International Horsemen’s League of Illinois at “4th on 53rd Parade & Picnic”

4th on 53rd Parade & Picnic Correspondent

A parade just isn’t a parade without a horse. Oh sure, there are the obligatory floats, clowns, magicians, jugglers, and of course, balloons (yawn).

But then, out of the corner of your eye there’s…wait for it…horses. It’s as if that majestic animal knows that the people at a parade are there to see him. Whether true or not, the horse believes it to be true; can’t argue with that.

While the actual concept of parades involving horses is centuries old, the first purely ceremonial and regularly scheduled parade with a horse can be traced back to 1745 with the beginning of the British Monarchy’s Horse Guard Parade, performed daily by the Palace Guard. And still is to this day.

A horse in a parade is a big deal – just ask any member of the International Horsemen’s League of Illinois (IHL). The League is made up of three 501(c) 3 tax-exempt organizations: Buffalo Soldiers, Illinois Pride and Broken Arrow. Their mission is “to bring together people who are interested in horses and to spread horsemanship to the young and old alike through teaching, charitable works and fellowship.”

Julia White, who has been riding for 35 years, is the only female mounted horseman in the State of Illinois and a member of The Buffalo Soldiers. She has owned two horses: Jackie Sugar Bar, and her current horse, Spirit, who has been saddled with her for the past 10 years. Julia says Spirit loves to show off in parades. In fact, Julia and the other Buffalo Soldiers say they too love parades, especially community parades because they are “amazing, magical and relaxing”. She loves the saying, “It’s not how you fall (off the horse), it’s how you look after you land.” At 75, Julia looks pretty darn good.

In addition to taking their horses to inner-city schools, the Buffalo Soldiers provide bales of hay and feed buckets for kids to share in the thrill of feeding a horse. They also talk to them about the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Murdock (the man with no last name) is another member of IHL and the Founder of the Broken Arrow Riding Club of Chicago, which began life on Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday 28 years ago. (In Native-American speak, “broken arrow” means peace.) Murdock has been riding since he was a kid watching cowboys in television westerns and later falling in love with the horse.

Murdock’s father owned a printing business in the 1960s near a now-defunct Midway Riding Stables on Chicago’s south side. One day the stables needed some printing done. At nine years old, Murdock was already a salesman as he bartered with the owner of Midway, trading his father’s printing fee for riding lessons. Once he hopped on a horse, he never looked back. Although Murdock has been riding for over six decades he took only two riding lessons; everything else was self-taught.

After a military stint in Vietnam Murdock decided that he would bring horseback riding back to inner city youth in Chicago to promote peace and harmony. He says that “there is no (such thing as a) drive by shooting from the back of a horse. And, not every kid wants to play basketball or baseball, so why not offer horseback riding?”

The Riding Club performs in various events throughout the year, including Hyde Park’s The 4th on 53rd Parade & Picnic and the South Shore Speed & Action Rodeo & Horse show on Father’s Day. The Riding Club teaches equestrianship, how to take care of a horse, and places kids in contact with a myriad of professionals, including those who have questions on how to become a veterinarian or vet assistant.

The Broken Arrow Riding Club hopes to acquire the land on 59th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue from the Chicago Park District to use as riding stables. (They’ve been working on this for quite a while, are you listening Mayor Emmanuel?) In the meantime, the Riding Club continues to perform for community events, fundraisers and rodeo and horse shows.