During this past winter, I, along with hundreds of others worldwide, watched the journey of The Caravan through social media posts. Starting in California in November, we saw teams of Fresian horses transverse the American South. We saw them in the great dessert, their hooves in that perfect, intoxicating rhythm as the austere scenery flashed by. We saw them led into a bar in a place reminiscent of Texas. We saw them dance free on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. We saw them cross an old bridge over the Mississippi. All of this narrated by The Caravan's mastermind, Gerard Paagman.
When the last few days of the epic journey were to pass nearby, down roads I knew well, I decided to ride along.
On the last day of The Caravan, dawn found me at a local grammar school that was filled with horses, carriages, and horse trailers. A dozen Fresians were tied to the school's chain link fence. People bustled with all the preparation it takes to hitch up and drive. There were single horses, pairs, and teams of three and four.
I found myself helping braid and harness some VSE's who had come all the way to Florida from Texas. I then went to find the pair upon whose carriage I would ride for this last day of The Caravan's five-month journey. I was to ride on the 'gator' spot of a pair of Fresians, driven by Annie and Kees, who had emigrated to Canada from Holland about ten years ago.
There were mounted police escorting the carriages, riders in every combination of tack and gear, an EMT horse trailer following, and police cars in front and back of what was now our long parade. We began our journey into the rising sun.
The road we were on was one I knew well. Over the years, I had seen a thoroughbred farm become a neighborhood, and yet my eyes still sought the packed curve of earth that had once been the exercise track. We passed a pub I had been to a few times, a park where I had both worked a summer and from which, for many years, I had launched my own boat. I knew the history of the area and told some of it to Annie while Kees drove.
When we got to the small, historical area of Wiersdale, the orange groves were in blossom and the scent was lush in the morning air. The azaleas were blooming, the greening of spring had started, and the sound all around us was that of hooves and breeze flapping flags. We passed by some houses that had been built when horse traffic was common, and maybe these glorious buildings were glad again of that sweet sound.
After a waterstop and the addition of a dozen more carriages in escort for the last mile, including the famous Gloria Austen herself, everyone arrived at the finish line to a blaze of applause from the hundreds of folks who had come out to see The Caravan's finale. The film crew got footage of the finale, their big cameras and drone overhead capturing much more professional than my camera phone. There will be a movie of The Caravan's journey one day.
It was soon time to party, to pose for pictures in my pink hat, and to greet friends. Later, it happened that I drove part of our route, in a truck as usual, but the road looked different. As familiar a route as CR 25 is to my prosaic errands, The Caravan had changed my view of it.
The Caravan is now a part of history. It became a legend as it happened. Recorded by both participants and bystanders on a plethora of mobile devices, The Caravan stands as an unparalleled event, a gift from Gerard, himself a legacy.