Here I am at 5:10 in the morning, fighting with a printer and a rural internet connection. I have been awake since two, out of bed since four. It's okay, really. The dog was kicking me anyway.
Today is the Ottawa Help Santa Toy Parade, and for the first time, we are participating. We are not doing it on our own, we are doing it with Glass Slipper Princess Parties, and for the first time our Cinderella carriage will transport Cinderella.
This is a big one, with much more exposure than we have had before. We have been filmed for television before (Indian Independence Day), and we have certainly been in front of large crowds, but this is not Perth, or Almonte, or anywhere else we have been.
I am not concerned that Duke will have a problem. We are so lucky in his temperament and his beauty and his intellect, I have no doubt that not only will he do well, but he will enjoy it. No, my concern is to make sure that we do ourselves justice.
Last weekend, the Glass Slipper ladies came to the farm and we decorated the carriage. It was interesting seeing ourselves through their eyes. And using their supplies as well as my own, the Cinderella carriage came to life in a way I had not seen before. I am thrilled, and I know Ottawa will be too.
Yesterday, Friday, I had a list of to-do items as long as the right arm of an acrobat. I bought grooming supplies we were short on, some bells for the carriage, special elastics for the hair of horses (people ones work but they have to be big ones to resist head shaking), and I went over in my head, again, how I will arrange Duke's mane today. I got down on my hands and knees and trimmed Duke's feathers carefully, because he looked a bit like he had suffered a quadruple bowl cut. He looks a little better now. I rubbed coconut oil into the skin at the base of his mane and combed out all the wind knots from his mane and tail. And after a kiss on the nose, I sent him back out to graze with the mares until bed time. I recharged the power pack for the carriage so we can play Christmas tunes. I made sure the supplies we will need were ready to go - zip ties, cutters, scissors, duct tape (white to match the carriage).
The above was written last Saturday as we prepared for the Help Santa Toy Parade. My attempts above to describe the preparation process fall way short of the reality. I don't even know if I could make someone understand unless I was filmed for the two days(and more) before a big event. You go constantly on adrenaline, ticking off items on a list in your head, and maybe two or three on paper. In this case, we had our own truck and trailer, a rented moving van (for the Cinderella top, too bit to fit in our trailer, too big to fit in the rolling back door of a smaller truck), hay and water for Duke, the grooming bag, etc, etc. Sun rose on some very busy activity at the Red Gate.
Some things went wrong, some things went right. I would like to have words with the Environment Canada, chiefly the forecaster who led us to believe we would be too warm in garb appropriate for November 19. We were directed to the Old Cliff Heating plant to offload and harness and were assured that all of the other horses were be there. The fact that we were the only ones led to momentary panic until we realized that at least one of the other equine participants actually has stables downtown and could simply drive to the marshalling area.
About the Princesses from Glass Slipper Princess Parties, I have no complaint whatsoever. These ladies were professional, attired with exquisite character accuracy, and each plays her princess character to a tee. They have their gestures down pat. They can sing the songs sung by their character in the movies. They had a dance rehearsed and they danced it repeatedly through the parade, whether the parade was moving or stationary.
We were the backdrop for Cinderella and her princesses. Duke, who is so used to being the centre of attention at parades, found himself merely the lead-up. He would walk along, so proud with Brett beside him, so happy to see the crowd. As he moved, a whisper would precede him, "Oh look at the horsie, look at the pretty horsie, oooooooh a Clydesdale, look little Susie a clydesdale your grandpa had one" - only to be displaced by a bloodcurdling scream - "CINDERELLA!!!!!!". Duke didn't seem to mind, he just looked ahead to the next group of people - "Oh look at the pretty horsie" - but he did have a few moments where we were absolutely certain that he was confused by this unaccustomed change in energy.
There was only one split second where I think Duke was absolutely certain he was in the wrong place. On the bus malls of Albert and Slater streets, the parade would halt to allow buses through and then continue on. The first bus that created the tell-tale whooshing sound of air brakes being released made him look around and wonder if maybe we shouldn't go back the other way. But this, as with firecrackers, car backfires, big diesel trucks, and a million other momentary fears he has had in the last few years, was quickly sorted out with a gentle tug on the reigns, a hand on the reassuring lead rope, and kind words and energy from his humans. Whereupon he simply resumed his walk among the crowds he adores, as if the scary whooshing sound had never happened. I have said it before and I will say it again, we won the lottery when we bought that horse. I love him with all my heart.
When the parade ended, we had to have a place to wait for Brett and our friend Greg to move the trucks to the end of the parade route to allow us to load up, feed and water Duke, and be on our way. Duke could absolutely have simply taken us all back to the origin point and would have done so with goodwill, but I would not ask him to. Not downtown in the aftermath of a parade with all those cars moving. And I would not want him to sense my anxiety as I drove. So we went to the Armories, unhitched the carriage, and Duke and I waited quietly for the trailer (and the hay and the water and the curry comb) to make their way back to us.
You know what happens when you stand quietly with a horse in a public place? A steady stream of people wanting to pet the horse, talk to the horse, know a little about the horse. So Duke put on his Red Gate ambassador hat and lapped up the attention. Did I say lapped up? I might have meant sucked up. Hoovered up. Now bending for the small child who reached up from below, now arching his neck just so for a scratch. We talked about hay and water and grooming and the Clydesdale breed. We talked about Duke's character and how he loves parades. But most of all, at least for me, Duke hugged me between visitors, snuggled warmly and quietly.