By Ken Morris, Western U.S. Liaison
On June 10, four CHHAPS members fielded a Canadian Horse entry in the Grand Floral Parade in Portland Oregon, to celebrate Canada’s 150th and Canada’s National Horse! Our horses and riders were: Ultra-Elite (U.E.) owned by Michael and Leona Jimenez and ridden by Leona Jimenez; Jeff, owned and ridden by Michelle Heffner; Rocco, owned by Kathleen and Lennis Robinson and ridden by myself; and Tess, owned by Susan Boyce and ridden by Carrie Peterson.
The Grand Floral Parade in has taken place for more than 100 years and is the second largest floral parade in the western U.S., second only to the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. But the Pasadena parade is a cakewalk for horses, compared to the Grand Floral. In Pasadena, horses enjoy wide, level streets and generally perfect weather. In Portland, we stage and prepare the horses under a freeway overpass with trucks and traffic rumbling overhead at 55 mph (80 kph). Then we cross light rail tracks, go under another overpass, to the waiting area between more light rail tracks and the Memorial Coliseum parking structure, which is full of marching bands warming up. Here, all of the equestrian entries are packed in tight, in two rows. Horse-drawn stagecoaches and wagons, rodeo queens, mounted patrols, and miniature horses (some pulling carts), plus their scoopers in crazy costumes, all mixed up together! Here, horses and riders must wait for several hours until it’s their turn to go in. And this being Oregon, you might have anything from soaking rain to hot sun. (This year, we had rain while we were getting ready, but it cleared up by the time the parade started.)
From the staging area, each equestrian group is fed into the parade between marching bands and floats, and then rides through the Memorial Coliseum and out into the bright sunlight, bleachers, and TV cameras mounted on booms. Then we ride four miles (6.5 km) through the heart of downtown Portland, crossing the high Burnside Bridge over the Willamette River and then winding between downtown high rises (which create a huge echo chamber with the brass bands). Portland’s streets are narrower than Pasadena’s and at times, clearance between crowds (which may number 400,000) and horses is pretty tight. It goes without saying that all of our horses were parade experienced, and had marched in numerous smaller parades in the past. All had been in the Grand Floral Parade at least once in years prior as well.
In the days before the parade with bathe and clip horses and prepare floral decorations. The flowers alone took two people (CHHAPS member Leona Jimenez and her good friend Susan Killinger) three full eight-hour days to prepare. For me parade day started at 2:30 AM, up after an hour’s nap to give horses an early feed. We loaded horses at 4 AM and were off to the assembly area by 4:30. Once we arrived, we unloaded horses and put on leg wraps and horse boots while our expert flower arranger (Susan’s daughter Brooke Killinger) braided manes and tails and applied floral decorations. Then we saddled up, changed into parade clothes, and were ready for judging at 7:30 AM. We finally stepped off about 11:30 AM and were done about 1:30…both mentally and physically exhausted.
We had our challenges this year—starting with a new (and very slick) surface on the Coliseum floor, which required us to purchase horse boots and get our horses acclimated to them. With the political unrest in Portland we worried about potential demonstrations or even violence. And last but not least we had to find a substitute horse and rider and a trailer driver on fairly short notice. In the end, the boots worked perfectly and with beefed up police presence, the parade went off smoothly. But horses being horses, we had a mishap before the parade even started, when a volunteer scooper came right up behind one of our horses without warning with a flat blade shovel and touched her hind legs, spooking the horse who then attempted to jump a barricade! The rider gamely attempted to maintain control but came off…and then the horse stopped and stood quietly. The horse was fine but the rider opted to go to the hospital to get checked out, so Leona’s husband Michael led the horse through the parade without incident. (Carrie, sorry you didn’t get to finish the parade with us, but thanks for being a real trooper. Your positive attitude is an inspiration to us all!) We passed on our lesson learned (which of course, we already knew) to the parade organizers: it’s never good to come up behind a horse without warning, no matter how calm and well trained they are!
There’s much more that goes into it, both time and money…not to mention stress and risk. After having done just about everything with horses, from combined driving to cross-country and Civil War reenactments, I can say that a parade of this magnitude is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done with a horse. And through it all, you smile and wave. So I asked our participants, why do you do it?
Leona Jimenez wrote: “I enjoy the opportunity to talk with people, interacting with them, and educating people about the Canadian horse. It’s about creating an awareness about the Canadian horse as a breed and the attributes that make them great. For me it is also about the flowers and color creating a unified look for the parade to draw attention to the Canadian horse’s dynamic appearance. The Grand Floral Parade is televised to a huge audience of people who are then exposed to this fabulous breed!” For Michelle Heffner, it’s about being a role model for people of color–especially children, and especially at a time when our country feels so divided.
As for me—I definitely do it to support CHHAPS, and my friends. I also do it for the kids. For the city kids, this may be their first and only time to see a live horse. I remember the sense of wonder I had when I was four years old seeing a horse for the first time (a police horse in Tucson, Arizona—who coincidentally, looked very much like a Canadian). I also love riding in the Grand Floral Parade because the audience is so diverse. The parade brings people from all over the world together. We rode in the international section, right after the Tian Guo Marching Band, with members from San Jose, CA, New York, NY, and Vancouver, BC.! I like to send a message that all people are welcome here—and the “people oriented” Canadian Horse certainly complements that message. They are great equine ambassadors!