Fiesta Equestrian Parade

All the Pretty Horses

A Morgan, Arabian, and Spanish crossbreed, the Camarillo White Horses have been part of the Fiesta Equestrian Parade since 1929.
Paul Wellman

Not long after dawn on the day of the Fiesta Parade (Fri., Aug. 3), trailers will start rolling onto the Pershing Park greensward. Hundreds of heads of prize horseflesh will be arriving. Stepping out onto the dewy morning grass will be big black Friesians that will be pulling La Presidenta Kelly Magne’s carriage.

The Friesian is a breed of horse from Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Although the breed’s conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size.

The famous white Camarillo horses from Ventura County’s Camarillo Ranch will emerge from a trailer, sniffing the sea air. Adolfo Camarillo began the tradition of Camarillo white horses in 1929, when he acquired the stallion Sultan-a Morgan, Arabian, and Spanish crossbreed.

When John Rickard, descendant of Santa Barbara patriarch Jose de la Guerra, was el presidente in 1949, he asked Adolfo to bring his horses to the parade. They came, along with their riders, the Camarillo sisters. And who should be parade chairman and head of all Fiesta pageantry events this year but Fiesta Vice President Dennis Rickard, John’s grandson and great-great-grandson of Jose de la Guerra.

A wee vaquero rides a wee horse up State Street in the annual Fiesta Equestrian Parade.
Paul Wellman

The Camarillo breed had pretty much faded out since the glory days when the Camarillo sisters rode in the parade-Adolfo Camarillo, often called “The Last Spanish Don,” died in 1958-but it’s made a resurgence, Dennis Rickard said. Last year’s parade had one Camarillo horse, and this year three or four are expected, all traced to the noble line.

Depending on the year, Fiesta boasts the largest equestrian parade in the U.S., with as many as 800 horses at times. There aren’t that many this year but it still far outpaces the heralded New Year’s Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena-which has only about 20 or so horses, Rickard told me. Ours, he said, “is a rare spectacle.”

Although many of the steeds in the Fiesta Parade are homegrown here in Santa Barbara County, lots are coming from far and yonder, Rickard said. “We have a team from Elko, Nevada, to pull a carriage and others from out of state and Northern California.” The Long Beach Mounted Police are due back, dozens of them, on golden palominos.

All morning the horse trailers will be arriving, charros sliding silver-clad saddles onto their mounts, wranglers fitting the halters, and women in fancy dresses decorating their rides with ribbons and bows.

At around 10:30 a.m., they’ll start wending their way through the park and lining up on Cabrillo Boulevard and Castillo Street. Crowds will be gathering. The Spirit of Fiesta, Alina Gabriela Rey, will lead the parade. She’ll be dancing her way along Cabrillo Boulevard and up State Street. She’ll be on a float pulled by a team of six horses, and serenaded by a walking group, Mariachi Mexicanisimo. In 1998, her sister, Adriana, was also the Spirit. They’re daughters of Ruben and Maria Rey.

And, of course, there’ll be 96-year-old Hattie Feazelle, who’s been in every Fiesta Parade since the whole shebang started in the 1920s. “It’s just a trail ride,” Rickard said. “We like a nice teady pace.” Although he’s ridden horseback in four Fiestas and a few others in a carriage, he won’t be in the procession this year. “I’m too busy,” he said.

When the parade goes up State Street-in earlier years, it went down State Street-it’s not expected to be held up by a long, slow train. Fiesta officials and railroad folk have made an arrangement so that no trains will be coming through. (I recall when the CHP would reroute traffic through town so the parade could cross Highway 101. Now, of course, the old, much-cursed traffic lights are gone and State Street uses an underpass. And until recent years, the parade was held on Fiesta Thursday.)

Peter Georgi, former el presidente, will be the grand marshal this year. And to the surprise of some, the horse parade is an invitation-only affair. You can’t just call up and get in, Rickard said. “Most are experienced parade horses.”

At the appointed hour, the horses, classic carriages, vintage wagons, and riders will blend together, by the numbers, in a smooth ballet, along with the dozen or so floats and several marching bands. And why shouldn’t it go smoothly? Wayne Powers is the parade’s equestrian honcho, as he has been for more than 20 years. “He’s indispensable,” Rickard told me. “He was a double for John Wayne in two movies.”

Parade planners have been having regular meetings for the past two months. Everyone involved in Fiesta is an unpaid volunteer, except for staff. Rickard, for instance, takes time off from his work as a CPA.

One thing is certain: You’ll never see so many horses than at a Fiesta Parade. Lots of the riders love to come to Santa Barbara because the onlookers are so close. But please, don’t toss anything at the horses or run up to them. Safety first. Enjoy. I will. It’s my 47th.


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