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Find Your Adventure: Riding in the Rose Parade 2016


Kayla with Bo; Karen with Chief.

I left off in the last post with us riding up the freeway off ramp to go into our staging area.  After a week of festivities and months of planning and preparing, the time was finally here.  The actual getting to ride in the Rose Parade!

We got into the staging area, where the horses peed.  We dismounted and got our boutonniere’s on and shed our jackets.  It was getting close to 8 a.m. – start time for the parade.  They were estimating our start time to be around 9 a.m.

A B2 bomber flew overhead, signalling the start of the parade.  Chief took the opportunity at that moment to reach over and grab a bite of Bo’s wreath on his breastcollar.  I had expected that might happen but thought it would be later in the day.  We were much more careful after that to make sure the horses never got a chance to do that again.


Staging on Waverly, waiting for the parade to start. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

As with any parade, there is a lot of waiting around.  The practice parades we’d been doing definitely helped the horses learn that.  Chief and Bo were content to just stand around, though they were trying to graze but overall were remaining calm and quiet.

We were in a dirt lot and glad that it was dry as we’d heard that it could possibly be muddy.  We went over to where there was a fence with a gate and sort of lined up, waiting.  Soon, we were riding through the gate and down the street to the corner of Waverly and Orange Grove.

Things were starting to get exciting now.  Rose Parade floats were going by right in front of us.  It was cool getting to see them go by, and to finally get to be so up close and personal with them.

Unfortunately for two members of our group they were pulled, one for lameness and another for what the official said was inability to control their horse.  The horse just had other ideas about what to do that day and wanted nothing to do with the floats and other goings on.  This now meant that there were only going to be three of us in the front row.

I’d been told that horses are sometimes pulled before the start of the parade for various reasons.  What a huge disappointment for anyone to get to that point and have that happen.  With as many horses as they have in this parade every year, things are bound to happen.  The parade is well prepared to handle it though and has several humane society horse trailers all along the route to take care of any equines that need to leave for whatever reason.  They are just as prepared to help out any humans that have trouble as well.

We had been given instructions on what to do if we did encounter a problem either with ourselves, our horses, or for some other reason.  Go to the north, left side, and find a “White Suitor”.  Our six parade walkers all had lead ropes on them in case somebody needed help with their horse and had to be led off of the parade route.  We were told that security was tight, and everyone was on alert for anything suspicious.


Chief and I watching parade floats go by. Awesome!!!

Even though we must have spent an hour or more staging in the dirt field and at Waverly it went by so quickly and before we knew it the officials were moving the barriers over and sending us off on our way!

At this point we were directly behind the Standford float that had a gigantic football on it.  We got into the street and started to get our formation together and everybody lined up and in position.  At the next intersection they stopped and held us.

RP2016_319 (Small)

Chief and Karen. Gayle and Dolly behind. Smile and wave! Photo by Lisa Peck.

This is when the Standford band entered the lineup.  The Standford band, of course, does not just “enter” the parade route.  On no.  They make a Grand Entrance! They came running out jumping, dancing and spinning.  Their mascot was a tree and was spinning around and around, all of this right in front of our horses who were standing with eyes and big as saucers.  I think that this was probably the most exciting part at least for the horses because of the huge amount of energy and since the band is so large it took awhile to get them all out and wow, what a production!  Lots of energy and excitement.

I figured at this point that I was still mounted and on a horse that was still in the city of Pasadena that we would likely make it through the parade in one piece.  I was quite impressed that our entire group of horses stood their ground and none had a meltdown right then.  I was thinking that maybe being in the back of the group might be a better spot, than to be in the front!  Too late now.  Come on Chief, I said to him — “we can do this”!

The next few minutes were a blur because we were still getting sorted out and starting to move.  I had our marshall behind telling me what to do, and a parade official in front of me telling me and signaling the opposite thing to do.  Then another member further back that I don’t know who it was, also trying to tell me what to do, and of course I couldn’t really hear any of that well other than the parade official that was right in front of me.  I was glad when we finally got the order sorted out and everybody into position.  The more we moved, the more settled the horses were becoming.  There was a lot of noise, and crowds of people and lots of officials wearing white darting all over, and did I mention how loud it was?

