MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — Horseback riders took a break from a Friday night arena activities last month and gathered their horses around Vicki Beene.

It was time for Bible study.

Astride her horse, Beene took prayer requests from the other riders, jotting the requests into a leather-bound notebook and Bible. She then led a devotional about the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Men removed their hats to pray.

Three Rivers Cowboy Church offers this fellowship, Rise Up Horseback Riding Ministry, at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Fridays of each month. It's held not in the church sanctuary, but at its dusty outdoor arena, the Muskogee Phoenix reported.

"We have a short Bible study and we just practice, whether it's barrels or an obstacle course," said rider and facilitator Rhonda Goad. "Or we just ride around with our church family and fellowship and have a good time."

The church also uses the event to reach out to the community.

"They can come ride with us, too," Goad said. "Maybe they're uncomfortable coming inside a church building at first."

Church member Marcella Bynum yelled encouragement to her daughter, who was guiding a horse around, across and through such obstacles as barrels and wooden boards.

She said she usually brings her own horse to the fellowship, but didn't this time around.

"Friday nights are basically getting all the family together and riding, and bringing the community if they want to come out," she said. "It gives the kids time to work with their horses."

Bynum said she enjoys being with people who have "western backgrounds."

She said "good music and good preaching" drew her and her family to Three Rivers Cowboy Church about a year ago.

Pastor Robert Beene said the rides offer a time church members and other horseback riders can get together. People bring their own horses.

The arena is on the church's seven-acre spread in southeastern Muskogee.

"We're the same as any church, really," Beene said. "We're here to spread the word of God and build the kingdom. We just have a little bit different approach. We spend more time in the arena and outside. We're geared toward the more agricultural base of the community. Of course, we have some people who have never been on a horse out here on Sunday."

About 70 come for church, he said, adding that about a third of his congregation has horses.

"A lot of them are retired, they had animals at one time," he said. "We had one guy here who was a pretty good team roper in his day."

Beene said his family has eight horses.

Beene's final service as Three Rivers' pastor was earlier this month, a post he has held for five years. He said he has been called to a church in Limon, Colorado.

Beene said the Rise Up ministry will continue, as will other equine-oriented activities, such as an obstacle course series and a cookout.

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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