– Training tips for parade riding
Parades are a big part of certain holidays. Everyone has heard of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rose Bowl Parade, but many cities and towns also have local parades.
Our trail riding group has participated in the Ft Worth Stock Show Parade for a number of years and thoroughly enjoys it. We also work with our horses ahead of time to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed by the parade atmosphere.
This article covers some of the techniques we have used to prepare our horses to make sure the parade is a safe and positive experience.
Expose your horse to different environments. Many horses never leave their pasture, so loading them up and showing up on the parade grounds with no preparation could be too much stimulation for them. Make the parade just another trip of many trips. Haul your horses to different riding areas or trails. This gives your horse practice getting on and off a trailer and teaches them to relax in a new environment.
Desensitize your horse ahead of time. Parades can be very noisy with big bands and fire engine sirens. Spectators are often not horse savvy people so they don’t stop to think that the balloons, flags, noisemakers, etc, might frighten your horse. Your best defense is to desensitize your horse to these things ahead of time.
If you have a lot of time before the parade, see if there is a desensitization clinic near you. If there aren’t any, you can do it yourself. Start with little thing like exposing your horse to a plastic bag or a tarp. Over time introduce your horse to bikes, strollers, umbrellas, wheelchairs, ponchos, and anything else you might encounter along a parade route.
The process of introducing your horse to these different items teaches your horse to be a thinking horse, not just a reacting horse. And since the new item didn’t eat him, it teaches the horse to trust you.
Plan to ride your horse with a seasoned parade horse. This isn’t always an option, but if you have the opportunity to ride your horse next to a solid, confident horse, do it. Horses pick up vibes from other horses. If your horse sees the experienced horse being calm, you are halfway there to getting your horse relaxed. We use this technique to introduce green horses to the trail and it’s produced excellent, calm trail horses.
If your nervous horse sees the horse next to him staying calm, often times the horse will settle down. If you don’t know a calm, experienced horse to ride next to, another thing you can do is have a walker who accompanies you. The walker should be someone the horse knows and trusts. This will help keep the horse in control and make the parade experience a pleasurable one.
If you get to the parade and your horse is overreacting, consider not riding this parade and using the experience as a training session. There will be other parades and it’s much better to play it safe than endanger yourself, your horse, and possibly spectators because you participated before your horse was ready. The experience the horse gains from being around the excitement of the parade will still be a valuable training experience.
Start with a small, horse-friendly parade. Our family has a tradition of riding in a local 4th of July parade because it is so horse friendly. The town that hosts the parade is so small we do two laps through the town as the parade route. We use the parade to introduce new horses to parades and build confidence in our horses. Once they are confident in the small parade we venture out to bigger parades.
Wear a riding helmet. Most parades are on hard roads. If your horse slips on the pavement or spooks and you come off, you could have a head injury. If the parade is a western attire kind, create your own helmet-hat. There are FB groups on how to make these. Here is a link to a site that republished the instructions on making a western style riding helmet.
Introduce costumes, flags and decorations before the parade. Many parades call for fancy outfits or costumes. These are great fun but make sure you do your homework and get your horse used to the attire before parade day. Flags and banners are also part of most parades, so spend time introducing them to your horse before the parade as well.
Don’t test out a new saddle or any tack the day of the parade. This should go without saying, but at every parade we see people show up with a new saddle that doesn’t fit the horse which can give even a well broke horse a reason to buck.
Walk your horse back to the staging area. Some of the worst accidents we have witnessed at parades was after the parade when people galloped their horses past others setting people’s horses off. That kind of behavior is reckless and inconsiderate. Don’t be “that” person.
Relax and have fun. Parades are entertaining events for horses and people. Remember horses get better at parades as they get more experienced with them. All the riding and training you do with your horse will benefit your next parade.