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HIGH SPRINGS - A man whose fund-raising quest was to travel from Williston to California in a wagon behind two horses ended tragically in High Springs when one of his horses died early Thursday, May 1, after being hit by a car.
Rodney Burnett, 51, left Williston earlier in the week with much fanfare. He had planned on taking a trip all the way to the Pacific Ocean, raising money along the way for Ladder H Farms, an organization that, once it had enough money, would provide therapeutic experiences for disabled people through the use of horses.
Making this trip even more dramatic is the fact that Burnett himself is suffering from a disability. He cannot walk.
But with sponsors and an Internet following, he planned to make the trek and regularly update his Website with photos, videos and his thoughts.
"I could make big money training horses but I chose to do this," he said.
His first day on the road was a successful one, but the second day - his trip from Newberry to High Springs on U.S. 27 - was challenging, he said.
"There was no place to pull over," Burnett said.
By the time he reached High Springs around 6 p.m., his Morgan horses were dehydrated and had stopped in the middle of the downtown area. Police were called to the scene, and the horses were coaxed under an overhang of a closed gas station.
There, Good Samaritans stopped by to keep filling buckets of water for the horses. When a veterinarian arrived on the scene, Burnett asked if his horses could be given a saline solution to drink.
After the vet spoke with police, the decision was made to take Burnett to that day's intended destination - Gallop In Gary's, a convenience store on U.S. 441 just over the border in Columbia County.
The horses were taken there by trailer, and his Conestoga-type wagon was pulled by a vehicle.
His horses were then tied up alongside his wagon for the night.
But around 1 a.m., one of the horses pulled from its halter and got onto U.S. 441, where a vehicle hit the horse. A few minutes later, another vehicle came along and got in an accident with the one that had just occurred.
Burnett called the incident a "tragic accident." He said he's particularly saddened that the dream for Ladder H Farms to become a reality has been set back.
"It was what I was going to build for children, to help them," Burnett said.
Burnett said he's now looking for another horse so he can try to start his quest again.
"This has set me back but hasn't stopped me," he said.
For more information about Ladder H Farms, visit the organization's Website at: www.LadderHFarms.com.
Ronald Dupont Jr. is editor and associate publisher of the High Springs Herald.