The Christmas Parade!
The last time I was in a parade I was in a Girl Scout uniform. I remember it fairly well. It was our town's Halloween Parade, and I was in a wolf costume scampering down Delaware Avenue. It felt like someone had blocked off the streets not just from cars, but from the mundane. I was one of the specials, out there to be putting on the show. It's no surprise I grew up to be active in Drama Club and now do a lot of public speaking. It makes me feel a little more alive when there's a spotlight or a soapbox.
So being behind the scenes in the field where the trailers and horses were being tacked up brought up those same old childhood feelings of being part of something grand and special. We arrived an hour before the actual event, and I was feeling a little nervous. In the world of driving horses, your first parade is kind of a big deal. Suddenly that pony and cart you trot through your neighborhood and farm fields goes from the world of pet to performer and everyone expects him to act just as predictably and pleasantly as the new tractor pulling the float of homecoming queens ahead of you. So the pressure is on. You and your horse are to act like professionals, look pretty, and give the public something to point at and smile.
I was in no shortage of support. I was with Elizabeth and Patty. Elizabeth arrived at the farm at 8AM with a cordless drill and a ladder, and helped Brett and I put up a wall of Adirondack milled lumber (Thank you, Brett) on the windiest side of the four-posted shelter. Both her and I had spent most of the day outdoors in the mud and rain, and while the parade was far more whimsical than using power tools the wet chill of the fog and intermittent rain showers felt the same. It was the kind of weather that rattles your insides, makes you seek basic comfort. I didn't have a fireside in my pony cart, but I had a lot of heavy red wool in the form of a riding cape and friends. Sheep and company are really all this girl needs to feel at home anywhere.
As I was tacking up Merlin I got a wonderful gift. Members of the Daughton Family came out from the street side and my heart grew three sizes too big. I miss those guys so much. I haven't seen them as often as I used too. The busier my life got with becoming a full-time writer and farmer the busier I have felt. Add a new horse life into the mix and I was nearly a goner, but to see familiar faces and cameras was nothing short of blessed magic. I gave hugs. Holden helped me check the horse over and attach the last bits of clips and such and before I knew it - it was time for the show.
I backed Merlin up and tried to turn him to the right and he acted weird. He just kept backing up and not turning. This puzzled me, and had I had an ounce of sense I would have asked someone to grab his head and I would double check my work with the cart and harness. Instead the excitement had me giddy and ready to trot so I just turned him to the left and headed into the line up behind a team of heavy Percherons. Patty and Elizabeth had harnessed up Steele to his new wagon and were right behind me. Lights, Camera, Action.
In front of the Percheron wagon was a float themed after Willy Wonka. It was loud and happy. As I waited for the parade to start in my Hobbit cape with my fancy pony, I doubled checked the icicle lights on the tailgate I heard the lyrics chant, "In a world of pure imagination..." and felt like the gods had arranged a memory for me. Everything seemed to be working, everything was lit up and swell. Next to me Christina (another club member) was on her horse Maude. She rode up beside us with her black horse adorned in sleigh bells and holly. She wished us luck and within another quick minute I was asking Merlin to step out and take on the night.
The parade was magical. It was fun, and easy, and stressful and exciting all at once. People gasped at Merlin, pointed and smiled. We were a happy team, and between the music and the twinkling lights and the fog-lined streets it was a dream sequence of the finest order. Just a few slow blocks, but mostly sublime. Steele was behind us and just wanted to trot and act like a young buck does. He reared up a little and the crowd cheered. That photo from last night was a bit of nerves but I never saw an image of Steele looking more majestic!
It was when the parade ended that the real adventure began though. We were off the safe streets of blocked traffic and had to drive our horses and carts in the dark, past idling cars with bright headlights and through town streets. I thought of James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand books and how all the Washington County towns had horses and carts on the once car-driven streets. I never felt more like a fictional character in my life. I was lost in that whimsy when the team ahead of us picked up into a trot. Steele and Patty were behind us and decided to pass us since Steele was feeling his oats. I wanted to join in the fun so I asked Merlin to pick up the pace and instead of taking off he decided to kick back his feet. I was terrified. I was within four feet of losing my head to a strong kick and Merlin had never, ever, acted like that in a cart. Never had I seem him be anything but obliging and steady. But he kept crow hopping and acting like he was just about to send me and the cart packing. At this point I just wanted to hold my shit together and get him back to the trailers. I calmed him, got him into a gentle trot on steady ground and he seemed okay. I was shaken. You don't expect to have your horse slam you with his feet in a parade. At least I don't, not with this horse.
When we got back I hopped out of the cart and attached his halter (worn under the bridle - club rule) to his lead rope which was tied safely to the trailer. I got out and inspected that right side. I saw what happened. I forgot to attach the right side hold back. He wasn't pulling even weight, and the shafts weren't even. It must have felt like something was holding him back on his left side, when his right was free to move and run. I bet his acting up was more of a panic to escape the weirdness of the attachment combined with the excitement of the night parade, and it was entirely human error. As I slowly and calmly removed his harness and collar I caught my breath. We did it. We were in our first parade, and no one got hurt. There was close calls, some thrills, and various anxieties and imperfections but we did it. Another little goal met and checked.
We wrapped things up quick and members of the WCDAA chatted around the trailers. Some folks showed up too late and missed the parade. Others forgot equipment and had to sit it out. Everyone had a story of something wonderful or scary that happened. As I was brushing Merlin Jan came by. Jan has a team of very spirited Haflinger mares and they did amazing in the fray. I told her about Merlin's kick and my mistake and she grabbed my shoulders, "You were looking at your horses feet!!" and then hugged me! She said, "Well then! I guess you won't make that mistake ever again!" and I couldn't help but feel better. My shame melted into camaraderie. I think that's the true benchmark of finding a place you belong. Even at your most uncomfortable of moments you get a chance to turn lessons into stories and adventure, well, if the audience will tolerate the spin. Here in the land of dairy, draft horses, deer hunters and shepherds we tolerate a lot of it. It keeps the milk check livable, the horses from scaring us into our living rooms, and the hunts magic with hope and luck.
I ended that parade a little better of a horsewoman, and a hell of a lot better at optimism. Sometimes you need to cut yourself a little slack and sew up the tears in the morning. We loaded our horses and drove off into the night. We, the happy participants, the parade veterans, the survivors!