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Parade horses a hot topic

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services

Hay River (Nov 27/06) - It may be awhile until next July 1 but the issue of horses in the annual Canada Day parade is a hot topic again in Hay River.

Controversy began when mayor John Pollard included the issue in his campaign pamphlet, which read "yes - to horses being allowed in the Canada Day parade."

This raised the ire of members of the local Lions organization. The Lions run the annual parade and banned horses two years ago.

Ronnie Shaw, who was Lions president when the horses were first told to keep away, said the club was upset the issue had been made "political."

"I was flabbergasted," he said. "Now the mayor's going to try and tell service clubs how to do their business?"

That's not the case at all, said Pollard.

"I don't plan to do anything about it. I think that would probably be a little heavy-handed."

Pollard brought it up in his campaign because constituents had raised the topic with him.

Anything that voters raise as an issue must be considered, he said.

"I would prefer that the people who wish to put horses in the parade worked out their differences with the organizers of the parade," he said.

The animals became an issue in 2005 when horses ended up close to children in the parade line-up.

"We had concerns for the safety of the people, namely the kids," Shaw said.

"We are liable and the even the best of horses can spook."

Local horse owner Michael Hansen estimates he has taken his horses in 25 parades throughout Alberta and the NWT, including the Hay River parade. He has never had an incident where his horses have caused safety problems, he said.

"My horses are well-broke saddle horses," he said.

Nobody can ever guarantee that an accident won't happen, said Hansen, which is why he usually rides in with the vehicles in a parade.

"If something goes wrong there, it's just dented sheet metal," he said.

When Shaw was asked why Hay River was different from other Canadian towns that have horses in parades, he replied, "I don't know."

"I guess this year we could have stuck (the horses) in with the cars. There could have been cooperation," he added.

Hansen said he, as a horse owner, is more than willing to meet with Lions representatives to work something out.

If that doesn't happen, the horses still have an invitation to the local Santa Claus parade. New parade organizer Mike Wood said that horses are welcome. "I don't have a problem with them," he said.

Hansen said he'd love to take his horses in that parade, but "it all depends on the weather" as icy conditions can be dangerous for horses and their riders.

Veterinarian and owner of North Country Stables in Yellowknife, Dr. Tom Pisz has been taking horses in Yellowknife parades for 12 years.

"It's crazy, said Dr. Pisz, that Hay River would ban them, "horses have been in parades always. Why is it different in Hay River than anywhere else?"

Of course there is some risk with horses, but there is risk in everything, he added.

"A parade is dangerous in itself...should we ban parades?" he asked.