Walking around downtown Washington, D.C., on Monday morning amidst the crowds of inauguration-goers, it was difficult to tell who hailed from where—and then there was the man in a Purdue hat who said “Boiler Up!” with a big smile in response to my companion who initiated that exchange. Yet I learned ahead of time that there would be more than a few other Hoosiers in attendance, including performers in the parade after the official swearing in of President Barack Obama:
* Almost five dozen riders for Culver Military Academy’s Black Horse Troop and 24 members of the Culver Girls Academy Equestriennes, plus members of the Horsemanship staff and adult chaperones, marched in the event, marking the 100-year anniversary of the group's first march for the president’s big day. They even maintained a blog to track the preparations and the occasion. (Video: The riders come in from the cold post-parade, greeted by their sponsors.)
* Pride of Indy Bands—an LGBT music organization that can be seen performing around town at the Indy Pride Festival, Spotlight, and the Indiana AIDS Walk—also had a presence, as nine musicians from that group marched with the national Lesbian Gay Band Association (LGBA), which participated in the parade for the first time four years ago as the original LGBT organization to take part in an inaugural parade.
“While participation is never guaranteed, participating in the Presidential Inaugural Parade has become somewhat of a coveted Culver tradition,” says Culver Academy’s director of publications, Doug Haberland, via email. “It is the premier showcase for our student riders. For our riders, nothing is more memorable than parading past the president. For the school, nothing is more prestigious or more high-profile for our school than to have our riders involved before a national audience on this historic day. To be involved is an honor few groups achieve, and therefore we strive to be a part of it.”
It was also no easy feat—nearly 90 horses also needed to make the trek out east. Then again, this wasn’t the group's first rodeo, so to speak.
“Sallee Horse Vans out of Lexington, Kentucky, has transported our horses since 1997," says Haberland. "Moving horses is Sallee’s business, and we have forged a great working relationship over the years."
And while the weather was only a two-layer day as opposed to the three-layer-plus-hot-chocolate-and-hand-warmers day for the 2009 inauguration, there’s no guarantee as to what participants can expect at an outdoor event in Washington, D.C., in mid-January.
“There are certainly weather concerns, but Culver has done this enough that all contingencies have been taken into account. It is another reason that our riders practice more than three months before we even know if we will be invited,” says Haberland. “We make sure our riders and our horses are prepared. “
Anyone watching the parade on TV couldn’t have missed the sea of black horses and riders as the Culver riders passed the platform where the president had the best seat along the parade route. In fact, the riders were able to look directly at the President as they passed, which is always “the thing they are most excited about,“ says Haberman, noting that "Eyes left" is the command they receive to do so. “Many have said the hard work, long hours on horseback, cold or wet weather, and fatigue are all worth it for that opportunity.”
The academy's students also had a chance to see the sights around the nation’s capital, possibly for the first time as some of them had never visited Washington, D.C., before this trip. Riders were also honored at a dinner on Saturday night hosted by alumni and friends of Culver Academy.
Throughout the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, Pride of Indy marchers also posted celebratory photos to their Facebook page, and the LGBA was featured nationally and even internationally, including a BBC piece that features the Pride of Indy marchers’ experience. Here's a CNN clip:
Rebecca Berfanger has attended three inaugurations: as a graduate student and Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Patriot-Ledger of Quincy, Mass., in 2005; as a reporter for Indiana Lawyer in 2009, and this year.