Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Christmas Parade

Today, Guinness and I participated in a daylight Christmas parade in a nearby town. It was about a 3 mile route and there were well over 100 entries. We were part of a small "herd" at the end, representing our local Parelli Play Group. (We are in the photo above, from a local newspaper, behind Zippy & Diane.)

First off, I have to admit that I didn't prepare at all ahead of time. I've been swamped with work and the weather forecast wasn't very favorable. When I awoke at 8:00 this morning, it was 14 degrees outside, but sunny. The tractor wouldn't start so that we could unload a roundbale from the back of our truck, so I called Diane to cancel out. She wouldn't let me. So..

My husband pushed the roundbale off of the truck by hand, while I scrambled around try to prepare! He also got the truck & trailer hooked up for me - thank you, honey! When the trailer moved it attracted Guinness' attention, so he was waiting at the gate for me. I put his leg wraps on him while he picked at the frozen grass. Then I loaded him straight onto the trailer where his breakfast was waiting for him. Once again, he hopped forward onto the trailer with his back legs - he still seems to think that once his front feet are on board, he can't step forward with his hind feet..

Guinness & I got on the road by around 9:40 am, and it took about 40 minutes to get to the town. Once we reached the vicinity, I discovered that the main road had already been closed and we had to take a detour in order to back track to the parade staging area. After some anxiety producing squeezes and turns with the truck & trailer, we arrived before our friends did.

I went ahead and unloaded Guinness, so that I could allow him to graze while brushing him. (No brush had touched his body since last week. Thank goodness for a brown horse!) A group of horses was preparing up ahead of us. Just after unloading him, as he was looking around, he tripped walking up a curb and *fell completely down on the sidewalk.* Agh!! Fortunately, his legs were still fully wrapped and he was wearing a blanket, and he didn't suffer any damage. He sure looked surprised.

Our friends arrived and unloaded behind us: a mini pony and his cart, and a 6 year old pinto Arab cross mare. The mini gelding is a parade veteran, however this was a new experience for the mare and she was a little jazzed. Guinness grazed frantically, which I've come to recognize as a stress response. We quickly brushed and decorated our horses. (I discovered that rapidly brushing a dark brown horse produces lots of beige dust, which doesn't make the horse look any better..) Guinness was decked-out out with garland around his neck hung with bells and tiny lights.

The environment was very exciting. Lots of loud band and parade noises in the distance, a boom truck passing us, strange horses neighing & jigging, Zippy hooked to his little decorated cart, plus a spinning street sweeper just behind us! Zippy walked ahead of us, while we led Guinness and Una (the mare). Both Guinness & Una were very "up" at the beginning our our walk. Guinness felt insecure and was obsessed with finding stuff to eat or to put his mouth on, and insisted on crowding me with his shoulder.

Fortunately, the parade was long enough for both horses to work through their feelings and to discover that they were safe with us. By the end of the parade, after lots of "falling leaf" patterns, circles, halts, backing, sideways and other maneuvers, they had mellowed out. Near the end, Guinness had lowered his head to sniff every possible thing on the ground, and was licking/chewing and blowing - all signs of him coming off of adrenaline.

At the end of the parade route, Guinness was tied to a trailer while I hitched a ride to go back to get our rig. He was still tied when I got back to him and appeared to have behaved himself. He loaded right up (with a bit smaller of a hop) and we headed home.

Parades are a wonderful opportunity to practice skills in extreme circumstances and to apply the principle of "controlled catastrophe." The idea being that a successful outcome to a controlled catastrophe helps to prepare us to get through those inevitable unforeseen events! Even walking over cross-walks and exploring manhole covers can be important developmental experiences.

I firmly believe in leading any horse the first few times that they are exposed to the frenzy of a large parade. It not only keeps the horse and rider safe, but also protects the spectators (kids & dogs) and other parade participants. Folks are just happy to see a horse - they really don't care if you don't ride. ;-)

I'm hoping that Guinness will be ready to ride in our next parade opportunity on July 4th. We'll see how it goes!


Ark said...

I am sure glad I didn't let you weasel out of the parade today! Guiness did great and was so helpful in making Una feel more comfortable. After 2 weeks of being locked in a stall most of the time, Zippy was so wired he sure didn't settle anyone down, LOL.
Congrats on Guiness's good manners and pretty parade horse look!


Tina said...

This past summer we took our big girls with the wagon in their first parade. My Parelli instructor and another student were with us. I've heard there are plans to attend next year, and I might bring Dixie online. We'll see! I'll have to do lots of prep first before I'll feel comfortable bringing her. The thing that scares me (the safety freak!)is that there's no way out if you have a big problem as there are people everywhere. I suppose they'd move when confronted by an upset 2000# horse, though!