The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. “To A Mouse” by Robert Burns 1786.
Story of my life. So all of my 2019 equestrian goals have gone through several revisions this year due to new training projects presenting themselves (Apple Jack #2, Thistle the BLM burro, Summer Cloud the surprise! new pony addition to GHLH), weather related training delays, and work related travel altering training plans. So far I’ve only made it to one show, and Comanche needs a lot of work if I hope to take him cross-country this fall.
Then as I started working with Apple Jack #2 someone, and by someone I mean IHeartArabians planted the idea of taking a pony through the Fourth of July parade in Belton. Beau Pony has been destined for a Christmas parade ever since I began training him for a cart. There is nothing in this world, well besides Offspring…and maybe Darling Husband on a very good day, that brings me more joy than taking Beau Pony for a spin decked out in his antique sleigh bells during the holidays. It’s simply magical. Crisp cool air, and the tinkling of brass sleigh bells, there is really nothing to describe it. I know exactly why Jingle Bells (fun fact was written in 1857) is such a Christmas hit. The sleigh bells I have are practically family heirlooms. They are a little over a century old, so the real deal. It’s also very sad that so few people actually get to experience the magic of horse drawn transportation, but I digress.
I had never considered entering the Fourth of July parade for any reason, because I live in Texas which is just about like living on the sun during the months of July through September. IHeartArabians was so excited about the Fourth of July parade though, that I started to do some research which got me into trouble. The Belton Fourth of July parade will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year. It is also one of the longest running parades in Texas and the largest Fourth of July parade in Central Texas. If I had ever considered putting a horse in the Fourth of July parade this would be the year to do it.
I’ve done a lot of different things with horses in my lifetime, but I’ve never personally ridden or driven my own animals in a parade. I have ridden in a wagon pulled by two Belgian draft horses, but that is as close as it gets. There are about a million things happening in a parade that I can think of with the potential to freak a horse/pony out. It’s the ones I can’t think of that make me nervous. So when the ad for parade prep at Belton Feed popped up on my Facebook news feed, I was all over it. There were two dates, and while I would have enjoyed attending both sessions, my schedule would not permit it due to a graduation party.
I had a few weeks before the parade prep clinic and a few decisions to make. Which horses do I take? Thinking like the transportation professional I am, I decided if I’m towing the trailer I’m maxing it out. In industry terms, it’s wasteful to ship air. After much consideration, I decided to take all of my ponies that are currently driving. The big horses would have to sit this one out, even though Comanche really could have used the experience. I figured the big horses really won’t see much parade time because well ponies are cuter, and the decorating possibilities are endless when you factor in wagons and carts. Offspring enjoys the cart more than riding right now, and since none of my ponies are registered, their show potential is limited, but parades are really open to any breed. I guess in the end I shipped some air. Beau can’t be trusted to ride nicely beside another horse without picking on them, so he had the entire back half of the goose neck all to himself.
Bright and early one Saturday morning I brought all three ponies in from the field and gave them their first bath of the year. We loaded up and headed to Belton to see what would freak them out. The clinic host had an obstacle course set up in an empty lot beside Belton Feed. There were bridges, pool noodle obstacles, barrels, poles with all manner of flags attached, a pile of empty water bottles, and random tinsel/streamers. Our host had even arranged for the city police and fire department to go through their range of sirens and turn on their lights. Offspring and Darling Husband stopped by later to watch the fun. The obstacle course was better than a playground to Offspring, he was running around like the feral child he is giving all of the horses there some extra desensitization!
Of the three ponies I took, I didn’t expect Beau to be phased by any of the obstacles or noises. I was curious how he would behave around “new to him” mares. I expected Moonshine to freak out a bit, and wasn’t expecting Apple Jack to react to much of anything. In reality, Beau was excited about all of the new horses/ponies. He behaved himself, though. His ears were just a little perkier than usual. Moonshine surprisingly wasn’t phased by a single obstacle or sound. Apple Jack on the other hand lost her little pony mind, go figure. Actually I didn’t have to look very hard for the culprit of Apple Jack’s bad behavior. Apparently a short ride in a trailer with a randy little stud pony was all it took to bring Apple Jack into heat. She is a very mare-ish mare, and becomes extremely b!tchy and uncooperative when in season.
With that adventure under our belts, I was more than confident that Beau would behave like a perfect gentleman. I registered for the parade, bought a poop diaper for the cart, so I wouldn’t have to arrange a clean-up crew for my one pony parade entrant, and made sure that all the cart decorations would arrive on time. Another one of my friends who I will refer to as IHeartFreisians, really pushed me to find a teaser parade. She insisted that the real deal is nothing like parade prep clinics, and with Belton being such a large parade, it would not make a good “first time” parade for my pony.
