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Merced riders bring towering horses to Rose Parade

Maribeth Scott will be celebrating the first day of 2009 like a lot of other people -- watching the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

But Scott won't be watching it from her rural Merced home, or even from the sidewalk of a Pasadena street along the parade route.

Instead, Scott will be in the thick of things, riding her shire stallion in the parade, part of a California group of riders called the Shire Riders.

Scott and her husband, Eric, own the gray stallion Illusion Crystal Clear, or Chris. The couple is looking forward to their first-ever trip to the Rose Parade. And although Chris has been to a lot of parades, it is also the first visit to the Pasadena event for the 11-year-old stallion.

Shire is a breed of draft horse whose history in the British Isles dates back to the Middle Ages. It is the tallest of the draft breeds, and Chris shows that in his 18.2 hand height. A hand is about four inches, and Chris measures a little more than 6 feet tall at his withers, the highest part of the back of a horse, located between the shoulder blades.

The Scotts also own a miniature horse named Tinkerbelle, and the little black and white mini can walk underneath Chris' belly without touching him.

The Shire Riders applied to the equestrian committee of the Rose Parade to ride this year. Brad Ratliff, the committee chairman, said about 55 horse groups applied this year to be part of the parade. Only 18 made the cut.

"The most important thing we look for is the 'wow' factor," Ratliff explained. "The shire is a big breed and a unique animal. When the public sees them coming down the street, I think they will be in awe." Ratliff estimates that about 1 million people will line the parade route in Pasadena to see the spectacle up close.

The total number of units marching in the parade overall has been cut back, Ratliff said, including equestrian groups. Because the parade is covered by television, parade officials wanted to make sure the parade could be finished in a two-hour time frame.

"That way everyone will have an equal opportunity to appear on television," Ratliff said.

Maribeth Scott is a little nervous about being on television, but she isn't the least bit worried about her horse. He will be the only stallion in the Shire Riders group, she said, but that shouldn't be a problem.

"He's gentle and docile and especially loves kids," Maribeth said. "I'm more worried about the trip down there. We're hoping we don't run into any snow or ice with the horse in the trailer behind us."

Most draft horse breeds like shire are used in harness as opposed to being ridden, Maribeth Scott said. But because of the economy, and the fact that a good harness can cost up to $7,000, a lot of draft horse owners have gone to riding their horses. And it's fun, the Scotts said.

"When Chris canters, it's like riding a boat over the waves," Maribeth said. Eric added that comparing riding Chris to riding a normally sized horse is like comparing a small car to a bus.

The Scotts work hard to keep Chris in good shape. His mane, tail and forelock are so long and pretty that people automatically reach to touch them.

That's OK with the Scotts, because their stallion likes to be fussed over by people. "He's such a people horse, and folks who have bought his babies say the same thing about them. They all have his great personality," Maribeth Scott said.

The Scotts and their giant stallion will leave Merced the day after Christmas. They are eager to go, and they believe their horse will also like the event.

"When he's at a place like that, he gets puffed up and excited," Eric Scott said. "He's just the perfect horse to take to the Rose Parade. He'll enjoy it as much as we do."

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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