Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Balein and the Rose Parade
Copyright Ken Harris 2006

Balein was a steel grey stallion who lived at Bobbi Williams’ stable. He didn’t roam in a pasture with a herd of mares, but he didn’t work very hard either. His main job in life was to be part of an equestrian unit in the annual Pasadena Rose Parade. The rest of the time he hung out in his stall or went out with his owner, Don Branstatter on some trail rides or worked in the riding ring a bit. Life was good for Balein, except for that one day of the year, the day of the Rose Parade.
And this was that day, January 1, 1958. Don had asked us to help him prepare Balein for the parade and then to park his rig while he joined the rest of his unit. We thought it might be fun to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Rose Parade, and that is why we were up at 4:00 a.m. on New Years Day, yawning, scratching, and helping Don and his horse where we could.
Balein stood outside his stall, hip shot and half asleep. Perhaps he was all asleep. No point in his getting up early. He’d had his bath the day before. Grey horses always need a bath. That’s why they are called laundry horses. If there is filth anywhere in their vicinity of a grey horse, it will stick to, cling on, smear up and otherwise sully his coat. Balein slept through the night strapped warmly in his blanket so he could not roll in his own poop and thus enter the Rose Parade decorated with green smears.
I held his haltered head by a lead rope while Don picked up each foot and coated each hoof with black shoe polish, the liquid kind that comes in a bottle with a dauber. Joanne meanwhile brushed his mane and tail. There was no problem there, for she picked up the tail easily with the thumb and first two fingers of her left hand and ran the brush through the hair. Balein liked being brushed.
Then Don took off the blanket and put on the saddle. After that, he attached the breast collar. That keeps the saddle from sliding backwards in the event the horse finds himself facing uphill, as he might do standing on his hind legs. Again, no problem.
But then came crouper time. A crouper is the exact opposite of a breast collar. It is a ring that attaches to the back of the saddle and fits around the horse’s tail and it keeps the saddle from riding forward. Now we had a problem. Balein hated the crouper. Well, think about it. Would you like someone to give you a wedgie every time you went downhill? Balein clamped his tale down so hard that Joanne had to put both hands, arms, shoulders, hips, thighs, and some grunts and curses to lift his tail enough for Don to fit the crouper onto the horse. But on the other hand, Balein was no longer half asleep.
He was no more trouble after that. Once the crouper was attached he seemed to accept his fate and we finished our tasks and enjoyed backstage at the Rose Parade fully. We asked Don how one got such a well behaved stallion. Most of the stallions I had encountered didn’t actually eat human flesh, but you had to be careful with them. They were none of them as mellow as this guy. Don’s answer was as simple as it was brief. “You buy them.”

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