VETERAN Saint Patrick’s Day parade watchers know that when a team of horses appears, it’s a sure sign that the parade is winding down.
For the past three years or so, a group of seven or eight horses and riders from Oetgen Ranch in Bloomingdale have been one of several equestrian entries strategically placed nearly last in the parade, followed only by the street sweepers and the police. The horse and rider teams are a parade tradition that dates back at least to the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Back in the day, a lot of the Irishmen rode horses in the parade,” says John P. Forbes, General Chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. “But as times have changed, that tradition changed along with it.”
For members of the Oegten Ranch team, the motivation to participate is more personal.
“The reason we ride in the parade is because of my horse. It’s her birthday on St. Patrick’s Day,” says Brandy Roop, who works at the ranch with her mother, owner Debbie Oetgen.
Roop’s horse, a brown and white paint mare named Shamrock, will turn 14 next Monday.
On parade day, members of the Oetgen Ranch riding group decorate their horses to reflect the spirit of the holiday.
“It takes me about three hours that morning to get Shamrock ready,” says Roop, who costumes her horse in a leprechaun hat with ear holes, and a pair of oversized sunglasses. “All her white spots we paint green. We paint her feet green and cover them with glitter, we put people socks on her—white with green shamrocks.”
“We say she likes to dress up for her birthday.”
The Oetgen riders will gather (with their horses in trailers) at the ranch on parade day at 5:30 a.m. and then head out for breakfast and the parade route. Most will have already decorated their horses, except for Roop, who dresses Shamrock at the parade staging area.
“The horses we take are all really friendly and are used to loud noises. We only take the best horses there,” says Roop. She praised the parade staff for their help in handling the crowds.
“A lot of parade watchers want to come out and take pictures, some try to ride the horse with you, we just tell them ‘not today.’ Some try to kiss the horses.”
“The minuses are when you have the people who’ve had too much to drink and decide they want to hang all over the horses,” says Roop. “The hardest part is when they try to kiss them all over. Usually when they leave Shamrock they have a little green paint, themselves.”
“The plusses are, most of the horses tend to love the attention. Shamrock loves it. She poses for the camera.”