidents Park, Long Branch. Nichols and his team have been staying in the area and were scheduled to board the Staten Island Ferry July 4, to be met by the New York Mounted Police, who were to escort him to ground zero.
Along the way he endured floods, freezing rain, snow and heat while traveling the hills of Arkansas and Tennessee, the farms of Kentucky, the Ohio River Valley and the Amish country in Pennsylvania.
Nichols and J.J. suffered some injuries after they were almost hit by a diesel truck which caused them to both fall off a railroad embankment. J.J sustained a twisted hock (joint in the hind leg) and stifle (joint between the femur and tibia), and recovered to finish the trail after receiving chiropractic, acupuncture and massage therapy. Nichols, too, was injured with torn cartilage in his knee.
The ride continued while J.J. got some down time with his backup, Sandtrack, picking up the slack along the almost 2,000 miles of ground they covered.
All in all J.J., a tough Texas horse, finished almost 1,200 miles and has made many appearances in events and parades.
During the last trek of his ride from Colts Neck to the beach in Long Branch, he was escorted by police from Colts Neck, Eatontown, Oceanport and Long Branch. The Long Branch police temporarily halted the traffic coming over the Florence Avenue Bridge last Thursday, so that Nichols and J.J. would have a safe ride over the Shrewsbury River.
Nichols walked through the gates of Seven Presidents Park with tears in his eyes as the county park rangers waited there to assist Nichols onto the beach,
As he approached, the Ocean beachgoers could not believe their eyes, seeing a horse on the beach.
"It's a wonderful thing he is doing; I got the chills. It's a good day today; I saw a whale and a horse," said Susan Lisle of Tinton Falls.
Tom Daly of Port Monmouth, as he watched Nichols coax J.J. into the ocean said, "What he [Nichols] is doing is very admirable, especially riding all the way from Texas for the last eight months."
Although Posse was playfully splashing around in the waves, J.J. opted for the water hose as a means to cool down.
"He [J.J.] is a Texas horse," said Nichols. "He doesn't know anything about beaches."
Nichols grew up in Celeste, Texas, with a population of only 780. The town does get its share of recognition because it is the hometown of World War II hero and movie star Audie Murphy.
Nichols. now a horse trainer, once wanted to be like his hero Audie Murphy, to serve in the military or to join the police of fire departments. But since he lost his eye as a youth, he was not a candidate for any of those positions.
"I was the quickest and fastest jock in my youth," said Nichols. After I was turned down by the services, I became a drifter and was lost for awhile. But then I realized that although one thing was taken away [his eye], I found another blessing."
What Nichols is referring to is his love for animals and his ability to touch them and do great things with them. This led Nichols to become a horse trainer where he trained and managed 40 horses. With his life back on track, life took turns presenting the Texas cowboy with some hardships.
The owner of the 40 horses he trained, died. One of his own horses was hit by lightning. He and his wife separated in August, and then the tragedy of Sept. 11 happened.
"I couldn't just give $20 and a pint of blood," said Nichols. "I decided to ride, to ride for the people left behind."
He added, "I also wanted to see if I could do it by myself. I learned I am as tough as I thought I was and learned I had a great skill to coordinate many things at one time."
Along the trail, with a cell phone in hand, Nichols was speaking with members of the media, raising money, sending messages to his Web site designer and, of course, speaking with Mom.
He has been honored for his endeavor with over 100 proclamations, and has collected over 150 police and fire patches which he will present to the New York Mounted Police on his arrival at ground zero.
When he arrived in New Jersey, he was welcomed by the Colts Neck Trail Riders. Members Michael and Gina Sontarp, owners of Dream Stables of Colts Neck, prepared their stalls for the arrival of J.J. and Sandtrack.
He stayed with Colts Neck Trail Riders President Lisa Singer over the weekend.
Nichols said learning about Lisa is proof that theirs is a power at work.
Nichols noted that in his travels he found out about Lisa, and that she had lost her boyfriend on the day of Sept. 11. Lisa's boyfriend was named J.J., and J.J. in his youth owned a horse named Cowboy.
"So many coincidences â014 or whatever you want to call it â014 have been happening," said Nichols. "I am letting them happen by staying open; it just makes everything I am doing right."
And Singer, who is still dealing with the effects of Sept. 11, has said that what Nichols has done has brought a measure of closure into her life.
The club invited Nichols Sunday as a guest of honor to throw out the ceremonial ball at the beginning of the polo match in Colts Neck.
Nichols then plans to ride J.J. with Sandtrack under saddle at his side July 4 at ground zero, representing the horseless rider honoring fallen heroes.
Nichols, who has already sold 75,000 raffle tickets not counting those purchased online, will raffle off a saddle at ground zero that was specially made to represent the Posse American Relief Ride 2001 embossed on both leg flaps, and the embossing of the twin towers and the Alamo on the back of the saddle. A second saddle, the saddle which Nichols rode in, will also be auctioned off at ground zero.
Spectators along the way have asked Nichols if he will ride back, and he replied, "If someone wants to challenge me, I'm up for it."
Donations can be sent to the N.Y. Policemen's Benevolent Association for Widows and Children, 40 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10038. Those with Internet access can log on to www.americanposse.org to follow the posse.