Question -- "Anyone have experience in what to do to get your horse ready to be in a parade, and to prepare yourself? I have never been in a parade with my horse. How do we get ready? How do I know he will be OK? We don't go to many places, just ride down country roads. He's good with cars and kids and dogs. "
Hurry Up and Wait
With so much going on around the horses, several forum members agreed that the hardest part of the parade was the standing around, waiting for the "off."
"Work on getting your horse to stand. As simple as that sounds, you will be standing a lot. Your horse needs to stand quietly for a long time. " ~~ KIRBYLANE
"When we lined up, it took FOREVER to get started and my horse lost all patience, so be prepared for that. My horse actually reared up." ~~ HORSYPLAY
Accustoming your horse to stand patiently can be done anywhere - during your schooling sessions, on the trail, at shows etc. Once your horse will stand quietly until you ask him to move, you'll be reaping the rewards everywhere you go with him!
Get the Spook Out Beforehand
The most obvious hazards when you're riding in a parade are the crowds, the noise, the strange sights. You can begin work at home to get your horse used to these exciting events. Try and think of the sorts of things you and your horse will encounter during the parade and introduce your horse to them ahead of time. You can tie flags and balloons around your arena. The place may look like a circus, but when it comes to riding in the parade, your horse will adopt a "been there, seen that" attitude!
If you're going to be carrying a banner or flag, practice at home first. Horses can get spooky with something draping down their side and with one hand on the flag, you're only going to have one hand for the reins.
"For the sirens, you can find those little body alarms usually in the dollar store, and pull the handle. It will be very loud, so start at a distance." ~~ MBronk
"Get him used to balloons and Popping ballons. You can use a small cap gun to simulate the popping noises. You can get one of those bull horns that has a bunch of different siren sounds on it and play that occasionally." ~~ ANNALAR16
"There are also all sorts of flapping things, banners, flags, etc. Funny, you never notice this stuff until you're on the back of a horse carrying a flag yourself & trying to hold on with one hand." ~~ BanditsMom
"Remember there will be flags, firetrucks, sirens, etc. At least ride by a firestation and let him see them. I was lucky where I boarded we had a firestation about half a block away. The horses saw ambulances, and firetrucks with the noise and flashing lights all the time. I still appreciate them spook training my horses for me!" ~~ TRAILGIRL911
Riding in Company
Your position in the parade can make a difference between a nice calm ride and nerve wracking tension. Taking your horse on regular trail rides with a group of friends will really help to socialize him. In addition, you can use more experienced horses to help give your horse the courage he needs to face scary monsters, such as ice cream trucks, or clowns on unicycles!
"When I put my gelding in his first parade, I put myself right in the middle of the pack. He is very social and since he was surrounded by other, more experienced horses, he was fine. If you fear your horse will kick, keep him in the back. To keep away from the crowds, put yourself in the middle, they are less likely to mess with you then. If he is comfortable with people and traffic, you have a head start." ~~ KIRBYLANE
"If you have a friend or riding companion who has ridden in parades before ask them if they could ride along with you to help relax your horse. The last parade I went to I had a seasoned parade horses and another person had a horse that was there for the first time. I rode in front of this horse the whole way as he was a bit nervous at first, but he finished the parade well and didn't have much problems." ~~ ANNALAR16
And remember, often there are other animals taking part in parades, often right next to the horses.
"You might want to expose your horse to other types of animals that might be present at a parade like Llamas and IF he has not been around donkeys and or mules, some horses FREAK at them. So it is best to find out how he might react to them." ~~ ANNALAR16
Watch Where You're Riding
Another point brought up by forum members was road surface, something you might overlook with everything else going on around.
"Check the road type.. We ended up on the race track and the hooves were sliding because of oil slicks. One horse almost flipped over with the rider, so you want to make sure the surface is something your horse is used to before hand." ~~HORSYPLAY
"Watch out for railroad tracks. We have a dozen SEASONED police horses, and one fine 4th of July parade in a local town, we came upon railroad tracks with about 10 yards of that shiny diamond-plate metal covering the ashpalt! Talk about a goat rodeo! As if we had hit a brick wall! Funny now, but not funny at the time!" ~~ ZIGGYSMOM
"Make sure your horse is not afraid of the stripes on the roads as some country roads do not have stripes and reflectors that tend to freak horses out when they get to town." ~~ ANNALAR16
In general though, our forum members agreed that, provided you prepare well in advance, both you and your horse should have a great time at the parade.
"If you horse trusts you, is used to traffic, applause & loud noises, you should be fine."
"Just go slow with him, and you'll both learn the ins and outs. You'll know what he'll be comfortable with." ~~ Classiq
And finally, on a more practical note - most parade organizers have arranged liability insurance. Double check before you start.
"Parades are very exciting places, and everything swirling around a horse can be very confusing. Even a good, solid, gentle horse can react in ways that we don't expect.... it only takes one fire-cracker and a small child for something terrible to happen. You probably have a good horse, and he'll probably do fine. Just think about every possible situation, and consider liability insurance." ~~ SHELBYBR