Editor's note: EquiSearch.com community member KC Swanson, known as KCS in the EquiSearch.com forum, is a civilian volunteer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) Posse. Here she recounts her experiences when two of her horses were selected to carry Olympic equestrians Beezie Madden and Guenter Seidel in the 2008 Rose Parade on January 1.
It all started with an email from the Mounted Enforcement Coordinator of the LASD which read:
"The 2008 Rose Parade will be very historic for the Sheriff's Department Mounted Posse. The United States Olympic Equestrian Committee will have 12 Olympic contestants riding in the parade. They have requested assistance from the Sheriff's Mounted Posse with supplying the horses. As you know, the horses that they compete with would not be capable of handling the intense sensory of the Rose Parade.
"They are requesting that we supply 12 suitable solid colored horses for their Olympians to ride while the owners walk alongside in their appropriate Sheriff's Department uniform. Our personnel would be viewed by millions as they walk the five-mile route with their equestrian partners.
"The Olympic Committee will provide professional horse transportation from the L.A. Equestrian Center (LAEC) with farriers, groomers etc. to care for each animal before the parade.
"There will be a selection process and equine evaluation prior to the event. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
I have been riding for the LASD Posse as a civilian volunteer since 2002. My mare, PC (Poppa's Peppy Chex), and I have gone through many hours of training together and have also ridden in multiple parades. Though I grew up in the Pasadena area and even lived six blocks from the parade for 11 years, I have never had the opportunity to be a part of it. So I submitted our application and after a "testing" day to see if the horse would be able to handle the parade activity, we passed (of course she passed!).
Part of the expected suitability was that our horses were not shaggy or poorly represented. Since I always keep my horse blanketed and stalled even in California, her coat is rarely shaggy, but the day after Christmas, my 18-year-old daughter and I were out body clipping her as well as another of my horses, a 3-1/2 year old Belgian/Paint gelding we got free as a 4H project two years ago. Apparently the "solid" requirement was a bit loose and the horses chosen depended more on their temperament than color, and the department also chose him. "Ringo" is a mostly white, chestnut pinto. He also underwent the clipping process. Working an hour or two each day, it took us nearly a week to get both horses completely finished. Add to that the Santa Ana winds blowing hair up our noses and mouths and aching muscles getting down to the dirt--my daughter announced if the President or the Pope wanted his horses bodyclipped, the answer was NO!
On Sunday, December 30, I loaded up my trailer with my two horses who were clean, shiny and ready to ride and traveled to the LAEC in Burbank, where the horses were to be housed for the 48 hours before the parade. The plan was to get the horses fitted with the type of equipment the Olympians would use, determine which horses would be ridden by whom and in what order. The plan was that this would take about 10 minutes. Four hours later, our horses were finally selected for their individual riders and disciplines, fitted for their equipment and put in their stalls. At this point, we had still not met the Olympians but were working with their team. Since I live two hours from the LAEC, my trailer would be my home for the next couple of days. One other LASD member stayed too, Captain Juanna Lamb, and we kept our eyes on the 12 horses.
On Monday, the day before the parade, we had a chance to work our horses at the facility and ride around on some of the area trails. LAEC is a gorgeous stable/show facility where all of the out-of-state horses are kept pre-parade. Then, even though most of our horses were pretty clean, the groomers arrived to bathe and braid them for the next morning. All 12 horses were scrubbed again. They joined another few dozen horses at the wash racks including the Mini Mystique Driving Drill Team and the Budweiser Clydesdales. I didn't have a camera to take the picture of the minis getting bathed next to the Clydesdales, but I wish I had.
Squeaky clean, our horses rested in their stalls until 11 p.m. when two huge horse transport semi trucks roared up to take them to "the pit." This is an area within a few blocks of the parade start where a freeway ends and all the equestrian units in the parade prepare. For nearly a mile, hundreds of trailers and transports are parked while the horses wait to be called by the "White Suits," those ubiquitous members of the Tournament of Roses. One by one, our horses were led into these behemoth trailers, stalled and fed for the six-hour wait. I felt like I was sending kids to camp. We were able to get a couple more hours of sleep until our inspection time at 2 a.m. Two sheriff vans drove the 11 walking escorts to the same "pit" where we dozed until about 4:30.
At 5 a.m., the horses were unloaded and tacked up by a team from Silver Gate Farms.
This was the first opportunity we had to meet the Olympians who would be riding our horses. PC was going to be ridden by show jumping Olympian Beezie Madden, and Ringo would be ridden by dressage Olympian Guenter Seidel.
The horses were fresh and ready to go, the riders ready to go, and we were facing the first of the seven miles we would be walking that day. (The parade is five miles, but the staging area at the beginning adds another mile and the finishing area for equestrians is yet another mile--uphill!--from the parade end.) I am not complaining, but it just has to be said.
Though a couple of the horses were a bit excited by the sounds and floats, band and the U.S. Air Force flyover, they all settled down before the end of the first mile.
Even though I have grown up seeing the parade (live and on TV), I was amazed at truly how well-run it really is. The White Suits have it down to a science and are completely competent. The people really do line both sides of the streets, sometimes hundreds and hundreds deep, for the whole five miles. In the downtown area, the tallest buildings still have people peering from upper windows and balconies. The experience was unforgettable and made me proud of our wonderful country. People cheered our U.S. team; some called out individual names or had signs ("GUENTER ROCKS!"). Sure I was tired and my horses were tired, but I was proud both of them and of the opportunity I had to do this. Would I do it again? Hmmm--ask me in four years!
Watch a video of the U.S. Equestrian Team at the 2008 Rose Parade at www.uset.org.