By Jan Breslauer
As a child, I looked forward to the rose parade because I wanted to see the beautiful, majestic and wondrous horses. Still in my pajamas, with farsighted eyes that stared at the television through blue plastic cat-eye glasses, I sat spellbound and waited for the groups of riders to appear.
Now, as a grown woman and lawyer (with better glasses), I’m looking forward to the Rose Parade for slightly different reasons. Because … well, who are we kidding? Because I want to see the beautiful, majestic and wondrous horses.
Yes, I have horses of my own – a Percheron named Amore and a Belgian draft named Emma Golda. They too are beautiful, majestic and wondrous. But the equestrian units of the rose parade offer a transcendent outlook. Aside from the enchanting nature of each individual horse or horse, they bring to life the myriad of ways in which these magnificent animals have interacted with people across very different times, cultures and histories.
It was equestrian master Bobby Kerr – who is not participating in the Rose Parade this year but performing in the county – who first got me to ponder the debt this nation owes its horses. Kerr’s virtuoso performances with mustangs at liberty go beyond what is possible in a parade, yet share a purpose with the horse participants in the Rose Parade.
It’s about making history visible and visceral. Kerr is a tall, lanky cowboy with an oversized 10 gallon hat and he twists this ode as mustangs run around him:
“Imagine this horse… a wild mustang, an American icon, a hero, you could say. Indians hunted, relocated their camps and waged wars on these wild horses. Settlers and cowboys tamed the west with mustangs. The Pony Express delivered the U.S. mail on these horses. These horses were used to plow fields and harvest grain. The US cavalry even rode some of these horses. Thousands of cattle were gathered and herded with these horses. The American Mustang was instrumental in the growth of this great country … “
Just as Kerr’s appearances capture this unstoppable connection between horses, history and culture, so does the Rose Parade. In fact, horses have always been an integral part of this New Years event.
The Rose Parade was first hosted by Pasadena’s own Valley Hunt Club in 1890, which continues to operate the 5.5-mile route to this day.
This year’s parade also includes long-standing mainstays like the Budweiser Clydesdales, which first appeared in 1953, and those newer like the locally based Blue Shadows Mounted Drill team, which is making its third appearance. Other contestants include the Hawaii Pa’u Riders of Waimanalo, Hawaii, the Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society of Alpine, Los Hermanos Bañuelos from nearby Altadena, and the Merced County Sheriff Posse.
Days before the parade, these equestrian groups also perform at the show and public display known as Equestfest on December 29th at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
The Rose Parade equestrian units provide just a glimpse of a legion of stories and key roles in which horses have played – and still do. The groups are diverse, breathtaking and proud of their pomp. It is important that the riders and their mounts provide a way to show culture and history instead of telling them.
Nobody knows this better than the New Buffalo Soldiers who have been in the parade for 27 years. Its mission is to “teach and educate about the experience of the black military,” said President August “AJ” Simien, a retired LA City fire chief whose children and grandchildren also participate in this historical interpretive group.
The New Buffalo Soldiers were organized in 1992 and represent the 10th Regiment, Company H, of the US Cavalry. It is made up of volunteer historians, many of whom have or have had jobs as first responders – everyday heroes.
“All are devoted to interpreting the life and times of these former slaves and freedmen – soldiers who, in their day, received little or no recognition for their service to their country,” the group said in a statement.
They have performed across the United States and at ceremonial events including the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a burial of the President at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
As a nonprofit organization, they have also hosted educational programs at the Huntington Library, LA Central Library, and a variety of schools.
“We are historically correct and cover the entire period between the Civil War and 1902,” said Simien. “We have very high demands on history lessons. Every bridle, every uniform is historically correct and accurate. We pride ourselves on telling an untold story to the whole world. And when we show up, it is a moving moment for us too to see the joy in the eyes of children and others when they see what it was like in the 19th century for the first time. “
In fact, Simien isn’t the only riding group leader showing how horses can teach. Allyson Wreede, a nurse, joined the Blue Shadows Mounted Drill team on her ninth birthday and has been with them for nearly 30 years. Now she is the commander of the parade team.
“The lessons I learned from Blue Shadows made me who I am today,” she says. “I still see my horses as my greatest teachers today.”
Blue Shadows was founded in 1957 in the San Fernando Valley and provides horseback riding and guidance to young people aged 8 to 16.
“Horses teach us responsibility, communication, patience, perseverance, a strong work ethic, pride and how to fail and start over,” said Wreede. “The horse forgives and gives us this second chance – a life lesson that not everyone can learn. The horse teaches us that we can start again even if we fail. “
Right now, this can be a valuable message for both the community and the country.
“The most important thing about the Rose Parade 2022 in all the discussions about cultural differences is that the Rose Parade is so inclusive,” said Simien. “You can read about history, but seeing it in real life is different. The pleasure and joy it gives me comes from knowing that the more we know about our past, the more beautiful our future can be.
“We need unity and we have to start over,” adds Simien, who has lost a sister in the pandemic. “Our involvement in the rose parade brings a breath of fresh air. We are honored to be there. “
As equestrian master Bobby Kerr reminds us, mustangs are still roaming free in the west – an enduring symbol of the debt we owe the magnificent horses of our world. I still marvel at these gentle, soulful creatures and the myriad ways in which they have served in so many different cultures. With that in mind, I’ll enjoy another year, another rose parade.
2022 cavalry units
- 1st Cavalry Division Horse Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas
- Association of Arab Horses, Sierra Madre
- Blue Shadows mounted drilling team, Castaic
- Budweiser Clydesdales, St. Louis
- Hawaii Pa’u Riders, Waimanalo, Hawaii
- The Banuelos brothers, Altadena
- Merced County Sheriff Posse, Hilmar
- Mini therapy horses, Calabasas
- The new buffalo soldiers, Hill of Shadows
- Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team, Norco
- Norwegian fjord horses, Berthoud, Colo.
- Painted Ladies Rodeo Performer, Roseville
- Scripps Miramar Ranch – American saddle horses, San Diego
- Spirit of the West Riders, Chino Valley, Arizona.
- Temecula Valley Equestrian Association, Temecula
- USMC-mounted paint protection, Barstow
- The Valley Hunt Club, Pasadena
- Victorian Roses Ladies Riding Society, East County, San Diego