It was around 3 a.m. and our van was crawling down a section of Interstate 210 at about five miles an hour…on purpose. Usually flooded with typical California traffic, the interstate was quiet now, shut down and transformed into a parking lot for the grand spectacle that was about to take place.
From my spot in the back row of the passenger van, where I sat gripping my large camera, I gazed out the window into the relative darkness as a seemingly endless procession of horse trailers passed through my vision. Our destination was a bit further up the highway – the brightest part, where two semi-trailers and eleven horses were parked between a pair of floodlights. This was the Scripps Miramar Ranch staging area for the 129th Rose Parade. And I was here to cover it.
My invitation to the Rose Parade had come at Louisville, when Melissa Moore invited me to tag along with her and her sister Melinda as they participated in the Rose Parade for the second time. While I don’t really follow football, even I knew that the Rose Parade, held in Pasadena the morning of the Rose Bowl, was a very big deal, and most importantly, that Saddlebred legend Michele Macfarlane’s Scripps Miramar Ranch participated annually. So I said yes immediately, contacted Michele, and began making the proper arrangements.
Melissa had made the process relatively easy for me with an invitation to stay with her and Joe O’Brien at Joe’s beautiful house in La Quinta, even picking me up at the airport in Palm Springs. When I got off the plane I was charmed by the adorable airport and – coming from single digit temperatures in Missouri – thrilled with the sunny and mid-70s weather. I enjoyed a lovely first evening there with Melissa and Joe, Melinda, Melinda’s husband Rusty and his daughter Courtney before the parade excitement began the following day.
Our preparations began early on Sunday. After picking up my Rose Parade press pass in Pasadena, we drove on to Burbank, where we would be spending the night. Though I have been working as a journalist in the show horse industry officially for seven years, and unofficially since I was 8 years old, there is still a little horse loving kid that lives inside of me, and she couldn’t believe she was taking a road trip and sharing gummy bears with the Moore sisters. I did my best to not pepper them with questions. But yes, they knew CH Yorktown. And yes, they thought my beloved Yorktown baby, Super Town, sounded sweet.
Unable to check into our hotel so early, we spent the afternoon dining and shopping in Burbank before meeting High Spirits trainers Jim and Fay Lowry, who happened to be in town for the game, for an early dinner at a nearby steakhouse – early because we had to get up at 2 a.m. the following morning.
I’m not a morning person, but I know how to be one if I have to; years of horse shows will do that to you. Either they were all morning people or that must have been the case with most of the riders, because the crew that met in the hotel lobby that morning was remarkably awake.
Kevin Michael, a close friend of Michele’s, who has been participating in the parade for many years, arrived to pick us up in the van at 2:45 and drove us to the equine staging area along the interstate. When I stepped out of the van into the chilly early morning air, I was immediately in awe of the scale of it all. Out of this little slice of interstate, just under an overpass, Michele and her crew had built an entire world. As its foundation were the two trailers, parked “head to tail,” floodlights at each end illuminating the eleven horses that stood saddled between them, only the silver breast collars visible from beneath the coolers slung over their backs.
Though the weather had been in the 70s the day before, and would be again later that day, I was wearing a borrowed fleece of Melissa’s under my ski jacket and visibly aware of every breath I took. As dawn crept closer and the temperature continued to drop I became increasingly grateful for the fleece. Apparently it’s not just darkest before the dawn; it’s coldest then, too.
Though the hotel crew had arrived at the staging area around 3 a.m., those who came with the horses arrived the night before and celebrated New Year’s Eve on the highway. Luckily there was coffee and all sorts of food to warm us up. Michele had thought of everything, including a dining area with table, chairs, grill and more. Jim Vantrease had cooked dinner for the crew the night before, and Craig Clapp took over the grill that morning to prepare a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns and English muffins. I enjoyed mine while walking among the horses and handlers and observing the preparations.
There were the normal things, things show exhibitors are used to: hoof black, baby oil, Show Sheen, show touch up spray. But then there were the things unique to the parade culture: the antique silver saddles, the bridles that weigh ten pounds each, the handmade carnation flower blankets, the Driltec or Borium applied to each horse’s shoes to prevent slipping – an official requirement of the parade for all equine entries.
But the preparations I was seeing were just the last minute ones. It takes about two weeks to get everything ready, however Michele has had a lot of practice. The Rose Parade has been a longstanding tradition in her family, and she rode in her first Rose Parade in 1962. She hasn’t participated every single year, because when she was at the height of her show career she simply didn’t have time. But there is something about it that keeps drawing her back.