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A man and his horses

Vietnam veteran makes cross-country wagon trip

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Posted: September 4, 2014 8:16 p.m.
Updated: September 4, 2014 8:13 p.m.
A man and his horses

Rodger Howell, a Tennessee man who is traveling across the country by horse and buggy, is shown pulling into a convenience store Wednesday afternoon at the intersection of Veterans Memorial Parkway and Highway 301 North. Howell, who is a veteran, former law enforcement officer and master farrier, passed through Statesboro this week on his way to Niagra Falls.

When doctors told him he might have only five weeks to live, Rodger Howell decided to make some changes.

That was more than a year ago, and he still is going strong.

The former Erin, Tennessee, police chief and military veteran tied up all his loose ends, hitched up his horses and buggy and hit the road. After a trip to Michigan to visit family, he headed down to Florida to visit more friends and relatives, and now, he is on his way to Niagara Falls. He drove through Bulloch County earlier this week, drawing attention from motorists and others as he, his dog and two-horse team made their way down the highways.

"I've met thousands of people," he said, adding that most of them are friendly and generous in their interest.

However, a few haven't been so nice.

"I've met about eight people I could do without," Howell said.

Some people have expressed concern about his team of horses - a Percheron mare named Dancer and a Percheron/Arabian cross gelding named Sonny. Some who aren't as knowledgeable about horses worry about their hooves and endurance in the summer heat, but Howell has that covered.

A master farrier and lifelong horse trainer, he cares for his horses and maintains a watchful eye, keeping the team shod properly. He rests them, often taking advantage of kind landowners who offer shade, a place to rest and food, and said the horses have traveled more than 3,400 miles.

Why is he doing this? It's on his "bucket list," he said, and mainly because people said he couldn't.

"I think that's garbage," Howell said.

As a law enforcement officer for 24 years, he has seen a great deal of human life. Eight years in the military, including a stint in Vietnam, where he was affected by Agent Orange, left Howell with health issues that prompted his decision to enjoy the rest of his life. When he reaches Niagara Falls, he will enjoy the scenery before heading out West, he said.

Heart disease, blockages and other issues won't stop him.

"There's no sense in panicking," he said.

He plans to keep on doing what he wishes until God decides it's time for him to go.

He has made arrangements for his horses and dog to be returned to family members in case anything happens to him on the road, he said.

Howell said he has learned a great deal about human kindness that has helped refresh his dimmed view of humanity after serving so long in law enforcement, where one often sees the negative side of life.

Along the way, he was given an Amish pie wagon after people became concerned about him sleeping in the open buggy and small tent. He gave a buggy to a handicapped children's riding camp in Florida because the children enjoyed riding in it and later purchased another, larger wagon. Sonny and Dancer pull both wagons, which are attached together.

"I eat at restaurants, sleep in parks, behind churches, in yards and fairgrounds," he said.

People - complete strangers when they meet but friends afterward - offer food, lodging and other gifts.

"This country is full of good people," he said.

Howell credits God for allowing him to travel in the way he loves so much.

"God sent me this way," he said. "You go without question, and everything falls into place. I've got the rest of my life. I'm not in a hurry."

He enjoys meeting people more than anything.

"Old men tell me their stories; kids like to sit on the horses," Howell said.

He has taken many photos, most of which are shared on his Facebook page, but he has no idea what he will do with the countless photos he has stored from his travels. After all, he wondered, who will want them? And will they matter?

"We can only leave a good name behind when we go," he said. "That's the test of who we are."

While he easily shares his deep spirituality, Howell denies being a saint.

"I'm not no preacher," he said. "I was a cop. This trip has saved my life."

As he left Statesboro Wednesday, Howell headed toward Screven County on U.S. Highway 301 North, on his way to Niagara Falls and beyond.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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