NEWCOMB — Denzel Clah lifted a black banner into the air as he urged his chestnut horse forward on Saturday morning outside of the Newcomb Chapter House.
The banner was decorated with large, pink lettering that read "Don't drink and drive." Clah, 10, wore a bandana around his neck and a cowboy hat to shade his face as temperatures climbed into the 90s.
Older, more experienced riders moved out of the way to let the boy take the lead as the flag bearer before the group started a long ride on a dirt path alongside N.M. Highway 491. The riders were separated from the rush of traffic by a wire fence.
Clah's goal — one that he shared with the approximately 20 riders behind him — was to reach the auction yard in Naschitti, located about 15 miles to the south. But the real hope was to raise awareness of the dangers of drunken driving and honor the memory of two teenagers from Newcomb, Del Lynn Peshlakai, 19, and her sister, Deshauna Peshlakai, 17.
The sisters were killed by a drunken driver in March 2010, when they were traveling to a basketball tournament in Santa Fe. Their parents, David Peshlakai and Darlene Thomas Peshlakai, survived the crash and have since worked to combat drunken driving.
On Saturday, the couple, as well as friends and family, gathered at two locations on the Navajo Nation for a trail ride to honor their daughters' memory.
Shortly before 9 a.m., two groups of riders — one from Newcomb and the other from Tohatchi — traveled toward one another, eventually meeting a few hours later in Nashchitti.
Darlene Thomas Peshlakai followed the riders in her car. In the trunk, she had a saddle with the words "Angels vs. Drunk Drivers Trail Ride 2014" stamped into the leather near one of the stirrups. Lee Peshlakai, the late teenagers' uncle, hand-stamped the letters. He included a special design above the words: a basketball with wings and the letters ENDWI, calling for an end to DWIs.
Ryan Curley served as the trail boss on the 15-mile ride from Newcomb to Naschitti. He said he participates on trail rides every week in the summer to exercise the horses.
"This is what we call life right here," he said, motioning to the horses.
Like most of the people who rode on Saturday, Curley knew the Peshlakai sisters. They attended Newcomb High School together, although the girls were younger than him.
One day before the sisters' death, he saw the teens and wished them good luck at the basketball tournament. He felt shocked after learning about their death.
Before starting off on the trail from Newcomb, Julian Moses led the group of riders in prayer.
"Our younger generation, they need to get an understanding that drinking and driving can do a lot of damage," Moses said.
He said the trail ride shows young people there are other ways to have fun.
Horses have traditionally been important to the Navajo people, he said. But, a few generations ago, people began to shift away from the animals. Moses said he is happy to see the younger generation renew its interest in horses, which can be therapeutic, he said.
"Having the spirit of a horse can really change a person — their heart and their mind," he said. "It can heal them."
Also on Saturday morning, Hio Yazzie set out with the group from Tohatchi to ride about 18 miles to Naschitti, where his group met up with the Newcomb riders.
Yazzie, like many others, is related to the Peshlakai family. He said the two sisters would be happy with what the family is doing and how they are honoring the girls' memories.
"We just want to let our Nation know don't drink and drive," he said.