It was like a scene out of the Clint Eastwood movie, “High Plains Drifter,” when Ezra Cooley rode into Waxahachie on Friday morning dressed in a black slicker, cowboy hat, boots and jeans.
Mounted on his paint quarter horse, Big Red, and leading his packhorse Stryker, a wild horse he got in Laramie, Wyo., Cooley is on a 10-year mission – with eight years to go.
“I’m raising $1 million for the Children’s Miracle Network,” Cooley said. “I started out in Chico, Calif., April 5, 2006, rode to Manhattan and, from here, I’m headed for Mexico, South America, Australia, Africa, Europe and back to the states.”
The journey, known as Ezra’s Expedition, has a Web site that chronicles his travels.
“Sometimes you don’t know why you’re doing something and later down the trail you figure out what — if you’re supposed to do it,” Cooley said. “My dad and I were riding one day and got to talking about if it’d be possible to ride around the world.”
Cooley continued to think about the conversation and the idea stuck with him.
The 28-year-old sold his construction business, house, car and all personal items to prepare for a 27,000-mile ride around the world intended to inspire others with his determination to help sick children.
He kept his two horses, Red, and a previous horse, Jahob. With a saddle on each, a packbox-style set of saddlebags on one and him on the other, the team first headed into the Sierra Mountains.
“First night I went, ‘Oh, this is the dumbest thing you ever thought of — sell everything you own and saddle up two horses to ride around the world, yeah right,’ ” Cooley said. “Then we got out in the desert and I got to thinking and praying and I decided I was going to ride for a charity.”
God would want him to ride for such a cause, he said, noting the miles came easier after a while and that the 1 1/2 times he’s made the trip around the United States make them seem smaller.
“The challenges that we go through don’t even come close to what those little kids go through,” Cooley said of the children he’s riding for.
His trip has had some challenges: He fell off of a cliff with Red, he and his horses had to hold out through an ice storm and there was a run-in with a grizzly bear. Rain is of no consequence, he said, saying it doesn’t bother them.
Along the way, he acquired a new horse, Stryker, as replacement for Jahob. There was one catch: Stryker was wild. Cooley said he roped the horse, that the owners gave him in exchange for work.
“I roped him in Laramie, Wyo., and he bucked all the way to Nebraska,” Cooley said, as Stryker stood calmly saddled and dozing by the side of State Highway 342 north of Waxahachie.
Cooley finances his trip by working at ranches, feed stores and other odd jobs, with all proceeds going to Children’s Miracle Network.
The international nonprofit organization raises funds and awareness for 170 children’s medical groups throughout North America. In 25 years, the organization has helped save and improve the lives of children with cancer, kidney disease, blood disorders and cystic fibrosis as well as provided for critically ill newborns.
“I’m doing it for the kids,” Cooley said. I’ve never done something that feels so good or so right. Even on the worst of days of riding through snow and sand storms, it doesn’t compare to what the kids are going through.”
As Cooley approached Waxahachie on U.S. Highway 77, his immediate concern was to find a clinic to receive treatment for an upper respiratory ailment.
Asked if it would be a problem riding through Waxahachie on Ferris Avenue, Cooley said, “I rode through Manhattan, so I can probably make it here.”
Cooley’s brother maintains the Web site, which has a link to make donations. A page dedicated to tracking his progress allows visitors to add sightings.
After leaving Waxahachie, Cooley said he planned to travel south to a children’s home in Waco and from there to San Antonio.
To donate or to watch Cooley’s progress, visit his Web site at www.ezrasexpedition.com.
Daily Light staff writers Paul Gauntt and Bitty Reilly contributed to this article.