It just so happened that the Holland Corn Fest parade would be occurring the next week, so I checked with some local horse groups to see who would let me join, and rushed to Hobby Lobby for Corn Fest cart decorations. On the morning of the parade I bathed Beau and attempted to do draft plaits. I didn’t take the time to watch a tutorial, deciding to wing it for the tester parade. Beau looked “ok,” but “ok” is not acceptable. I have a pet peeve about my horses looking like I hired a professional groomer/braider when they leave my property. So lesson learned, I’ve been watching tutorials and practicing my braiding skills this past week. We, Beau, Offspring, Darling Husband, and I loaded up and headed to the parade. Darling Husband is not an early riser and he proved that by letting me drive. If he had been firing on all cylinders the control freak in him would have demanded to drive.
Once we arrived at the parade, I introduced Beau to the mule teams in the parking lot, and got down to the business of harnessing and putting to the cart. Our parade partner returned from registration, and Offspring and I waved goodbye to Darling Husband who was moving the trailer to the end of the parade route. According to my husband, Beau was one of the best behaved horses in the parade. He wasn’t phased by the head to toe cosplay outfits the comic con people were wearing. When a pack of screeching little girls wearing huge princess dresses rushed him, Beau stood quietly to be petted. Our parade entry was directly behind a jacked up side-by-side vehicle with speakers blaring country/house music remixes the entire route. The railroad tracks caused several horses to spook, prance, and or jump the tracks. Beau dropped his head and sniffed the tracks as he kept on trucking across them. Beau’s only vice was a tendency to pause at every pile of road apples we encountered to get a good smell.
The Holland Corn Fest parade was honestly the most enjoyable equine event I’ve participated in for at least the last year. I wondered why it had taken me well into my thirties to enter a parade with a horse, and the anticipation of the upcoming Fourth of July parade only increased after my first parade success. I had quickly thrown together some decorations and grooming for Corn Fest, but I had been prepping for the Fourth of July parade before I even knew about the Corn Fest. Darling Husband and I had even postponed our anniversary beach trip with the equines in order to take Offspring and Beau through the Belton parade….
Well…I had started drafting this post on Monday, June 17. It was slow going because Offspring and I are holding down the home front for ten days, while Darling Husband has some fun and supports his fellow veteran buddies. Squeezing in time to write has been challenging with a full time job, playing single mommy, taking care of the eleven horses, twenty plus chickens, three sheep, three dogs, and a donkey. I’ve even managed to work at least one horse a night despite the added workload, but my writing suffered for it. The quote at the beginning of this post took on a whole new meaning four days later when I finally sat down to complete my post.
I had intended this entire post to be upbeat and build excitement for the upcoming parade event. Instead, as fate would have it (maybe I manifested the events by quoting Robert FFing Burns), Offspring, Beau, and I will not be attending the 100th Annual Belton Fourth of July parade. This post that started out as “Yay Parades! All horse enthusiasts should give it a go!” quickly turned into “Release the Flying Monkeys!”
This story truly starts at the beginning of May. Darling Husband and I discussed our summer itinerary. I followed the Belton Chamber of Commerce instructions on Facebook and went to the official Fourth of July Celebration web page where “all the parade information I would need to know” was posted. I searched every character and document available on the page. No where did it say that studs were banned from participating. IHeartArabians emailed and called the Chamber specifically asking about studs for another friend, and shared her intel with me. Darling Husband and I decided that the 100th Anniversary of the parade is a milestone that can’t really be replicated, so we changed our Anniversary/Fourth of July plans to participate in the event.
I purchased new matching patriotic outfits for the family. I designed the cart decorations. I drug (figuratively) three animals to a parade prep clinic, registered/paid the entry fees to Belton Chamber of Commerce, and participated in the Holland parade, all with one single goal in mind. After the Holland parade I spent three nights perfecting my draft braiding skills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went to parade prep, and made some wonderful new friends there. The Holland parade sold me on everything a parade can be and why it is a great diversion from showing and competing with horses. I really needed the braiding practice, but the fact remains that I devoted significant amounts of training time, money, and resources in preparation for one specific event. I did my research upfront.
