10 years of riding the hills
Wagon driver reminisces over previous years of symphony, tells story of how she startedby Madeline Deabler
When guests step into a covered wagon for the first time, most expect a nice, smooth ride through the Flint Hills. Despite the illusion of the smooth, grassy surface, they were in for a shock and a bumpy ride.
Cindy Morrison has been in the driver’s seat at every Symphony in the Flint Hills, except the inaugural year, and said she never gets tired of hearing the whoops and hollers of the first time passengers in her wagon.
“I get people from all over the world on my rides. I genuinely meet very interesting and lovely people so it’s a great event, I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she said. “I’ve brought a wagon full of people who do this all the time and all of them are like ‘ah, ooh, wow this is horrible,’ and it is. It’s bumpy and horrible and we (wagon riders) all have cushions, which is the best seat in the house. It is just an amazing event, you’ll meet good people and have a little fun and catch a little skin cancer probably.”
Originally from Salina, Morrison said that there is nothing that can compare to the beauty of riding in the hills.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The first time I came to the symphony site, I was absolutely awestruck, and I am a born-and-raised Kansas girl. This just never fails to take your breath away. It’s an incredible event. This is standing on my calendar until somebody dies. So as long as the even goes on, and we are part of it, then I’m here.”
A Flint Hills wagon driver has a lot to handle. From controlling two stallions that pull a two-ton wagon of wood and steel, to carting eager tourists into the mix the whole task is a challenge.
When she first started going to the event, Morrison said her family thought she was crazy. But she convinced them one-by-one to join the event as outriders or serve as support staff with her. Then they got it.
“We all come from horse backgrounds and this is just a spectacular way to get just a taste of what it used to be, how tough the wagon drivers had to be,” she said.
The only issue Morrison saw on the day of the event was the heat and the problem of keeping herself and her horses cool, but she said compared to other years of the symphony, it wasn’t that bad.
“The weather has been right up to the cut-off time of awful,” she said. “It starts sometimes within an hour after its done, but in the meantime it has never been ghastly hot or rainy or anything enough to make people not come for it.”
Each team of horses that pulled the wagons had different coats, different manes and even different personalities from the next. Morrison said that her team was just a little different from the others.
“This team has been to most of them. It’s been either their seventh or eighth year so they have done most of them along with me,” she said. “Out of the two though, Thor, he’s my movie star, he likes people, he talks to people, and he poses for pictures. If you put him in front of a plate-glass window he smiles at himself. So he is my diva.”
Morrison said she always encourages people to come out to the event, because she said it is an experience like no other.
“I love the meshing of our Kansas roots and the culture of the symphony. If you haven’t heard it before, as the sun goes down and the strings come up, it just moves you. It’s a beautiful merging of all things that are,” she said. “We have always said that God smiles on this event.”