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Three generations celebrate 37 years of Atmore Hoof-a-Thon

Near $9,000 raised despite cancellation of trail ride
L-R, Chloe Johnson, Travais Johnson, and Wayne Johnson reminisced on their familial involvement with the Atmore Hoof-a-Thon, now spanning three generations. Wayne was one of the events founders, Travais is the current organizer, and Chloe has attended each she since she’s born — and even one before then!

ATMORE — Approximately 80 locals of all ages spent their Saturday, May 4 evening ringing in the 37th iteration of the Atmore Hoof-a-Thon in the small community hall off Highway 55. While the threat of wildfires led to the cancellation of the staple trail ride this year, it didn’t stop participants from raising thousands of dollars towards cardiac research in the province.

Travais Johnson, organizer of the event and former chief of the Grassland Fire Department, said without the usual company of the department on ATV’s due to the county fire ban, the decision to cancel was made out of precaution.

“We decided to just call it was just a better call to cancel it in case something does go wrong,” said Travais in a May 1 interview. “Better to be prepared than not being prepared.”

Under an April 22 Athabasca County fire ban, ATV and off-highway vehicle use are banned, and local volunteer departments around the region have already seen action this spring.

The dinner and dance went ahead as planned, and although Travais said the turn-out was smaller than the usual 100-plus, an unofficial count put the fundraising total close to $9,000.

Funds raised by the Hoof-a-Thon have been donated to the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton since 2007. Hannah Gruber, corporate partnerships coordinator with the University Hospital Foundation, said the event has generated more than $264,000 for the centre in 16 years.

“Last year, despite being under potential evacuation order, they raised an incredible $8,310,” wrote Gruber in a May 3 email. Since it’s inception, the Hoof-a-Thon has raised more than $800,000.

When the event originated in 1986, funds were donated to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, but Travais said supporting a cause close to home is important.

“When the Mazankowski was being built in Edmonton, that’s right in our backyard, and it’s the heart centre,” said Travais. “Lots of us are affected in our communities by heart and stroke.”

Three generations of Johnsons

On the afternoon of the event, Travais was joined in the Atmore Community Hall by his father, Wayne Johnson, and 17-year-old daughter, Chloe Johnson. Wayne had a hand in the origin of the ride and can still be spotted partaking in the annual event now his son has taken over.

“I started it,” said Wayne. “The other two guys died of heart attacks.”

Wayne hasn’t missed a Hoof-a-Thon in all 37 years but said his motivations have changed over time: “Now (the best part) is the dinner and the getting together, but at first it was the riding.”

Chloe said the day marked her 18th year attending — she made her first appearance while her mother was pregnant. She said her favourite aspects are the trail ride, lately routed through the Johnson’s land, and the jokes shared along the way.

“It’s usually the first ride of the season,” said Chloe. “A lot of the horses are frisky, so it’s pretty entertaining some years. There’s usually a runaway.”

The trio said there were too many fond memories and funny stories from past rides to count, but Wayne and Travais did recount the spring the Hope Lake Fire interrupted their plans when the group arrived at their lunch spot.

“I had to take a group of riders and ride up around the fire the other way,” said Travais. “He tried outrunning it on horseback.”

“I went through the fire, but I wish I would have went around,” said Wayne. “I thought we could beat it — well we did, but it was a poor idea. It jumped maybe 30, 40 yards behind us.”

Although the community lost long-time riders George Fleming and Willard Wolansky, among others, Wayne and family aren’t the only long-term attendees present. Travais said many of the volunteers and regulars have been participating and donating since the event began.

Planning for next year’s Hoof-a-Thon will start in December, and while weather and moisture conditions are impossible to predict, Travais said everyone — including the caterers — already has the weekend marked on the calendar.

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