richard winters

Thought I’d better tack up and see if everything fit

In January of 2012 I was able to check something off my “bucket list.” (I hadn’t even realized it was included!) I rode in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California! Now I’m not a parade aficionado by any means. However, I learned some interesting details about this event over the last few weeks: The first Tournament of Roses was staged in 1890. This is the largest parade in the United States and has been in existence for 123 years. Beautiful floats adorned solely with flowers, seeds and plants are the trademark of this parade. As well as marching bands and a lot of horses!

This year it was the organizer’s goal to have one hundred palomino horses leading the “Roy Rogers” float to commemorate Roy’s 100th birthday. The Long Beach Mounted Police has ridden Palomino horses in this parade for half a century. I was honored that they invited me to join them as their special guest.

Thanks to The Thacher School (where I serve as “Artist-in-Residence”), I was able to acquire a trusty palomino gelding that took good care of me during the 5½ mile parade route. I’m not sure Ol’Yeller was very impressed with my borrowed silver parade gear. It looked beautiful, but weighed about 85 pounds!

Another interesting observation: Never try to do anything other than walk down the middle of Main Street with one of those beautiful saddles. The silver-plated tapadero stirrups are extremely heavy. Picking up a trot or lope would be almost impossible! It’s a good thing that there wasn’t a stampede!

The parade saddles are truly a work of art. Many of them are well over fifty to seventy-five years old. To purchase one (if you can find one for sale), would start at $20,000 and could cost as much as $100,000. It was a relief to deliver mine back to my gracious lender unscathed.

Nine hundred volunteers work tirelessly to assure the success of this annual parade. The organization was model perfect! A portion of the freeway was blocked off for all of the horse rigs and hundreds of horses that had to be assembled by midnight, prior to the start of the parade the following morning.

Let’s go find a parade!

On the morning of the parade, horses were being unloaded, groomed and saddled before daylight. The motto was “hurry up and wait.” The Long Beach Mounted Police had the honor of leading the hundred Palominos, so by 7:00 AM our group was mounted and lining up in rows of six. It was a very patriotic sight as each of us carried an American Flag.

At 8:03 (right on schedule!), a Stealth Bomber performed a low fly-over, just above the parade route. Watching a Stealth Bomber fly over-head while sitting on a golden palomino, carrying an American Flag, made me feel proud to be an American!

As we started down the parade route, Roy Roger’s son and grandson were on board the float singing “Happy Trails.” It’s still difficult for me to grasp the concept of 1½ million people sitting on the curbs, bleachers, lining the side-walks and intersections to watch as one hundred palominos walked down the streets of Pasadena for the conclusion of the Tournament of Roses Parade. That’s a lot of people and they were great! Thousands stood and removed their hats to honor our Color Guard. Veterans would salute as we rode by. At that moment I recognized what an honor it was to participate in this historical event.

Pre-designated drivers had moved all the trucks and trailers to the end of the parade route. After three hours on Main Street, we rode our horses into a residential area where our rigs were now parked. There were tubs of water available for the horses at the end of the parade. After carrying my heavy silver saddle and me on this un-seasonably warm January morning, Ol’ Yeller was happy that someone had thought of him. After a picnic lunch with the Long Beach Mounted Police riders, it was time to load up and head home.

I don’t imagine I’ll be hitting the parade circuit full-time, but I’m glad to have had this opportunity to participate in such a prestigious event. You’ve got to love a parade – my outlook will never be the same!