It was a bright clear morning Wednesday, Jan. 1, when a small group of women, along with their contingency of helpers, sponsors and many others, were about to realize a dream come to fruition. This tight knit group, who shared nothing more than pride in their city and a love of the cowgirl lifestyle, saw the culmination of a years’ worth of hard work as they saddled up and rode in the 130th Rose Parade in Pasadena.
And ride they did. The Horsewomen of Temecula made their way up Colorado Boulevard in the 31st spot of the parade that chilly morning and represented the city they call home wearing their brightly colored costumes and waving to the crowd of more than 700,000. The group made their way down the parade route, pulling their beautifully decorated wagon and carrying local officials, including Temecula Fire Chief Jodi Gray, Temecula Police Chief Lisa McConnell, California Highway Patrol Temecula Division Commander Capt. Karyn Mentink, Temecula Councilmember Maryann Edwards and 90-year-old Temecula resident and National Cowgirl Hall of Famer Pat Ommert.
Juanita Koth, who served as the team marshall, organized the group, setting practices and bringing the women together to prepare for the parade.
“It was a little bit of a surreal experience,” Koth said.
Koth explained that members of the Temecula Equine Wine Riders, a horseback riding club that was formed about 12 years ago, had started doing parades and winning awards. In addition to parades, the group worked to preserve trails working with community and county leadership as a way to preserve the equestrian lifestyle.
“We finally had the resume to enter the parade,” she said. “It’s not something you enter into lightly.”
Koth said they had put together a group of “amazing women” from the community who made it an “absolutely amazing representation of the entire community.
“To have our civic leaders such as Maryann, Jodi Gray, Lisa McConnel, Karyn Mentink in the wagon, and then we brought in agricultural farming sponsor members and title sponsor Wilson Creek Winery kind of was the pinnacle of our sponsorship,” Koth said.
Koth said that the Galway Downs Equestrian Center where the group had been riding and training, along with Wilson Creek Winery were invaluable to the experience of participating in the parade as were the city of Temecula, the Temecula Convention and Visitors Bureau and many others who supported the effort.
“It was quite extraordinary,” she said.
To get from Temecula to the Rose Parade was no easy trail ride, according to Koth, who works part time as a nurse at Rady Children’s Hospital.
“If I worked full time, we never would have gotten to do this,” she said. “This was a job. It was a huge endeavor.”
Edwards said that when all was said and done Koth had a 4-inch binder full of required paperwork for the group to participate in the parade.
“They worked so hard, you would not believe the application process to get in, it was unbelievable. She had to give pedigrees of all the horses and histories of the horses – including veterinarian records,” Edwards said. “We all had to do little short videos. It was unbelievable.”
The group also participated in other events leading up to the parade. Preparation for the parade began Friday, Dec. 27, when Horsewomen of Temecula arrived in Pasadena for the final race to the Rose Parade.
Friday night the team attended a reception for the equestrian entries. The event attendees included the president of the Tournament of Roses, three soon to be presidents, the equestrian director, the Rose Bowl Queen and her court and all 17 equestrian parade entries, Johns said.
Friday’s festivities were followed by Equestfest practice Saturday, Dec. 28.
Held inside the Los Angeles Equestrian Center Sunday, Dec. 29, the sold-out Equestfest allowed for visitors to get up close and personal with the equestrian units participating in the parade and for those participants to show off their skills as they performed drills, dances, trick riding and roping.
“We actually practiced for that a lot,” Koth said. “We had been riding in parades forever, that was old hat to us, but putting on our little Wild West show that we had with Judy Taylor our western entertainer who was spinning her guns then twirling her ropes and as that was happening our wagon was going around the perimeter, it stopped in the center of the arena and then our drill team galloped around that while our formal color guard came … it was all this activity, and we really had to practice for that.”
Edwards, who like the rest of a team camped at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in an RV, said she enjoyed the experience.
“The whole experience was just a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “It definitely put us on the map as an equestrian destination, and I think the announcer said that we were one of Wine Enthusiast’s top 10 destinations for wine in the world.”
Edwards said that it was an amazing bonding experience to take part in the Rose Parade.
“I told people as we got back once you get past the size of it and the number of people sitting on the curb, it was not unlike our annual Christmas and Fourth of July parade in that the people were there to have a great time,” Edwards said. “The streets were narrow enough that I was talking to people sitting on the curb, just like I do at home.”
Edwards and Koth said they were proud to be a part of the 2019 parade since the theme focused on women’s contributions to society.
“I initially told Juanita about that,” Edwards said. “It was really amazing. I have been talking about our female leadership for several years now so for me, this is just a way to acknowledge that there are places in this country where the majority of the leadership is women. It was great; it just kind of broadened that pulpit that I had had.”
Koth, who was able to share the experience with her 15-year-old daughter and team member Jamie Lee, said that she thought the Horsewomen of Temecula, and the astonishing group of women leaders in the community were a perfect fit for the parade.
“That was an amazing accomplishment for me, an amazing theme of the parade, ‘The Power of Hope” and focusing on women and our strengths,” she said. “We have an amazing group of leaders, it’s not just myself that leads this group, but every single one is an amazing role model, an amazing mentor, an amazing woman with her own story. They are all strong, confident women and they have all had their ups and downs, but we persevere and that power of hope, and that hard work and ambition that we all have. That’s what made this come true for us.”
While those twirling ropes, spinning guns and riding individually stood out to the crowd on the parade route, it was Ommert who caught tons of attention from the media during the parade. The retired trick rider, retired rodeo participant and member of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame quickly became one of the parade darlings as word spread that at 90 years old, she still loves nothing more than hopping in the saddle and hitting the trail.
Ommert said she enjoyed the experience immensely.
“I had really truly never thought I would be participating in the Rose Parade,” she said. “To be in it was truly a wonderful, pleasant happy experience.”
Ommert, who was raised in Inglewood and Bell, said that her favorite part of the parade and the events leading up to it was waving at the people who lined the parade route.
“Millions of people see that parade the world over, but the people sitting in the stands, they reacted to every wave, they were waving and it was so exciting,” she said. “The Rose Parade is an American experience and all American made.”
For those who participated in the parade, the day was one for the memory books.
“The Rose Parade is 100% a class act, all the way,” Koth said. “I am so grateful that they selected us.”
Kim Harris can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.