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Celebrating horses and the joy of the season

Townshend's 'Holiday of Horses' turns the the Town Common into an equine wonderland

TOWNSHEND—If the weather behaves on Sunday, Dec. 7, the streets of downtown Townshend will resound with neighs, whinnies, and the clip-clops of equines as the Holiday of Horses parade returns.

Last year, in what organizer Laura Richardson described as “an impromptu, whimsical tribute to equines and local nonprofits,” the inaugural Holiday of Horses saw 20 horses ride from Leland & Gray Union High School, at the junction of Routes 30 and 35, continue around the Town Common up to Valley Cares senior housing, and back to the high school.

This year the parade follows the same route, beginning at 1 p.m. with a concurrent indoor portion at the United Church of Christ on the Town Common.

The residents at Valley Cares loved it so much, says Richardson, that the parade circled their parking area three times. Richardson also reports the staff at Grace Cottage Hospital brought patients to the windows to see the display.

“The main concept of the event,” Richardson says, “was to have fun, which we did.” The all-volunteer parade allowed local horse enthusiasts to show off their beautiful animals in a setting that benefits riders and animals.

“Horses used to be in parades, but they aren’t anymore,” Richardson laments. Part of the reason, she explains: mechanized vehicles stress the animals.

By limiting this parade to horses, donkeys, burros, and the like, and allowing only animal-drawn carts — no cars or trucks — the horses remain calm. Plus, Richardson says, the horses enjoy being together in a group.

In keeping with the season, riders will costume themselves and their animals in festive accoutrements, such as antlers, hats, and blinking lights.

Roger Poitras of West River Stables has been working on ideas for his horses all month, Richardson reports. She explains Poitras “has a lot of energy, really loves kids, and deserves a lot of credit” for making Holiday of Horses so successful and fun.

“Without him, there wouldn’t have been much of a turn-out,” she adds.

Richardson says her main inspiration for Holiday of Horses is Woodstock’s Wassail Parade, which notes on its website that it features more than 50 horses and riders dressed in holiday costumes and period dress from the early 19th century.

On seeing that, she says, she decided: “Let’s have something like that here.” Plus, a parade closer to her home would allow Richardson to show off her own horse, Nova.

Richardson emphasizes she wants her event to remain small in scale. She almost hesitated in promoting the parade too widely, fearing it would become “too big, like [Brattleboro’s] Strolling Of The Heifers.”

“I don’t know where we’d put everyone,” she says. “I don’t want it to be too commercial. The parade is also about the many good nonprofits that exist in our small area to help people,” she says, singling out Gerda’s Animal Aid.

Gerda Silver’s organization “rescue[s] horses from the unthinkable fate of being slaughter bound for human consumption, and with the ultimate goal of finding them each a perfect new home,” according to its website, www.gerdasanimalaid.org.

Other nonprofits represented at the indoor portion of the event include the Townshend Food Shelf and the public library.

“The sixth-grade class will be there selling hot drinks and snacks to help fund their class trip,” she adds.

Attendees can also enter what Richardson calls the instant raffle, allowing those with winning tickets to choose from a variety of prizes donated by local merchants.

Richardson reminds attendees that if there’s snow, Holiday of Horses won’t go: “I don’t want to harm the animals. Horses and snowplows don’t make a good combination."

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Originally published in The Commons issue #283 (Wednesday, December 3, 2014). This story appeared on page A5.

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