A long time ago, I decided to take my large Welsh cross pony in a holiday parade. I planned to drive him hitched to a 'slat cart'. A slat cart is a high wheeled vehicle somewhat similar to the old harness racing carts of the 1800s. This pony had been shown, and had done a season of competitive trail riding. But the noise and confusion of the parade was too much for him and he became very fractious and difficult to control. Needless to say, we turned around and went home rather than jeopardize the safety of the crowd and ourselves. I remember being very disappointed, but obviously we were not ready for the marching bands, sirens and other noises and sights that make parades exciting for us, but overly exciting for some horses.
Since that time, I've ridden in parades and taken my daughter and her pony on a lead line, dressed in costume. Riding or driving in parades can be very enjoyable, provided you are prepared. Getting ready for a parade, decorating your horse and wearing a costume can be fun. Holiday and festival parades can happen year 'round and for the spectators the inclusion of horses is all part of the appeal. But there are a few things you should be aware of before you put your horse on the trailer, or ride to the marshaling grounds.
The safety of the spectators, rider and horse is the first priority. Your horse can meet a lot of situations in a parade they may not experience at home, or even at a show. You may have to deal with:
- Loud and sudden noises like marching bands, cheering and sirens.
- Balloons, bunting, streamers, flags and other decoration that can flap, glitter or shake.
- Excited spectators who might try to touch or crowd the horse.
- Frequent stopping and starting and a slow pace.
- The close proximity of other horses or animals.
- Other parade participants (including brightly dressed clowns and other entertainers) on foot, bicycle or in vehicles who might inadvertently crowd your horse.
Surprisingly many horses deal with the fuss very well. But accidents involving horses in parades do happen and it's best to take the time to desensitize your new parade horse as much as possible before hand. And don't forgo safety equipment because you are wearing a costume. Helmets, boots, and safety stirrups can and should be incorporated into your costume.
A parade horse must be very obedient, quiet and absolutely road safe. It's difficult to emulate the exact environment of a parade for your horse at home. But it doesn't hurt to let your horse see things like balloons and streamers before hand. Think about ways you can safely introduce your horse to some of the sights and sounds, and you'll have a much happier and safer parade horse.