Training Your Horse’s Mind: Preparing for Parades
Practically every city has a street festival and counties and states have their fairs. With them, come fun parades for all to enjoy. Everybody loves a parade, especially when there are horses to see! It is one of few opportunities some families ever get to see horses up close, and there is nothing in the world like the feeling you get marching by with your decorated horses and hear the crowd cheer and applaud. You’ve just made their day, or in a child’s case, their year!
Parade officials know what draws a crowd and often welcome equestrian units. Unfortunately, the amount of equestrian units wanting to participate has dwindled over the years. This often has to do with the preparation it takes to get horses physically and mentally prepared to handle the commotion and unfamiliar environment.
The good news! Horses that can mentally handle horse shows (especially ones held at fairgrounds) will often tolerate parades. However, the right preparation has to be done.
Below is a sampling of training preparations I have made for successful appearances with my horses in parades. I have done the 4th of July and even highlighted equestrian vaulting in another parade. All parties involved have had so much fun and it was really worth the effort!
First, decide which type of parade you would like to participate in. Do some research online to the local cities websites for events.
Get approval: Organizers are often not horse-people. Ask them if they allow equestrian units, what rules they have in place regarding horses, how long the parade takes and the exact route. Most importantly, ask them what accommodations they have for an appropriate staging area and placement in the parade so all members of your unit will be safe. Keep in regular communication with them until parade day; their goal is for you to return the next year!
Before signing the application: Double check the route by doing a drive-by if you can. Be open-minded, imagining your group walking through or having to stand for a few minutes in certain areas. Look for things that could potentially upset your horses: windmills, parking garage entrances (horses knows them as caves), midway rides and lawns decorated with elaborate monsters…I mean things; and game booths (horse blenders). Even freshly painted lines on the pavement can upset some horses. This is just preparing you so that you can prepare your horse. You can always back out if you need to. The organizers will understand.
Make a Plan:
Volunteers first! Get a list of people dedicated to helping you prepare and be in the parade. Children and teens always want to help and they are great sign makers, horse decorators and candy passer-outers. You will need just as many adults who are excellent horse-handlers to be side-walkers and protect the crowd from your horses and vice versa.
Get two vehicles to travel with your unit – one in front, one behind. This is so easy and makes for a safer day! When the parade pauses, your own vehicles create a safer distance between your horses and the tiny, sequined baton twirlers ahead of you and the miniature, fringe-covered ATV units buzzing in circles behind you. Additionally, your vehicles can hold water for your horses and helpers, as well as carry small children in your unit that have worn-tired of walking. They can now wave instead of whine!
Make that list of things your horses or ponies are going to possibly be exposed to.
Best to over-do it! Have fun and be creative, but be smart and safe! We spent at least 3 weeks practicing every opportunity we had.
- Noise and Lights. Sirens, car horns, noise makers, loud engines, fireworks.
- Costumes and Props. Flags, shiny fabric, sequins, flowers, fringe, banners.
- Commotion and Crowds. Wagons, strollers, wheelchairs.
- Stuff your horse’s ears with soft sheet cotton or ear pom-poms to dull the sound and protect their sensitive hearing. Ride them several times with stuffed ears to familiarize them with the feel.
- Ask a friend on the police force to swing by the barn to flash the lights and hit the siren in short bursts. Even volunteer firemen usually have the detachable lights for their vehicles. Do it while they are safe in the stalls first, then move to the driveway. Lots of praise!
- Have a barn-mate drive their motorcycle to the barn a few times. Simple coming and going as they normally would should be enough to familiarize your horse with the sights and sounds.
- Fireworks are their own breed of noise. Be careful, be legal and be safe! They were not “allowed” at the parade we were in, but I wanted my horses exposed to them just in case. Our plan was to get permission from the barn owner to set off a few pop-caps and sparklers outside the barn at a safe distance while the horses, ear-stuffed and comfortable in their stalls, could see us. We did not have to do this because the neighbor set real fireworks off (unannounced) while the horses were out in a paddock nearby, and I got to see their reaction. So, this is just an idea if you don’t happen to have a fireworks-happy neighbor!
- Costumes and Props: Casually walk past your horse’s stall with a short flagpole and gathered up flag. Each time they are ok with it, gently let it flow more and more until they reach the point where you can let them sniff it, walk by them while they are outside their stalls, etc. Play and have fun with all your props in this way. It is amazing how much a horse will put up with for a happy praising voice and a mouthful of treats!
- Crowds and commotion: Ask your helpers to stand along the driveway cheering and clapping and whistling as you walk by. In the background, someone can honk their car horn a little too. Have several people engage in a relaxing activity for the horse, like grooming, all at the same time. And, definitely have several miniature dress rehearsals if your horse is to be ridden in costume.
Lastly, some extra tips for a smooth event:
- Assign one or two of the adults to be Event Managers for the day of the parade. Give them a list of assigned tasks to divide up between your volunteers; feeding, lunging, packing, etc. Then you won’t end up with five children all decorating the same horse.
- Have plenty of candy for the crowd split up into several sacks for your unit. GFS is a great place to buy in bulk.
- Make a carpooling plan so you fit in your assigned staging area and can get in and out quickly. Assign one large car to transport people from the end of the parade back to the staging area to clean up and go.
- Make sure you have a volunteers for poo-patrol. A shovel and a muck tub on wheels works great. Truthfully, they get the most cheers in your group! …Don’t ask me why.
There are many more things you can do to prepare for your parade, but hopefully these ideas will at least get your creative juices flowing and help you to be safe and have fun!
Until next time… Enjoy!
Need more help with parade training and ideas?
© 2011 Megan Carl - Mane Alternative