We always hear people talk about sensory overload for the horses.  But what about for us humans?  You wouldn’t think we’d experience it too, but I pretty much did.  You’d think it would be easy to just sit on a horse and walk, or stand.  That’s all there is to it, right?

Well, except that there is so much going on to distract us.  First of all, I was focusing on Chief trying to make sure I was reading him so that if he did do something like spook or start to have a mental meltdown I would be ready for it.  Then, we needed to pay attention to the band in front of us and keep a distance of 120 to 165 feet.  That of course, proved to be no problem at all as the horses were very happy to keep as much distance as they could especially when we stopped.

Then there are other things demanding your attention – other riders, our marshall, the parade officials, the White Suitors on the Honda scooters.  We had to watch the timing, spacing and our speed so that we didn’t get too close or to far back from the band.  If we did there was instantly somebody there to tell me what to do.  I was in the front on the far right so that made me the one getting directions the most.

Karen on Chief, Kayla on Bo, and Connie on Shardonney. What fun!

Karen on Chief, Kayla on Bo, and Connie on Shardonney. What fun! Photo by Lisa Peck.

Oh, and while all of that was going on, we were supposed to be riding with our right hand on the reins and waving with our left hand, and smiling!  Chief did at least make that part easy for me, he is easy to control, rate, and stop one handed.

I totally felt like I was in my own little world because of everything going on around me and being in the front and on the outside, I really could only see the other two horses in my row and had no idea even if the rest of the group was behind me.

Every so often I caught a glimpse of one of our six out-walkers that were part of our group and were there to jump in and help out anybody or any horse that needed it.  Mostly I think that the horses did great except when it was time to stop, and start again.  It was during the stops that the horses would get a little antsy because the band ahead was playing.

All I can say is WOW when it came time to make the turn on Television Corner.  This is where there are huge grand-stands on both sides of the street and about a zillion cameras of all kinds.  There was a camera on a boom that was following along on the side of us that reminded me of a giant spider or some sort of weird alien thing from a sci-fi movie.  This was something that is hard to describe and even though I experienced it I’m not sure I can even come up with the words to explain the enormity of it all.  Being surrounded by thousands and thousands of people all cheering and wishing us a Happy New Year was an incredible rush.  So was being on Chief, who was taking it all in and I think was probably handling all of the sensory overload stuff even better than his rider was.


Taken on the parade route by Linda Moulton.

The one thing that really stood out to me was how happy and friendly everyone seemed to be.  Every official that I encountered throughout the entire day was cheerful and friendly and I think genuinely happy to be there.  As were the parade spectators.  So many of them LOVED our horses, and you could tell, especially if you made eye contact and waved directly at them you could see their enthusiasm bubbling up to the surface.  The kids were constantly yelling out “horses, look at the horses”, and at times I was close enough to the spectators to hear them reading about the AERC and our group from the parade program.  People were impressed to learn about the distances that these horses do.

Soon after Television Corner, our marshall had Kayla and Bo switch places with Julie and Aubie.  This worked out well because now Aubie was next to her stable mate, and now Bo and Chief were also together side by side.

After a few minutes of riding in the front row, Kayla looks at me and says “it’s a lot different being in the front”.  LOL  This was actually the first time that Bo has been in the front row in a parade.  He’s been in the second row and last and in various other positions but not the front.  Turned out that he handled it beautifully, as did Kayla.

Of course, now I had even one more thing to divert my attention though it didn’t take long for me to realize that Bo was just fine and probably preferred to be in the front.  Kayla is the most experienced rider I know, besides having over 7,000 endurance miles she works with and trains event horses.  Then of course, she is on Bo who has 8,700 miles and has been ridden in parades (and on 50’s) by a 10 year old.  I really didn’t have to worry about them.  So, I went back to worrying about myself and Chief (lol). By this point I was feeling pretty relaxed and safe.  As safe as you can feel on a horse in the front row going past hundreds of thousands of people, making all kinds of noise.  Oh, and right behind a very animated band.  Yep, totally safe.


