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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — Virgil Burnside Sr. brushed then saddled his Quarter Horse in preparation to ride from the Navajo Nation fairground to the Navajo Nation Council chamber on July 15.

Burnside, a senior maintenance worker for the tribe's Judicial Branch, rode to the fairgrounds on July 14 as part of an annual horse ride that has participants travel by horseback from chapters in the five agencies to the council's summer session.

The horse ride is an annual tradition that honors past leaders who rode horses or used horse drawn wagons to arrive in Window Rock for council sessions.

"Each summer, our delegates carry on the tradition of our past leaders as they ride across the Navajo Nation," Speaker Seth Damon said in a press release from his office.

Burnside's grandfather served as a council delegate and rode horseback to meetings.

"That's how they used to, that was transportation then," Burnside said.

Limbert Largo III was part of the group that rode from Crownpoint to Window Rock on July 14.

Among the riders were Delegates Charlaine Tso, who represents five chapters in the Northern Agency, and Mark Freeland, who represents eight chapters in the Eastern Agency.

For Largo, the ride reminded him of stories about his great-great-grandfather Incly Begay, who started the chapter government in Casamero Lake.

"The elderly, they used to do this," he said while getting water for his horse.

Carson Nez Jr. placed a bridle and saddle on a horse before taking it for a short ride in an empty lot at the fairground.

Nez, who wore a T-shirt with the words, "24th Navajo Nation Council Summer Session Trail Ride 2019," stayed with the horses overnight and slept in one of the stalls.

He has been on several trail rides to the summer session, including one that started in Navajo Mountain, an area along the Arizona-Utah border.

"We always did that on a trail ride," he said about sleeping near the animals.

When the riders began the route to the council chamber, they were joined by participants in the 9th annual Running for a Stronger and Healthier Navajo Nation and the 2019 Tour de Sih Hasin Bike Ride.

Delegates Tso, Freeland, Rick Nez, Wilson Stewart Jr. and Elmer Begay were among the horse riders.

When they arrived at the chamber, they were greeted with speeches by fellow delegates.

"Ahéhee' for representing us," Delegate Paul Begay said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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