December 18, 2014

State Fair officials say safety measures are in place at parade

Iowa State Fair officials say they’ve had safety measures in place for years along the Iowa State Fair Parade route and they foresee no changes in response to Sunday’s fatal accident at an eastern Iowa parade.

“One of the more prominent rules that we have for our participants in the parade is no throwing of candy which keeps children particularly on the sidewalks and not in the streets — to help with safety,” says Lori Chappell, spokeswoman for the Iowa State Fair.

Horse-drawn wagons and buggies like the one that plowed into the crowd at Bellevue’s parade on the 4th of July aren’t often part of the procession in the Fair’s parade. “Typically they’re riders that are participating — horse clubs,” Chappell says.

The Iowa State Fair Parade is scheduled for August 11 in downtown Des Moines. Chappell says Fair officials work with the Des Moines Police Department, which provides crowd control for the event. Sergeant Robin Sprafka of the Des Moines Mounted Police Unit says proper training of horses can reduce the risk of them bolting, but when a horse pulling a buggy loses its bridle and the attacked blinders — as it did in the Bellevue parade — the situation changes.

“All of a sudden, this horse has no bridle. He’s got no blinders, so his whole world and his whole vision of the world is now changed and he’s got no support from his handler, because the bridle is gone, so he gets scared and his first instinct is to run,” she says.  “And then once that kicks in, all thought process really stops for the horse. They just run to save their life.”

According to Sprafka, it can be nearly impossible to regain control of horses once they’ve panicked, but she doesn’t believe people need to be afraid of horses trained to be in public places — just cautious. Once the Iowa State Fair starts on August 12, they’ll be a security contingent patrolling the fairgrounds on horseback, limiting crowd contact with large livestock, like horses and cattle.

“Any time we have a large livestock move from, say, a barn to a showing facility, we’re roping off those areas. Particularly when we have the draft-horse hitches moving from building to building, we’re literally roping those areas off,” Chappell says. “And we have livestock control on horseback. We also have our safety patrol, typically on golf carts, and in addition we have Highway Patrol that’s here as well to help with crowd and safety control.”

The Budweiser Clydesdales have been featured at the Fair in the past and crowds have watched the eight work-horses pull a beer wagon around the fairgrounds. Chappell says the streets where the horses and wagon will be going are shut down to pedestrians and other traffic.

“We predetermine their route so that we can rope it off and are meeting days before that type of parade with, say, the Budweiser Clydesdales to make sure that there’s no movement of fair-goers or any other traffic in their path,” she says.

The iconic eight-horse hitch will not be featured at this year’s Iowa State Fair, but on opening day of the fair there were be several hitches involved in the grand opening of the new Jacobson Exhibition Center on the fairgrounds.

Chappell says her heart goes out to the victims of the incident at Sunday’s parade in Bellevue.  “It’s an unfortunate situation and whenever you have animals, they can be unpredictable,” Chappell says. “It certainly makes you review your own event and policies that are associated with that and make sure that you have as many safety measures in place as possible.”

Officials in Bellevue have invited grief counselors and local religious leaders to a meeting hall in Bellevue at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to provide free counseling to anyone who may need it after witnessing Sunday’s incident.