On New Year’s Day 1994, instead of riding in a car or a carriage, William “Capt. Kirk” Shatner, an avid equestrian, boldly went where few Rose Parade grand marshals had ever gone before.
Shatner rode one of his own horses down Colorado Boulevard, a chestnut-colored gelding once named “I Prefer Roses,” bred on a ranch the star owned in Kentucky. Along the way, the then 62-year-old actor doffed his cowboy-style hat and waved to the throngs of spectators and fans lining both sides of the 5.5-mile-long parade route.
Shatner must have felt right at home on horseback leading the annual parade, which every year since its inception has featured either horses pulling floats or renowned equestrian riders. In the modern era, some of those teams have included, among other participants, the New Buffalo Soldiers, the US Marine Corps, and the Wells Fargo Stagecoach and Budweiser beer wagon, the latter two pulled by magnificent Clydesdales.
In fact, a few days prior to each year’s parade, Wells Fargo Bank presents Equestfest at the LA Equestrian Center on Riverside Drive in Burbank, near Griffith Park, illustrating just how important horses remain to “America’s New Year’s Day Celebration,” as the Tournament of Roses has come to call the floral spectacular.
Soon after 1890, the year the parade started, Tournament officials initiated the Never on Sunday rule, thinking not so much about observing some blue law, or ordinance that prohibits such things as the sale of alcohol and working, but the danger posed by horses being spooked as folks left services from the many churches that line protions of the boulevard.
In 1901, motorized floats were introduced and would become an integral part of each parade since then. But in those days, the noisy, smoky contraptions were placed in the rear of the parade, again in order to keep them from scaring the horses.
By 1920, horses were still a big part of the pageant, only by this time floats operating on gasoline- or electricity-powered motors had taken over the duties of propelling the flower-bedecked floats along the parade route, according to the Tournament. And over the years, the parade’s equestrian entries have become more professional and more stylized.
Some of the units that have participated in Equestfest, according to the Tournament, include the Clydesdales of the First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, USC mascot Traveler, the Sons and Daughters of the Reel West, and the California State Fire Fighters Association.
Former Rose Parade announcer Bob Eubanks, a rodeo cowboy at one point in his long show business career, and Shawn Parr have served as announcers of Equestfest over the years. Montie Montana, a Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame member and a rodeo trick rider and trick roper, was a perennial entry in the annual parade. The actor and stuntman rode in 60 parades until his death in May 1998.
The lineup for 2020 is not yet complete, but over the past decade riding teams have ranged in size from 23 in 2010 to as few as 16 in 2014, according to the Tournament. Equestrian teams marching in last year’s parade numbered 18 and, in alphabetical order, included:
• 1st Cavalry Division, Horse Cavalry Detachment
(Fort Hood, Texas)
• Blue Shadows Mounted Drill Team (Castaic)
• Budweiser Clydesdales (St. Louis, Missouri)
• Calgary Stampede Showriders (Strathmore, Alberta,
• California Highway Patrol (Sacramento)
• Gold Rush Fire Brigade (Pilot Hill)
• Hawaii Pa’u Riders (Waimanalo, Hawaii)
• Los Hermanos Banuelos Charro Team (Altadena)
• Mini Therapy Horses (Calabasas)
• Parsons Mounted Cavalry (College Station, Texas)
• Scripps Miramar Ranch (San Diego)
• Spirit of the West Riders (Leona Valley)
• The New Buffalo Soldiers (Shadow Hills)
• The Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team & Little Miss Norco
Cogirls Jr. Drill Team (Norco)
• The Valley Hunt Club (Pasadena)
• United States Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard (Barstow)
• US Forest Service Pack Mules Celebrate Smokey Bear’s 75th
• Wells Fargo Stagecoaches (San Francisco)
The theme of the 1994 parade, A Fantastic Adventure, seemed a fitting match for Shatner, and he made the most of it.
“It will definitely be an adventure,” Shatner told United Press International (UPI).
Prior to the 1994 parade, he had changed the original name of the horse he was riding on to “I Prefer Montana,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’m truly honored. My family and friends will share in the excitement. I’ll be seeing the (Rose Bowl football) game from the 50-yard line. It’s almost too good to be true,” said the actor.
The truth was, this was not Shatner’s first rodeo, er, Rose Parade. In 1969, he rode in the parade on a non-“Star Trek” float, according to the Times and YouTube, and in 2004 he appeared in a documentary about the parade with former parade announcer Stephanie Edwards.
In the authoritative voice that he used as Capt. Kirk on TV in the 1960s, and in six “Star Trek” films from 1979 to 1991, Shatner told UPI in October 1993, “The fantastic adventure will be shared by the 1 million people who come out to watch the parade as well as the half a billion who will see it on TV.” But, he said, “Most of all, the fantastic adventure will be mine.”