The winner of the 2016 Double Diamond Award is the Mid-Valley Back Country Horsemen of California. They appeared in the Tournament of Roses Parade and many others through out the state to spread the word about “leave no trace” and “gentle use” principles and to educate the public about the tremendous work performed by the many Back Country Horsemen chapters in keeping trails open for all users.
The Back Country Horsemen of California, Mid-Valley Unit is an almost 400-strong division of Back Country Horsemen of California, which draws its membership from the Northern Central Valley and Sierra Foothills, primarily Turlock, Modesto, Ceres, Escalon and Sonora.
Like many Back Country Units, Mid-Valley is involved in trail protection, community service and teaching and practicing “leave no trace” and “gentle use” principles. The members of the Mid-Valley Unit are strategic partners of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. They use pack and saddle stock to clear trails in the Stanislaus Forest, Emigrant Wilderness and other areas of the Sierra Nevada, many of which are inaccessible by motorized vehicles. They sponsor annual summer youth camps, teach master classes in “leave no trace” and “gentle use” stock principles, host high country camps for the Forest Service and participate in restoration projects at the urban interface, including the 9-2-99 project involving the Tuolumne River in Modesto, California.
Recently, Mid-Valley decided to take on a REALLY BIG PROJECT: getting invited to the Tournament of Roses Parade so that its members could promote the principles of Back Country Horsemen on the biggest stage in the world.
Several years ago, some members of the Mid-Valley Unit began discussing the possibility of appearing in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena as a way to spread the word about “leave no trace” and “gentle use” principles and to educate the public about the tremendous work performed by the many Back Country Horsemen units in keeping trails open for all users, at no expense to the American taxpayer. In summer 2014, a member of Mid-Valley who had previous parade experience volunteered to work with a Mid-Valley parade team to achieve this objective. 15 members of Mid-Valley volunteered to put in the hundreds of hours of time that would be needed to qualify for the Rose Parade. They are: Barbara Savery, Marshal; Carlena Kellogg, Sally Mole, Mary Beth Baglione, Anna Baglione, Barbara Baglione, Dennise Ann Davis, John Marshall, Dennis Serpa, Carl Perry, Julie Perry, Katherine Reeves, Jerrie Ann Davis, Nina Cash and Melissa Hardy. The parade unit worked with four pack strings, ten saddle riders, three color guards and two out walkers. All of the people, horses and mules involved were comfortable in the backcountry, but did not have any real parade experience.
The Challenges: An appearance in the Rose Parade is by invitation only. To be invited, Mid-Valley had to:
- Attend dozens of parades in order to establish that the riders and the stock could handle the extraordinary sensory stimulation of the Rose Parade. The parade unit ranged from the northern Mother Lode to Salinas in the southern Central Valley, and racked up thousands of miles in travel time and hundreds of hours in towns large and small. This extraordinary exposure, in and of itself, spread the message of Back Country Horsemen and its work throughout northern and central California to places and people who had never heard of Back Country Horsemen.
- Train riders, packers and out walkers in proper parade protocol. Every one of the Mid-Valley riding and pack stock were animals used consistently in the backcountry. However, in order to be invited to the Rose Parade, the human and four-legged members of the team had to learn parade beauty tricks, such as clipping and bathing, had to learn proper parade etiquette, such as riding stirrup to stirrup and maintaining correct spacing, and had to learn to tolerate the noise, drones, crowds and other visual and auditory stimulation of urban parades. They had to learn to get up long before sunrise, travel for hours to a town they had never been to before, wait for three or four hours for a parade to start, and then go through an intense and unnerving urban parade that might last for only half an hour.
- Develop a unique costume that would have visual appeal on national and international television but that would be true to Back Country Horsemen’s tradition. Mid-Valley riders and packers went from blue fleece vests and straw hats to tri-color embroidered canvas vests, beaver hats, chinks, burgundy scarves and silver scarf slides; the riding animals went from ill-assorted saddle pads to beautiful woven green pads with leather corners embossed with the Mid-Valley logo; the pack animals went from carrying soiled back country mantis and ropes to dark green custom mantis tied on with white ropes. The knots were Double Diamond, of course! What a transformation!
- Develop a show routine for the mandatory pre-Rose Parade Equestfest, which is a horse show open to the public in which all Rose Parade entries participate. After many hot mid-summer practices and dozens of hours developing a routine, Mid –Valley learned – two weeks before the parade – that the show had been canceled because of an outbreak of equine herpes virus at the facility where the show had been scheduled to take place.
- Raise funds that would enable Mid-Valley to transport 15 parade participants, 26 horses and mules and over 20 support personnel to Los Angeles and to house people and stable animals in the L.A. area for a week. The entire Mid-Valley unit pulled together to put on an extraordinary fundraiser that featured a steak and chicken dinner, silent auction, live auction and dessert auction that was attended by over 350 people!
