If you scroll through my blog, there are several posts about parades, me preparing my animals for a parade, dealing with parade committee bureaucracy, and finally how awesome participating in a parade can be. This past week was a big week for Christmas parades in Central TX with five parades that I know of taking place within a thirty minute drive of my house. The days following the parades my Facebook feed was filled with equine friends posting parade pictures, brags, and rants. That got me thinking about horses and parades.
I like to give historical references for the origins of my opinions and thought processes. Even if you don’t agree with me or think I’m hella crazy, you at least have some insight to the reasoning. It’s no shocker that I was obsessed with all things horses from the age of ten months to the present. I had an earlier than the norm exposure to horses and activities, so a lot of experience in my formative years. The shocking thing is despite the variety of horse experience I have, the first time I participated in a parade with a horse of my own was this year. With the exception of riding in a wagon pulled by a draft team, my parents were 100% against me riding a horse in a parade. They refused to be “those” people. (I’ll explain that reference in the next paragraph). One could easily say, “Oh you were young, they were worried about you keeping a 1200 lb animal under control”, but no. My riding skills and the behavior of our horses was not the issue.
Back thirty plus years, at any of the small town parades in the adjoining three counties, the horses were always the last group to go through the parade following the fire trucks. There were no “equestrian” groups, just a bunch of people that had horses, pulled said horses out of the field, threw a saddle on them, and followed the parade route often with much yelling and whooping. There probably was some pre-parade drinking involved. The manners and control of these equine entrants left a lot to be desired. The parade participants lacked grooming, presentation, and overall professionalism. This was not the equine scene my parents wanted me to be a part of, and therefore parades were a no go.
As I grew older and was exposed to parades outside of the tri-county WV area I grew up in, I attended events with actual rules, expectations for conduct, and even awards for well presented equine groups. I will say recently I’ve noticed a trend toward better equine presentation in the parades near the hometown of my youth. Attending parades with forethought to the presentation of the animals was entertaining and exciting. Parades however, are not for every horse person or every horse for that matter, which brings me to the real reason for starting this post. I just took the long way around.
Horses are prey animals. Their first instinct (excepting the mustang I brought home from Oklahoma) in any situation is run. Most are flighters not fighters. There are about a million things in any given parade that could result in a 350 lb (pony) to 1200 lb animal charging over anything that is in or blocking its escape route. Preparation for a parade is vital, not just for the rider’s safety, but for the safety of the animal being ridden/driven, the other parade participants, and the spectating general public. If you plan on riding in a parade you need a well desensitized animal (bombproof preferably). A parade is not the place to assume your pasture pet and sometimes trail horse can handle the audible and visual stimulation of a parade. A parade is not an event for a beginner or amateur rider, unless you are damn sure the horse they are riding is bombproof (preferably deaf, blind, and maybe so lame it can’t move faster than a walk)
If your horse is a kicker, doesn’t play nice with other horses, is a mare that is uncontrollable during her heat cycle, has personal space issues, or is simply incapable of standing still, it’s not a good candidate for a parade. Parades are not only about whether you can control your horse, but also about anticipating every moronic action the horse ignorant public may engage in and what your animal’s reaction will be. There is no limit to the stupidity of the average parade spectator. Most people have no idea how fast a 1200 lb animal can spin, kick, bite, or strike when startled. These people will walk up to, behind, and under your animal suddenly developing tourettes syndrome and I don’t mean the “I have a small tick” version. I mean full blown yelling, screaming, and flailing around putting themselves and you in danger. Spectators will literally push their children into the kill zone, to “Pet the horsey!” One of my friends tells a story of someone attempting to set their child on her driving pony while they were moving in the parade!
Spectators will leave their small children unsupervised to run the parade route and staging area like a pack of wolves. They will throw all manner of scary objects directly at your animal. A group of kids on the float beside me in the staging area launched a football at my pony. Luckily, they did not actually hit her or I would still be working through the assault litigation of me wearing out several children with my driving whip because their parents apparently don’t teach them how to behave in public. Many people are simply clueless and will walk directly in front/behind of your animal not realizing they are a single freak out away from an ER visit or taking up residency in the local cemetery. Other heinous spectators and parade participants think it is amusing to scare the $hit out of your animal, and if they get a response will continue to repeat the behavior until either the animal no longer responds or completely loses its $hit. There is a special place in hell reserved for these a$$holes, and your fellow equestrians will forgive you for hoping a horse sends them there.
Some of the equine participants in the parade may be more problematic for you and your animal than the general public surprisingly. If you are attending a well organized event, there will be rules and expectations that are enforced. Many small towns do not have that infrastructure and its really just a free for all. Animals with some combination or all of the behavioral issues I mentioned previously will be in the parade line-up and I guarantee their owners will either be oblivious to their antics or will feign surprise. “This is the first time Dolly has ever kicked!” which is code for “My horse kicks anything that gets within five feet of her hind end, but I expect everyone to make accommodations for me rather than being a responsible horse owner.” “He’s always fine at the farm. I have no idea why he’s so spooky!” translates to “I’ve never exposed my horse to anything or taken him anywhere, but FOMO made me drag him to the event because my friends were going.” These people will also fail to realize that when surrounded by strange horses it’s better to leave a little extra space around each animal until you can evaluate if they have personal space issues/bad ground manners.
My point is, not only do you need to prepare your animal for these situations, you need to anticipate them in order to prevent them from occurring. Your preparation for a parade better have begun months before you attend a parade with your horse, and you must be hyper-vigilant from the moment you unload your animal unless you want to play liability roulette like the people mentioned above. I spent two months practice driving in scary situations and took my animals to a parade prep clinic complete with emergency service vehicles sounding sirens and turning on their lights before their first parade. Now that I have experienced animals, we still do some refresher work the week before a parade to ensure the animals aren’t surprised when we get to the event.
With the aforementioned doom and gloom talk, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m anti-equine participation in parades, but nothing could be further from the truth. Parades are an awesome opportunity to get the general public interested in horses. Horses are so much more fun to watch than the hundred plus basic car/truck driving by with a sign hanging on the side. I’m talking about you car dealerships. If the vehicle isn’t an antique, pulling a float, some rare/luxury/exotic, or crazy suped-up with custom after market parts, do everyone a favor and leave it on the lot.
Parades are an opportunity to groom your horse to the nines, come up with creative costumes, and get a little silly. As an equestrian, there is nothing more fun than hearing people ooh and ahh over your animal. Nothing beats a parade for affirmation that your horse is awesome. Even if it is swayback, cow-hocked, and pigeon toed with a face only its mother/current owner love, the general spectating public will find your animal amazing. Those same small children that you must be ever vigilant of will think you are a god for riding or driving a (pick your favorite equine) pony/horse/mule/donkey. Children and adults that rarely have an opportunity to see animals larger than a labrodoodle will be impressed. Even the spectators that have a farm full of animals at home are always happy to look at someone else’s especially if you have a good presentation or costume.
So if you’ve never done a parade, I encourage you to give it a try (with the proper preparation of course)! Despite all of the things you have to anticipate, they really are a ton of fun. Here’s to enjoying many more parades in 2020. Hopefully Darling Husband and I will even do one on the “Symbol of the American West” aka the mustangs!