Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area welcomed people from across Central Texas to come out and enjoy Nature in Lights a little early and with a twist – the spectators were all on horseback.

More than 60 people rode through the 5.5-mile light display Saturday and Sunday night, seeing the lights nearly a week earlier than its official opening Friday night.

“It’s exciting for the riders to see it early,” Tiffany Zeitouni, BLORA Ranch contractor, said. “And then doing it on horseback is a whole different ballgame.”

The Nature in Lights Saddle Night was first held in January, after being postponed last November because of flooding at Belton Lake. Zeitouni said when they announced they were doing it again, there was an outpour of interest. She said she hopes to hold another Saddle Night in January, a week after Nature in Lights closes to the public.

“We normally do this event with a dinner,” she said. “They saddle up, we go out and ride through the lights and then we come back and have hot chocolate.”

Zeitouni believes the riders just enjoy being able to come together and enjoy the fellowship of other riders. Another advantage is it puts them in the spirit of the holiday season.

“It also gets you in the Christmas spirit as you ride through the Christmas lights and share it with others,” she said.

Andy Anderson, a Saddle Night participant from Stampede, agreed with Zeitouni. After hearing about the event on Facebook, he jumped at the chance.

“It certainly puts you into the Christmas spirit, but any excuse to be on horseback,” Anderson said.

Teenagers Jordyn Pearson, 16, and Sara Horn, 15, who compete in equestrian competitions, were excited to see the Christmas lights early, but also looked forward to just riding and relaxing.

“I enjoy the peace of mind it gives me,” Pearson said. I’m always doing something, but when I’m around my horses, it just all melts away.”

Nature in Lights opens to the public Friday and will run daily from 5:30-11 p.m., through Jan. 5. Advance tickets are $15 per vehicle, which are discounted until today. Beginning Friday, tickets will be $20 per vehicle.

Due to popular demand, T-shirts and Christmas ornaments will be available for purchase this year. Lisa Lorenz-Bass, program coordinator for Fort Hood’s Outdoor Recreation Department, said visitors coming on Mondays through Wednesdays will receive a complimentary Nature in Lights ornament, while supplies last.

Nature in Lights is located at BLORA, 7999 Sparta Road. For more information or advance tickets, call 254-287-2523.

Stay up-to-date regarding another Saddle Night in January by visiting Riders must bring a copy of their horse’s negative Coggins test in order to ride.