Las Vegas – Las Vegas city officials are speaking out against criticism after a horse was killed during the Helldorado Parade over the weekend.
“In our mind, someone – the owner of that horse, the Sin City Riders – decided to bring that skittish horse to the parade environment and that’s something that we would like to see better addressed in the future by the participants,” says David Riggleman, Communications Director for the City of Las Vegas.
The incident happened Saturday morning as the annual parade was set to begin in downtown Las Vegas. Witnesses say several dozen horses from the Sin City Riders group were standing in a staging area when a marching band passed by and began to play. In a comment posted to Sagebrush Rider’s website, one witness described the scene:
“It was like a firing squad opening fire! It surprised everyone and almost every horse reacted to some degree. My horse has been in a dozen parades without flinching and it was hard for me to control him during this incident. One horse yanked free of his rider and instinctively bolted,” wrote Melissa Ohlson, a member of the Sin City Riders.
The saddled horse ran 13 blocks along Charleston Boulevard before it was hit by a pickup truck. The horse died at the scene. The occupants of the vehicle received minor injuries. In Facebook comments, some witnesses said the tragedy could have been avoided by better parade planning. That is something the city disagrees with.
“We’re disappointed that the Sin City Riders would attempt to blame the staging area for what happened on Saturday. The staging area is in the same place that it has always been. So to say that the staging area somehow played a part in this issue this year is really unwarranted. We’ve never had anything like this happen in the years that we’ve had horses within the parade.”
City officials say they’ve spoken with several equestrians about the incident and they believe that the horse should not have been in the parade.
“Regardless of the reason, for that horse to have run and bolted the way he did, he was obviously not prepared to be in a parade environment,” says Riggleman. “If you’re going to introduce a horse to an environment where, of course, you’re going to have other horses, and people, and bands, and floats, the horse needs to be prepared for a situation like that. And what we’re hearing consistently is that the decision to bring a horse that skittish into an environment like that was really a decision that falls back to the owner and perhaps to the Sin City Riders.”
Riggleman says parade organizers always take safety into consideration.
“Safety is our foremost concern at any large event, especially a parade. This parade goes back to 1935. So it’s not like anyone is really a novice at putting on a parade here and we do multiple parades every year. This is really, in our minds, such a freak situation because we’ve never had a situation where a horse has bolted like that and then been injured, and in this case killed.”
City officials say they will begin planning next year’s parade soon. As for what they might do differently next year?
“Obviously what we’re going to do is evaluate these equestrian groups that are going to be in the parade,” says Riggleman. “I think we’re hoping that there is a better review of the animals that they’re going to have within the parade.”
The Helldorado Parade is an annual event that coincides with the anniversary of the city’s founding. It includes dozens of floats, high school marching bands, car clubs, and riders on horseback. Officials say this year’s incident was unfortunate. “We’re really very, very sad as to what happened,” says Riggleman. “The Helldorado Parade is a celebration of our city’s history and community. The last thing we’d ever want is to have an animal be injured or killed during this celebration.”
UPDATE: The Sin City Riders released a statement regarding the incident which reads:
“This is a terrible tragedy that probably could have been avoided with proper planning. We have participated in this parade and many others for years and we have never been near a band before. Our horses are used to bands and noise. But, we want everyone to stop the blaming. Let the family grieve. And let’s do better next year. Let’s improve the Helldorado Parade. That’s the Sin City Riders mission – to preserve the western tradition and we don’t want to lose that.”