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Parade Horse Safety: A Rider's Perspective

When I'm not photographing my clients, I'm spending time with my animals and I've been around horses all of my life. I've been lucky to ride in local parades over the years and every year I notice some major safety hazards surrounding parade spectators and horses; mostly due to a lack of education and overall excitement. With children and horses in mind, I feel compelled to share this information to encourage everyone’s safety and ensure that everyone has fun (including the horses) this parade season!

Holiday parades are so much fun; kids especially love these events! My favorite moment as a rider in many parades over the years has been when the kids first see the horses. The excited gasps, wide eyes, and smiles from kids and adults alike remind me very much of being a kid myself and anxiously waiting to see the horses; all beautifully groomed and decorated with ribbons, colors, bows, and bells. They looked like carousel horses brought to life!

From years of parade riding experience with my own horse, I know many children desperately want to pet them, feed them treats, and get pictures with them but PLEASE wait until after the parade!

Group of three little girls holding and feeding a mini-horse.


Not every parade has barriers between parade participants and spectators. With that in mind, please practice the following safety measures for you and your children (not just while the horses go by, but at all times during the parade):

  • Please do not allow your children to run into the street to grab candy: Have them wait until after the horses have passed. A child darting out in front of or right behind a horse can result in serious injury or death to your child, as well as the horse and rider.

  • Please do not approach the horses as they pass: We love it when you wave and take pictures from the crowd, but every horse is different. Even veteran parade horses have their moments. The cute costume your baby is wearing may spook a horse and the last thing we want is anyone to get hurt.

Little girl in yellow dress holding cotton candy, smiling, standing in the street, unattended.

Please have your child wait with you at a safe distance.

  • Please don’t feed the horses parade candy or anything else! Especially without asking!!! Horses have very fragile digestive systems and your well-meaning treat could result in tragedy for the horse. Baby carrots, apple slices, and unwrapped peppermints are great options to bring with you, but please ask first and wait until the end! Also, we're happy to show you and your kids how to feed them safely.

Table full of freshly picked carrots. A favorite horse treat!

Carrot chunks or baby carrots prevent choking.

  • Please wait until the end of the parade to ask about petting the horses or getting pictures taken with the horses and their riders: By this time, the horses are pretty used to the sights and sounds of the parade and are more likely to be receptive to your interactions. Every horse is different so please ask first.

Little girl hugging her horse's face.

Some horses seem to know when the camera is on them and love the attention. Others prefer just to get treats and pets.

  • NEVER approach a horse you don’t know or that’s momentarily unattended: Horses should never be left unattended, but we all have been guilty of briefly stepping away for a forgotten brush or bit rag at least once.

Paint horse with tack, tied to hitching post.

Horses may appear calm (like this guy) until approached by or seeing/hearing something loud or scary.

  • ANY horse is capable of kicking: It might not even be intended for you or your child; horses kick and stomp at flies all the time. Never approach from behind.

Horses feet in running motion.

Fun Fact: Horses' eyes are on the sides of their head; so they can't see directly behind themselves.

  • Please don’t allow your children to run up to the horses or scream: We understand they’re excited and probably on a bit of a sugar rush, the horses however, do not. This behavior is hazardous for the horses. A horse can pull loose from their trailer or handler and bolt, putting everyone, including other horses in danger.

Excited, running children with parent. This can frighten horses.

We love how excited your kids are to see the horses, but please ask them to be calm and use gentle voices.

  • Please put all props, balloons, instruments, and banners away before visiting the horses: Most parade riders do their best to desensitize our horses, but they’ve likely never seen a saxophone, cheer pom-poms, etc. Some horses won’t care, others will care A LOT. Always better to be safe than sorry.

Young baton twirlers in red and white costumes holding sparkly batons that can scare horses.

"Horse-eating" baton twirlers.

  • Please don’t approach with a dog: Not all dogs are good with horses and not all horses are good with dogs. We love our animals, let’s keep them safe! (I personally love dogs and would love to meet yours, but not while I'm handling a 1,500+ lb. horse).

Black pug standing in front of owner's feet on city street. Dogs may not react well with horses.

Your dog may be great with other dogs & animals, but they've probably never seen a "dog" as big as a horse!

  • If your child or loved one is afraid to get closer or pet the horses, please don’t force them to: Fast movements and crying can be very upsetting to the horses.

Scared child hiding face. Kids may be afraid of horses.

Some kids (mostly very young children) are super excited until they see how big a horse is up close. It can be very intimidating! Even for adults!


A special request from trail riders and parade riders alike: When passing horses in your vehicle, please SLOW DOWN or pull over and please don't beep. A wave hello is welcomed, but the quieter and slower, the better.


Horses are prey animals and have a fight-or-flight instinct that is very strong. Even the best and most experienced parade horses can spook or act aggressively when in fear. We encourage you to practice a similar safety standard as you would with a stranger's dog. As riders, we do everything we can to ensure everyone’s safety, including our horses. A little help from you goes a long way. We appreciate it immensely, and so do the horses!


**Helpful tip: Horses are usually put at the end of the parade. If you want to see the horses afterward, find out where the parade ends and set up close by. As long as you're courteous and kind, most riders and horses don't mind taking a few minutes to say hello and letting you give the horses some pets and take a couple of pictures!


Woman waving while riding a paint horse in a Christmas parade.

My mom riding her horse, Cowboy, in our local Christmas parade in 2022.

Woman in red and black outfit on a Christmas parade horse, smiling.

My horse, Cupid and I waiting for the parade to start in 2022.


I hope this year's parade season is filled with fun and happy memories for you and your family! If you have any questions about this post or anything photography-related, please feel free to contact me:

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