Southern California is known for its mild, warm winters. This point is proven each year as the sunny Tournament of Roses Parade is televised to families huddling in their homes with snow falling outside. January 1, 1982 was actually the exception, as I and four fellow Connemara enthusiasts along with our ponies prepared to ride down Colorado Boulevard.
Parade Prep Started With Muddy Messes
We didn’t have snow, but boy did it rain! First it was a light drizzle, then the rain fell and then buckets of rain dumped on Southern California the whole week leading up to New Year’s Day, turning our un-sheltered corrals into Irish bogs and the ponies into muddy messes. We then turned into sheltered stable finders on New Year’s Eve. Luckily, two covered stalls were found at a neighbor’s house, but we had three Connemaras – 2 mares and a stallion. After shuffling a few horses around, the ponies had a dry place to stay that night. Even then, the two mares shared a large paddock, while the gentleman had a suite to himself. The three parade-bound braided ponies had a clean and dry place to stay for a very short night.
Visions of A Rain-Soaked Parade
We went to bed hopeful as the rain had partly subsided. Luck wasn’t on our side, as we woke at 3:00 am to falling rain. We loaded in the dark, wet to the bone, and we all got on our way to stardom while the rain continued to fall. I had visions of us trapesing down Colorado Boulevard dripping wet, cold and miserable, yet pretending to enjoy our time with rain-soaked tack while riding shivering, shaved ponies.
Wet Parade Prep
We arrived at the equestrian loading area – a section of the freeway blocked off especially for the Rose Parade. It was 5:00 am with rain still coming down. The ponies stayed in the trailers while we huddled in the campers and cars drinking hot chocolate and coffee. Then, miraculously, we had the final “clearing up shower” one hour before we were scheduled to be ready to go on route.
The sky was still grey, but no rain fell. By this time, busloads of band members arrived, assembled and warmed-up their instruments right next to all the equestrians. Even so, out came the ponies, on went the flowers, on went the riding coats, up went the hair, on went the sparkles on the hooves (on ponies who wouldn’t stand still!) and then came the smiles! We were really fortunate to have family and friends along lending a hand with the hurried and harried preparations.
Anxious Waiting For Our Place in the Parade
Then it was off to Waverly Drive, our waiting area for our place in the parade line-up. This was not a quiet spot. The ponies could hear the bands playing in the adjacent block, the floats going by up ahead, and thousands of people were milling about – many admiring our anxious ponies. Finally, after about an hour of waiting and much to our relief, we filed out onto the parade route. Within a few minutes we were on TV – time to pour on the personality.
Finally, The Tournament of Roses Parade on Horseback Begins
The equestrians are the personality of the Rose Parade. It is our job to convey warmth and friendliness to the millions of people in attendance and viewers from all over the globe. We greet the crowd in person, we smile, wave, and say, “Happy New Year!”. We keep this up for the entire five and a half miles. Well, almost all the time. In the beginning of the route while on TV we must only use our left arm to wave so we don’t cover our faces while the cameras film us from the right-hand side of the boulevard.
More floats experienced breakdown due to the rain, bringing a frequent halt to parade movement. The ponies are much happier when moving due to the noise and excitement of the parade environment. Our group of five carried out pinwheels and circles and even policed a float to stop the crowd from picking the flowers off it!
Memories of an Experience of a Lifetime
Despite the usual and unusual problems that come with riding in a high-caliber parade such as the Rose Parade, it is the experience of a lifetime. One of the most exciting benefits of the Rose Parade is watching it that evening and seeing oneself on television. It is really remarkable to think of all the people we are reaching all over the country and even the world. Friends of mine in Massachusetts wrote to say they heard me say, “Happy New Year!”. This moment in my equestrian life is truly a fond memory!
Author Sharon Jantzen is riding Fiddlestix’s Farms Ballingarry Rose, owned by Charlene O’Neil – The bay Connemara pony second from right.