Belton’s Fourth of July Parade requires that entrants attend a pre-parade meeting, presumably to discuss things like expected size of the parade and number of entries once registration closed on June 14. With Darling Husband out of town, a cranky toddler and I show up at the pre-parade meeting. I’m handed a 4 page document with a bunch of information I don’t really care about, and skip to the equine section to find out exactly how, when, and where to present Beau’s coggins test to the powers that be. As I read the entire equine section the last two bullet points stand out.
Second to last bullet point states that “Horses known to kick must wear a red ribbon in their tail.” Cue rant…First if your horse is known to kick, it shouldn’t be in a parade. This isn’t a horse show where everyone in attendance understands the universal equestrian meaning of a red ribbon. This is the FFFing Fourth of July parade where the theme colors are…RED, white, and blue. What are the odds that the majority of the horses will have ribbons in their tails and red will be one of the colors chosen? So much for warning people which horses kick versus which do not, and oh by the way, the general public doesn’t know that’s what red stands for anyway.
Last bullet point… “NO STUDS.” WTF? I had to waste a Wednesday evening when I had more than enough to do already with a cranky toddler in tow to find out something that should have been disclosed on the website or registration application? I paid to enter my animal, then spent more precious time and money preparing said animal for the event to be told a week before the parade, that I can’t participate? Are you FFFing kidding me? I swallow the rage that is building while Offspring prepares to throw a tantrum in the meeting auditorium, and tell myself that when I explain the circumstances of my entry (like the fact that my pony is 17 years old, and less than a quarter of the size of a full size horse), any reasonable person will grant us an accommodation because after all it’s the Chamber’s mistake. That’s not how government and small town bureaucracy works though…I approach the “equine parade expert,” who did not come across as an equine expert because she looked confused when I said “35 inch pony” (maybe she’s just an expert on their role in the parade), and broach the subject. I explain that yes, I have a stud, but his back (35 inches off the ground) doesn’t even come as high as my hip, I have video proof of his excellent behavior in a parade less than 5 days ago, and oh by the way this should have been mentioned on your freaking website. I should not have to waste an evening of my time at a meeting for a parade I’m not permitted to attend. Before I sound too snarky, this woman was extremely nice and this situation is not of her making.
It gets better…The next morning I call the Chamber first thing to request a refund and formally lodge my complaint. The Chamber states that unfortunately the parade chair absolutely refused to grant me a waiver, but as consolation I can enter Beau Pony in the events at the post parade festival at Nolan Creek. So my animal is too dangerous to walk a parade route where the public has limited access to him, but by all means bring him to the festival where the general public can walk right up to my animal, and might even consider him a petting zoo attraction. So this isn’t about safety, this is about the parade committee digging their heels in when they have no idea how to draft equine safety rules, but refuse to admit their incompetency…Typical.
My true frustration is that I’m a Safety Professional (Certified actually as in CSP holding a Masters of Science in…Safety). I’ve made a successful and lucrative career over the past 15 plus years out of reducing liability and risk while dealing with bureaucratic BS. I work with the federal and every state government in the continental US. I “get” completely illogical and ineffective “safety” requirements. If the Chamber had said something like “Our insurance won’t allow it.” I would still be angry about the less than stellar communication, but understanding. However, when they offered up the event at Nolan Creek which carries considerably more liability/risk, to the point that I wouldn’t consider risking it with any sex of equine, and that event would fall under the same insurance as the parade, I realized that the “rules” really had nothing to do with safety or liability at all. This is a committee on a power trip with a member biased against studs who probably doesn’t even have first hand experience around them.
So holiday plans killed a week before the event, considerable resources wasted, and Offspring and his pony will not be part of the 100th Anniversary parade. If I were a less scrupulous ( aka luckier) person I would just have kept quiet, taken Beau to the parade, and counted on them to be short staffed with a less than knowledgeable volunteer checking coggins paperwork. I’m not a lucky person though, and scrapped the idea, knowing I will only be that much more enraged to be turned away the day of the parade after grooming and trailering the animal to the event effectively wasting the holiday. It’s too late to plan that anniversary getaway or find another nearby parade to enter, so I’m cutting my losses and waiting on/willing Karma to work her magic.
By this time next year, I’ll have several mares that will be parade ready, and I’m hopeful a more knowledgeable equine professional will revise the current and laughable equine “safety” rules (like banning horses known to kick, removing the stud ban, with a default statement about any unruly/kicking horses will be asked to leave the line-up and forfeit their entry fees) for Belton parades so that Beau can have his moment. In reality, this event tainted my perception of all things Belton, and there is a good chance I won’t waste my time on any of their events or recommend them to others in the future.