For horse lovers, the exciting parts of a parade--the equestrian units--are often sandwiched among the marching bands and the decorated floats. But this weekend, the Tournament Equestrian Festival offers a preview of the mounted units, including some from Orange County, that will participate in the New Year's Day Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.
"We wanted to showcase the equestrian units and give them an opportunity to perform their complete routine in a riding arena, without the restrictions of the parade route," said Richard Bellamy, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, which is holding the festival Sunday. It is free to the public.
Orange County's contribution to the event includes the Medieval Times Jousters. The group, which includes more than a dozen riders in authentic 11th-Century costumes, performs regularly at the Medieval Times restaurant/attraction in Buena Park. They also participated in the Tournament of Roses parade last year.
Dressed as guards of the castle, knights of the realm, a count, countess and three trumpeteers, they ride highly trained Andalusian stallions. The horses rear on their hind legs to perform the levade and strut like Prussian soldiers to do the "Spanish walk."
Although their performance in the parade will be restricted for safety reasons, the group will give a complete act at the festival that includes jousting and javelin-throwing from atop horses galloping at 30 m.p.h.
Head trainer Victor de Lara, who performs an ambassador routine with both him and his horse in elaborate costumes, learned jousting maneuvers in Spain and taught them to the band of riders in the medieval entourage. The sport, however, is not without its dangers.
"We have had actual injuries," said Maryann Powell, spokeswoman for Medieval Times. "It's very realistic."
Spectators at the Equidome on Sunday will see the re-creation of a jousting match from the year 1093, she said. Two thousand red and green crowns (coins) will be handed out across the Equidome, with spectators on each side instructed to root for the red team of knights or the green team. The riders will joust, knocking one another off their horses, then fight with swords on the ground until one knight is victorious.
"The crowd really gets into it," Powell said. "Last year in the Rose Parade, people were cheering for various knights who rode by. It's a lot of fun."
Another Orange County participant in the festival and parade will be Benny Martinez, a trick rider who has performed at Disneyland and at special events throughout the county. His 9-year-old gelding, Napoleon, is trained in high-school movements--also known as airs above the ground--such as those performed by the Lippizans of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.
The horse's distinctive coloring (a white body and brown head) makes him a "medicine-head" mustang--and a hit with the crowd. Trained by Martinez since birth, the horse can walk on his hind legs, nod "yes" to questions and do a variety of circus acts. His main role is in trick roping, which Martinez has performed with the horse in Wild West shows across the country--from New York City to a show for the governor of Oklahoma to a benefit for the victims of the devastating earthquake in Mexico.
"Napoleon loves to perform for the crowd, and he's not at all nervous in a parade," his owner said. "He even takes a bow with me at the end of the performance."
Also taking a bow Sunday and at the parade will be a number of celebrities, many of whom ride or play polo at the L.A. Equestrian Center. Among those assisting with the festival are Ed McMahon, Elizabeth Montgomery, William Shatner, Jameson Parker, Loretta Swit, Ed Winter, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mickey Dolenz, Juice Newton, Alex Cord and Michael Jackson.
The festival will be held rain or shine. Because the Equidome is a covered, rather than an indoor, arena (with a roof but no walls), spectators are advised to bring a coat if it is a cool day.
The equestrian performances are scheduled Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. Those who want to get a closer look at the horses may view them in their stalls before the performance from 1 to 3 p.m.
TOURNAMENT EQUESTRIAN FESTIVAL
WHAT: Performances by selected equestrian units of the 99th Tournament of Roses Parade.
WHERE: The Equidome, Los Angeles Equestrian & Polo Center, 480 Riverside Drive at Main Street, Burbank.
WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 27. Viewing of horses in stable area, 1-3 p.m.; equestrian festival performances, 3-5 p.m.
INFORMATION: (213) 877-6470, (213) 840-9063.
Darlene Sordillo, an author of two books on horse training, covers equestrian sports for The Times. Readers may send horse-related news to her at: Orange County Life, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626.