Organizers announced yesterday that Delaware’s annual All Horse Parade will use dead horses due to a lack of financial support. After the event’s primary sponsor pulled their funding earlier this year, it was uncertain whether the 32nd annual running of the parade would take place. According to parade committee chair Jennifer Larson, the switch to dead horses is a minor concession that will allow the parade’s tradition to continue.
“We could have canceled this year’s event or gone with a different model, but Delaware’s All Horse Parade is one of the country’s largest and most unique horse parades,” Larson said. “To cancel the parade or not use horses would have meant straying from tradition, which isn’t something we were willing to do.”
Because horses will remain the parade’s main participants, Larson said the event will continue to be billed as the largest all-horse, non-wheelchair-based parade east of the Mississippi River.
“A dead horse still has all of the qualities of a live horse,” Larson said. “Especially the dick.”
To maintain as much of the traditional format as possible, this year’s parade will feature the same variety of horses and participants that spectators have come to expect. Because they’ll be dead and unable to walk on their own, the horses will be dragged by an assortment of cars, bicycles, tractors, ATVs, and go-karts. Others will be hauled on floats and trucks.
A parade mainstay, the pooper scoopers, will also be present. Known for following behind the horses and clearing the street of their excrement, the group of Ohio Wesleyan volunteers will instead be used to scrape up entrails, limbs, and other body parts that separate from the carcasses during the parade.
“Dead bodies are pretty fragile,” said local veterinarian Rachel Lucas. “I don’t imagine there will be much left of the horses after they’re shlepped down the parade route.”
Larson said damaging the bodies isn’t really a concern of hers because the animals will already be dead, but that she hopes some remain intact so they can follow through with their plans to have children paint and decorate them upon the parade’s conclusion.
“Children usually come to the fairgrounds to pet the horses, so we want to keep that level of interactivity,” Larson said. “We will have paint, feathers, sparkles, and a variety of other decorations available for use on the bodies, and we’re considering giving a prize for the most imaginative use of a putrefied horse carcass.”
Driving vehicles to drag dead horses instead of riding breathing ones isn’t a major change for the parade’s human participants, said cavalcade veteran Marty Sloth.
“As long as the tradition continues and we’re able to participate in something that gives back to the community, I’m happy,” said Sloth, a local business owner. “Riding the horses was always fun, but I think dragging those beasts through the streets will be pretty neat, too. It’s definitely something new and I think having all of those deteriorating creatures together in one place will be an impressive sight.”
Sloth also joked that the smell of rotting horse flesh may be an improvement over the typical smell of “horseshit.”
“In my personal life, the smell of rotting flesh and the stench of errant feces are rarely separate, if ever,” Sloth said. “But in the case of equine aroma, I much prefer a deceased bronco to a pile of filly feculence.”
Horse owner Mike Smith, another Delaware resident who has participated in the parade, disagrees with Sloth. He believes parading dead horses is a significant deviation and that a public backlash should be expected.
“Slaughtering horses has never gone over well with the public. In ‘91, we had to kill all the horses in town to feed the influx of Tongan immigrants, so we decided to use the remains in the parade. Despite our good intentions, the public revolted and threw oats and hay at us. One woman even called me ‘Horse Hitler.’ It was ugly,” Smith said. “But, for the sake of the tradition of exploiting animals for money and laughter, I’m willing to do whatever is necessary.”
Parade organizers said Smith’s concerns are off base because the horses used in this year’s parade will not be killed on purpose.
Jane Smiley, a parade committee member, said the decision to use dead horses has actually forced organizers to be more creative.
“Usually, most of our resources are dedicated to procuring special exhibitors and organizing the lineup,” Smiley said. “This year, we’ve had to start from scratch. We’ve been designing custom floats, thinking of different methods for transporting dead horses, and developing ways to make dead animals fun and interesting. For instance, we’ve created, for the first time in history, a motorized harness that will drag a former Little Brown Jug winning pacer to the promised land.”
“The promised land” is the name given by Delaware equine enthusiasts to the sparse woods behind Delaware Christian Academy. The school set aside the land last year for a dead horse cemetery and leather shoe store.
Because of the increased time put into organizing the event, Smiley says that spectators should expect a better, more entertaining parade experience.
Erica Smith, who has watched the parade for the past five years with her daughter Elizabeth, 11, said the change will hardly be noticeable and that she is still looking forward to the event.
“Whether we’re watching a horse trot beautifully down Pennsylvania Avenue or seeing its rotting corpse dragged by a Jeep Cherokee, the event’s meaning is still the same,” Smith explained. “It’s about coming out to celebrate the community and sharing a special experience with loved ones ahead of the fair.”
Dead horses from several states will be used in the event, but most will be from here in Ohio. Several hundred throughout the state were brutally killed last week when Governor Mike DeWine blamed lazy horses for high gas prices, and parade organizers were able to secure most of the remains.
Though they have an adequate number, anyone interested in donating a dead horse for use in the event is encouraged to contact parade organizers. The Delaware County Fairgrounds has agreed to store the bodies for free in their state-of-the-art animal mortuary.
This year’s parade begins at 3:00 p.m. on September 10th.