Horse riders, St. Landry officials prep for party

PLAISANCE - Members of Kountry Bunnies, an organization whose Memorial Day weekend trail-riding event was halted for fear of violence, on Friday prepared to host hundreds of people for a three-day party expected to include up to 400 horse riders Sunday on a five-mile jaunt.

Law enforcement officers working security at what's now billed as a Father's Day event also prepared for the weekend at the Ponderosa Ranch in St. Landry Parish, where the Kountry Bunnies will hold their fourth annual trail ride.

"People will be searched for weapons," Opelousas City Marshal Paul Mouton said.

And fistfights?

"Both will be arrested and brought to the parish jail in Opelousas," Mouton said, adding that officers will have a bus to transport suspects.

Mouton said 12 of his officers will provide security during the three days, sheriff's deputies will escort horse riders on Sunday, and Kountry Bunnies is picking up the tab.

On May 21, days before the three-day Memorial Day event was to begin at a lodge south of Opelousas, Sheriff Bobby Guidroz warned Parish President Bill Fontenot and others that there could be violence at the trail ride.

In an email Guidroz wrote that he had received information "that members of the (Kountry Bunnies) and members of a rival trail ride organization will be confronting one another regarding a shooting, verbal disputes and unfinished fistfights that occurred on a trail ride in Acadia Parish recently."

Guidroz was referring to a May 19 nighttime shooting at a store in Branch that killed 18-year-old D'Andre Goodley, of Eunice, a crime that remains unsolved.

"I believe the information to be credible and I am concerned for the safety of the trail ride organization … " Guidroz wrote in the email to Fontenot and Parish Administrator Jessie Bellard.

The sheriff ended the memo saying he also had reviewed the parish law governing trail rides and found that Kountry Bunnies had not received the required approval from Louisiana State Police.

After the warning, State Police Troop I said it would not approve the Memorial Day trail ride on state roads or state rights of way, causing St. Landry Parish officials to pull the permit.

Efforts this past week to contact Guidroz for comment were unsuccessful.

Deputies said Guidroz was out of the office until Monday and unavailable.

"I have no idea about a trail ride sir," sheriff's Col. Paul DiCapo said. "If they have a trail ride and they have trouble, we'll be out there."

Fontenot said parish officials stopped Kountry Bunnies' trail ride in May because they could not afford to take lightly a sheriff's warning of violence and because, at first blush, it looked like the laws on the books banned riding a horse on state roads.

However, parish officials and Kountry Bunnies continued a dialogue, and the laws governing animals and roads were reviewed, Fontenot said. A closer reading of the statutes revealed that "uncontrolled animals, uncontrolled horses" were banned from roads, not horse riders, he said.

Time also softened the threat of violence, the parish president said.

"We feel that enough time has passed, enough media coverage has occurred," Fontenot said. "We feel the threat has abated … And the Kountry Bunnies feel good about it too."

"We're back in the trail ride business," he said, adding "it's part of the culture" of the parish.

At the ranch off Bellridge Road on Friday, Floyd Walker readied his camper for the weekend.

Walker's wife, Geraldine, is a Kountry Bunnies organizer who had to quickly get out the word on Facebook when the Memorial Day event was cancelled and when word came recently that a three-day party was planned for Father's Day weekend.

"We're hoping for a good turnout," Walker said. "Whoever has a horse and wants to come out and have a good time."

According to a promotional flier, Kountry Bunnies had scheduled zydeco bands to play on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Kountry Bunnies expected up to 200 attendees on Friday and 400 on Saturday, according to the May 30 application it gave to parish government. The group said up to 800 people might attend on Sunday, including 400 riders, according to the application.