The Monument Hill Kiwanis 4th of July Parade will feature a new participant this year: a riderless horse, with backwards-facing boots in the stirrups.

The riderless horse is meant to stand as a symbol of fallen soldiers; the backwards boots in each stirrup represent the spirit of a leader, looking back at their troops for one last ride.

“On Independence Day, we feel the Riderless Horse is an important and powerful symbol to recognize the sacrifice of those who have served to protect and defend our country,” said Rich Hicks, a member of the Monument Hill Kiwanis Club and this year’s parade director. “We plan to have this horse at the front of our parade this year. It really is the overall symbol to honor those who have served to protect and defend our nation.”

Sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 101 of Colorado Springs, the riderless horse (named Achilles for the solitary patch of white on his hind heel) will be escorted by retired Army Sgt. Maj. Greg Warwrytko. Achilles will be accompanied by a white horse, as well — part of a flag escort preceding the parade.

Achilles’ owner, Ginger Patrick, submitted the idea for the riderless horse to the parade planning committee, and will also be escorting Achilles along the parade route.

“For seven years, Achilles was the first thing up the street in the Springfield, Ohio Memorial Day parade,” said Patrick, who used to live in Ohio. “I’ve been present trying the Riderless Horse since 2006, and have the official approval of the Old Guard in Washington, D.C. This same horse that is scheduled to appear in the Monument parade is headed for the Kentucky Horse Park in July and will appear with a caisson horse from Arlington.

“Achilles is the real deal.”

Patrick’s other entry in this year’s parade are the 1st Colorado Top Hands Rodeo Drill Team, a group of equestrians who will be escorting the Queen of the Ute Trail Stampede Rodeo, Sydney Nelson.

The riderless horse, also called a caparisoned horse, has appeared in military and funerary processions throughout American history, including a handful of presidential funerals. The caskets of presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan were all followed by a riderless horse in their processions.

“We’ve got marshals along the street and will encourage [attendees] to have a moment of silence as this horse passes,” said Hicks, “and when they reach the announcer’s stand, they will have a special moment of silence [there] as well.”

Hicks hopes the riderless horse will become a staple of the Monument Independence Day parade. Retired from the Navy, Hicks recognizes how many residents of the Tri-Lakes region — and the Kiwanis club — have military ties.

“It really is an interesting effort,” Hicks said, “... it becomes a silent moment; it’s a time essentially for this solder, whose been lost now, to look back at his troops.”

“I think it was generous of Ginger to offer this horse, and her other group, the Top Hands, for the parade this year,” he said. “This is a symbol that I think a lot of people don’t know, so part of this is to let people understand what this symbolizes.”

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