- Complete an arduous application requesting an invitation to the Rose Parade. The application had to include photographs of each participant, each mule and horse, a video of the group, separate applications for each individual and for the group as a whole, a written narrative about the group and other information. The completed application was over 100 pages long! With the help of a High School Mid-Valley member who was studying video applications, we turned in a terrific video and great photographs.
The Mid-Valley parade group began attending parades in fall 2014 and filed an application to the Tournament of Roses Parade Committee in May 2015. Although it was not accepted for the 2016 Rose Parade, the group received a very encouraging letter from the Rose Parade Committee, and, after discussion, decided to try again. On the advice of its marshal, the group attended some of the larger and more visible parades in California, including the California Rodeo at Salinas and the State Parade at Chowchilla. They spruced up their parade dress and put hundreds of hours in on practices, turning backcountry riding and pack animals into dependable finished parade animals.
After applying a second time in May 2016, the group received a call from the Chairman of the Equestrian Division of the Tournament of Roses Committee inviting them to be in the 2017 Rose Parade. Mid-Valley said yes! Then the work started. They continued to appear in one or two parades a month, recruited volunteers to serve as support people before and after the parade, and planned a fundraiser to raise the money necessary to transport, house and stable all the riders, animals and support people in Los Angeles. The support from the members of Mid-Valley and the surrounding community was incredible! Local newspapers printed feature articles about the group, dozens of volunteers agreed to go to Los Angeles to help drive vehicles, care for animals and help the parade unit prepare for the parade, and 350 people showed up for the early December fundraiser that raised more than enough money to send the group to Pasadena.
The group arrived in Pasadena a few days after Christmas to prepare for the parade and acclimate the animals. Appearances at the Rose Parade Reception and Marshals’ breakfast also occurred during this time. The Tournament of Roses Committee is given a permit to close a portion of the 210 freeway – one of the busiest in the Los Angeles area – the night before the parade in order to stage all of the equestrian units on the westbound portion of the freeway so that these groups can then be fed onto Orange Grove Boulevard between 6 and 7 am in the morning. Mid-Valley was scheduled to arrive on the freeway at 8:30 p.m. One of our drivers lost the clutch in her truck, but everyone pulled together in a major rescue effort and we all managed to get to the staging area by midnight. Trying to sleep on a freeway (the eastbound lanes of the 210 were not closed) is just about impossible, but everyone was up by 4:00 a.m. to get ready for the parade. Mid-Valley was lined up at 6:20 a.m. and on the parade route shortly after 8:30. Our color guards carried the flags of BCHA, Back Country Horsemen of California, and the Mid-Valley Unit as we turned onto Colorado Boulevard, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we were greeted by bleachers packed four stories high with cheering spectators, dozens of media cameras and cell towers. We knew that our efforts to get the message out, about Back Country Horsemen, about “leave no trace” and “gentle use”, and about the thousands of hardworking BCHA members all over the nation who keep the backcountry open for everyone had succeeded!
As a result of Mid-Valley’s appearance in the 2017 Tournament of Roses Parade, over 700,000 people who attended the parade in person were informed about the work and principles of Back Country Horsemen. In addition, millions more learned about Back Country’s work by viewing the parade on television: the parade was carried by more than a dozen major networks and broadcast internationally. The networks covering the parade included ABC, NBC, CBS, HGTV, Hallmark and RFD. The anchor for RFD interviewed Mid-Valley’s marshal and President two days before the parade and used material from the interviews in commenting on the group during the parade. The President of Back Country Horsemen of California reported that the website for the state organization received over 500,000 hits within two days of Mid-Valley’s appearance in the Rose Parade. We were told that the BCHA website had 298,000 hits the day after the parade, and that a group in Texas expressed interest in forming a Back Country Unit in the Lone Star State after seeing Mid-Valley in the Rose Parade. Jim Murphy, Past President of the Olympic Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Washington, happened to catch Mid-Valley Unit in the Rose Parade as he was watching TV while waiting for a friend. His reaction was e-mailed to the President of Mid-Valley, Dennis Serpa:
“Monday morning I was waiting for a friend to pick me up and go to breakfast. I had a few minutes to wait so I switched on the T.V. What do you know the Rose Parade and look at that Pack String! It was a show string from the Mid Valley unit BCH CA. They had about a 12-mule string all decked out with matching loads and canvas covers. Double Diamonds of course, and the 6 or so riders had matching coats. The TV commentator gave a real good description of ‘bch and what we do. Amazing good job! Truly a million dollar advertisement.”
Contact Information: For further information, please contact either
Dennis Serpa, President, Back Country Horsemen of California, Mid-Valley Unit
(209) 848-4017, firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Savery, Marshal, Backcountry Horsemen of California, Mid-Valley Unit
(209) 536-9362, email@example.com