You don’t have to be a college football fan to enjoy the annual Rose Bowl Parade. It is one of the largest processions that includes horses. In 2020, there were 17 equestrian units totaling more than 450 horses that participated. Marching bands, floats and cheering spectators are deafening, so it’s quite amazing to watch the horses calmly participate in the procession.
But how do you go about desensitizing a horse to all that chaos that accompanies a parade?
“Training has to start slowly and quietly, building once the horse has shown that they can handle it,” said Captain Lisa Rakes of the Kentucky Horse Park mounted police. She is one of the most decorated mounted police officers in the country, having trained the top-ranked Lexington Mounted Police unit horses and riders as the unit's in-house trainer before taking over at the Kentucky Horse Park mounted unit.
Rakes said the first step is making sure the horse is good leaving your property and has developed the confidence to ride in strange environments. This might take a lot of trailering to new and/or different places, but this will build the horse's confidence away from “home.”
She recommends trailering to quiet areas until the horse gets accustomed to new places. Gradually visit busier, more congested areas over time. Chances are parade routes will include flapping banners, lots of people, and new experiences. Introducing similar items at home can help a horse prepare for them away from home.
“Train at home with flags, blowing objects and loud noises," said Rakes. "Remember this training has to start slowly and quietly, building once the horse has shown that they can handle it."
Here are a few other tips to help a prepare for an actual parade once you feel your horse has mastered the individual obstacles at home:
- Start at a small-town parade.
- Make sure your horse is willing to work with other horses.
- Put a young or new horse in the middle of more seasoned horses.
- Team the new horse up with a buddy so that he has support on his sides, front or back. This will also make the rider feel more comfortable, and that translates to what the horse is feeling.
“It is important to take the time that it takes to do what is best for the horse,” Rakes said. “That may not always be the quickest way for the human, but in the long run, it will be quicker and better for both the human and the horse.”
Click here to learn about the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police Young Horse Training Academy headed by Rakes.