This video is on Youtube and actually shows the moment with Kayla and Julie switched positions:

Kayla and Bo. Photo by Lisa Peck.

Kayla and Bo. Photo by Lisa Peck.

Soon we were riding past Andy’s Cafe, where there was a large group of AERC supporters – friends and family members.  They were standing and cheering, holding up a banner and it was great to have their support and get to see everyone.

All along the route I could hear people calling out my name, and Gayle’s, who was behind me.  I even heard people calling out “Chief”.

What was hard to comprehend was the enormous amount of people that were there.  They say that there are 700,000 people on the parade route.  It was a never ending sea of people in every direction.

Lots of people had spent the night on the sidewalk and were still lying on air mattresses and covered in blankets.  Several times somebody would stand up and shake a blanket right in front of us.  None of that seemed to rattle the horses though.  Chief backed up once when something was thrown at him, and he of course had to go around the horse eating man-hole covers, that just our luck were all on his side of the street.

I loved all of the signs that the spectators had made and had along the route.  Of course, we saw many for AERC in support of our group.  There were also fun ones like about 3/4 of the way through the 5.5 mile route one would say “4.5 miles to go” and then another one “just kidding, it’s only 3 miles”.  Of course, as endurance riders we wouldn’t have cared if it had been another 10 miles, or even if we had to ride back to the start.  It took us about 2 hours to go 5.5 miles.  It was very slow going, with lots of stopping.

Karen on Chief and Julie on Aubie. Photo by Lisa Peck.

Karen on Chief and Julie on Aubie. Parade walker Lori Oleson in the center. Photo by Lisa Peck.


Photo by Lisa Peck.

Photo by Lisa Peck.

Near the end we went under a big freeway overpass, through a signal and now had a White Suitor showing us the way back to our rigs.  The parade had large buckets of water out for the horses.  Just like with any endurance ride you don’t want it to end though when it does end you feel the sense of relief.  Seeing our familiar row of trailers ahead meant that our adventure was soon coming to an end.

Now we were riding past a lot of the parade floats, all lined up just off of the parade route.  It was so cool to get to see them up close and look at all of the detail.  They were gorgeous!

20160101_113834Once back at the trailer we got the horses fed and untacked.  Dave got our In-n-Out Burger tickets and went over to get our lunch for us.  Boy was that the best burger ever!  We each got two cheeseburgers, a drink, and some chips.  They also had grilled cheese as an option.  Since we had not drank anything since before midnight the night before, we were sure thirsty.

I don’t even remember if I ate anything for breakfast that morning and was famished.  I ate almost all of my two cheeseburgers, thinking of the Jimmy Buffet song “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.  That’s what it was, too!

Now to load up Chief and Bo and head back to the LAEC.  Some of our AERC group members headed home from the parade finish.  Those of us that had travelled a few hundred miles had all planned to spend the night before heading home the next morning.  I know I wanted my horses to rest, though the parade itself wasn’t physically demanding it was definitely the most challenging thing I’ve ever asked them to do mentally.

DSC_0185_2RP2016_254 (Small)What a way to start out 2016, eh?  It was an honor to get to represent the AERC in the Rose Parade and I was thrilled to get to ride with Julie, Connie, Kayla and all of the members of our group and am so proud of Chief and Bo for getting through it (and not embarrassing me/us).

Would I do it again?  Probably not.  It was certainly worth doing once but it is very time consuming and expensive.  Chief and Bo are out in the barn breathing huge sighs of relief right now, lol.  They are happy to get to go back to being endurance horses.  They sure do have some stories to tell about their adventures.

20160102_125356_002-1Happy New Year everyone!

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