Independence Day and horses don’t mix

Published 8:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

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“So what are you doing on the 4th?” asked a well-meaning acquaintance I bumped into at the grocery store.

In reply, I stared. Not a ‘rockets red glare,’ stare, more of a ‘Whaaaa?’ stare.

“I have horses,” I said as if that explained everything.

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“Oh!” she smiled. “Does that mean you’re riding in a parade?”

There was a time when, yes, I was actually asked to ride a horse in a 4th of July parade in a small town in Kentucky. And I did. It was a PR thing and realllllly stupid.

“How much training has he had?” I asked the young girl ‘in charge’, as I led the nervously jigging gelding towards the gathering area for floats and marching bands. 

“Well, he’s only been off the race track for a couple of months so he hasn’t had much training.”

“So really not at all a safe or smart choice for a parade horse, ” I said flatly. She stared at me, pie-eyed. “Are you trying to get me killed?” I went on.

“But you’re supposed to lead the parade,” she whispered, her eyes now filling with tears.

“In front of a marching band?” I said, really not meaning to sound as furious as I was, but this was my own life on the line, as well as the horse, and probably, several spectators. “You want me to get on a young, green, off-the-track Thoroughbred in front of trumpets and tubas and think that’s going to work out OK? He’s going to run over everyone! We’re all going to end up on an episode of ‘Cops!’

Chastised, she burst into tears and disappeared into the throng of crowds beginning to line the street for the year’s big event—ironically celebrating ‘The Year of the Horse.’

In the end, I did swing up on the horse and it became immediately clear that he was melting down, so I dismounted, stroked his sweating neck and led him the entire way, although he remained in reverse for most of the route.

This year, like every year since that fateful evening, hasn’t meant being involved in any sort of equine parade for the 4th. But, as my grocery store acquaintance would soon learn, it would include zero festivities.

“When you have horses,” I began, gently listing those affected, “You dread the 4th of July. Same with any livestock, not to mention the thousands of veterans with PTSD.”

“Because of all the noise?” she asked as my answer began to sink in. “I never thought of it that way, although our dog hides under the bed.”

I nodded. “Yeah, a lot of noise. And it’s never for just one night. It goes on for days, even a couple of weekends as people use up all the fireworks they bought.”

Don’t get me wrong: besides Christmas, I used to love July 4th as a child. I have very happy memories of the neighborhood congregating at a local country club which put on a display above the golf green. I can still see the fireworks reflecting in the water hazard…

But no one in our Georgia neighborhood had anything besides a few firecrackers that were tossed beneath moving cars (as one does at age 14) and sparklers, which seemed very exotic to hold until one’s fingers became scorched. And so things were relatively quiet and everyone went to bed by 10 p.m. 

Not so anymore. It seems every household has crates of fireworks purchased from ‘Crazy Larry’s!’ or ‘One-armed Pete’s!’—not exactly the sort of name that inspires confidence in an explosive device establishment. Like clockwork, neighborhoods will begin blasting their purchases (and, at times, their guns) precisely at 9 p.m. on the actual 4th, saving enough for the 5th, 6th, and, of course, the entire weekend. I’m sure it’s going to be a wonderful time…there will be burgers grilling, red, white and blue pies served, and a few kegs to drink. And by midnight, local ERs will be tending to many a hand injury, resulting in a whole new generation of young men who resemble 8th-grade shop teachers.

And me and all my critter-lovin’ friends? We’ll be hunkered down in our respective barns, fans turned on full blast to dull the noise of explosions, while leaving the lights on so that dazzling displays in the skies are blanched out. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to administer sedation. For the horses, too. I’ve no idea how veterans or those in hospice deal with it. In England, as well as some countries in Europe, laws have been passed that all fireworks must be silent. They can be as colorful as they like, just without the heart-stopping BOOM! I don’t expect that to ever happen here, so in the meantime, have a fun 4th.

I’ll be having a fifth…