By Robyn Stewart, ANR Agent

If you were able to join the festivities the other week for Light Up Lincolnton, you may have gotten the chance to see my horse Webb and I carrying the 4-H flag in the Christmas parade. From the unfamiliar sights and sounds of fire engines, motorcycles, marching bands, and more, a parade can be quite the stressful event on an animal—and that doesn’t even begin to discuss the crowds of people watching and cheering as you go by. I wanted to share just a bit about how to prepare a horse for something like a parade and how to gauge whether they are ready to participate.

            Some things to consider are the horses age and temperament, past experiences, and relationship with its rider.  Age and experience are both a little bit tricky to consider because they can be variable and aren’t always the best factors to decide on. For example- if you asked me if an 8-year-old horse was ready to be in a parade, I could not make that decision on age alone. Some horses are ridden and shown extensively when they are very young (3-4 years old), and others may not even be started in training until they are 6 or older. The horse who was started younger and has traveled and shown extensively may be able to handle the chaos of a parade at a younger age than a horse who was started later in life. Further, a horse who has never left the property, who has not shown or competed or trail ridden anywhere new, will likely have a harder time with a parade than one who is used to going on adventures. The second part of this is the horse’s overall temperament. Some horse breeds and individuals are known for being nervous, excitable, and high-energy, while others are known for being calm, cool, and collected. The nervous horse will need more preparation for something like a parade compared to a steady-eddy type. Finally, the animal’s relationship with its rider is absolutely essential. An experienced rider who knows their horse very well will be able to handle that animal in a variety of situations. Furthermore, a horse who trusts its rider and handler will typically be better equipped to tackle a new experience like a parade without any issues.

            Once you have determined that your horse likely has the temperament, background, and experience to be a safe parade mount, there are a few things you can do in preparation. The first thing is to make sure the animal is comfortable traveling- do they load and unload well in unfamiliar places? Do they stand quietly at the trailer as you get them ready? You may want to simulate some aspects of the parade by playing loud music or siren sounds, flashing lights like the fire trucks and police cars will have, swinging flags around, and even throwing candy or having strangers approach you suddenly at home before the parade. The last thing to make sure you have is a backup plan for if something does go wrong. This might be as simple as having someone lead your animal in the parade or, in my case, was to drop the 4-H flag and emergency dismount off of Webb (though fortunately, we did not have to use this plan!)  No matter what, the best preparation is to limit the surprises your animal has to endure the day of and to ensure that you know them well enough to tell when they are completely okay and when they are worried.

            In case anyone is wondering about Webb, he is a 16-year-old purebred Arabian gelding. While this parade was the first that he has been in, I did not do any special preparation work for it. Webb has an extensive show history in a variety of types of riding including hunter/jumper, foxhunting, ranch riding, reining, sport horse, and more. He has carried the flag at multiple regional championship shows for the Arabian Horse Association, has won several regional championship divisions, and has been the best partner-in-crime I could ask for, so I knew he would be able to handle the parade with no issues. It was an absolute pleasure for us to represent Lincoln County Extension/4H and we are so excited to continue to do so in years to come!

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