The clopping of hooves echoes in the barn as Major Gordon J. Johnson leads Morgan, a latte-colored Rocky Mountain mix gelding, from the pasture to his stall. Morgan, said the major, is most likely to be the lead horse for the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard when it steps off in the annual Newtown Labor Day Parade, Monday, September 2.
Since occupying the barns off of Trades Lane in Newtown in the early 1990s, Major Johnson, commandant of the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, said he believed the mounted militia had ridden in nearly every Newtown Labor Day Parade.
It is because of that dedication to the annual end of summer parade that this year the Newtown Labor Day Parade Committee has honored the Horse Guard with the Legends and Pioneers Award, said committee president Beth Caldwell, earlier this month.
Most likely garbed in their summer dress “greens,” nine of the nearly two dozen members of the locally housed Horse Guard will guide their mounts along the parade route, as in previous years. The horses have their own parade dress, Maj Johnson said, of colorful blue and gold blankets draped beneath the McClellen ceremonial saddles. The unmounted Horse Guard members, Maj Johnson said, will march alongside.
“One of the most important things about riding in a parade,” he said, “is the safety of the public and the troopers.” Guard members on foot create a friendly but safe barrier between the exuberant crowd and the riders, he said. With each horse — all geldings, as tradition dictates — weighing between 900 and 1,200 pounds, it is necessary for riders to have a calm connection between themselves and their horses, and to know that the public is safe.
Safety training is a large part of the exercises horses and riders practice, Maj Johnson said, as is learning to ride in military formation. The various personalities of the horses dictate positioning in that formation, he added. Like people, not all horses get along with each other.
“We represent the State of Connecticut and the history of Calvary, and the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard is a means of saving that history,” Maj Johnson said.
A mounted unit in a parade brings out the smiles in the crowd, he said, and riders do try to make eye contact with those along the parade route, to let them know that they appreciate the support. “We serve many communities and are in parades across the state,” he said, and they are proud to present the Horse Guard to the public, in its best light.
The Second Governor’s Horse Guard is particularly pleased to find itself still riding in the Newtown Labor Day Parade, Maj Johnson said, after receiving orders in the spring of 2011 to vacate the premises and relocate the horses to Avon. “We were packing,” he recalled, when the order was rescinded, due to support on the local and state level. “It’s great to be here, and to be able to share our space with other equestrian groups. We want to be an asset to the state and we hope we can always make Newtown our permanent home,” Maj Johnson said.
A parade day starts early and ends late, he said, with a 10-hour day not unusual. Preparations of horses and riders, the ride or travel by trailer to the parade, grooming, feeding, the return to the stables, and turning out of the horses is all time-consuming.
But in between, said the major, it is a delight. “I love to wave to the kids. The children on the parade route get so excited, and it’s such a great feeling inside when you see how happy they are,” he said.
Only extreme weather can keep the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard from appearing in the parade, he said. Light rain, hot sun, or even a bit of snow would not be enough to deter them.
“We were surprised to hear we had received the Legends and Pioneers Award this year,” Maj Johnson said. “On behalf of our officers, our noncommissioned officers, and our enlisted personnel, we are honored to be receiving this award,” he said.
The 52nd Annual Newtown Labor Day Parade begins at 10 am, Monday, September 2. For information, visit www.newtownctlabordayparade.org.
To support the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard, visit www.thehorseguard.org.