Longtime Southern California farrier Ada Gates Patton has one job in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Just one. But it’s oh so important.
“My only job,” she told Pasadena Now, “is to make sure that every horse has on the proper shoes with traction devices on them, so that when they go down five miles of pavement in the Rose Parade, they do not slip on the pavement.”
As they well did before she came along.
“A long time ago,” as she recalled, Patton was working for Linda Klausner, former equestrian chair of the Rose Parade. Klausner told Patton that the parade was having problems with horses slipping on the pavement.
“People didn’t know what to do,” Patton said, “They were worried about the safety and well-being of the horse and rider.”
Patton is a farrier, an expert craftsperson who trims and shoes horses’ hooves.
She was asked to come aboard as volunteer, and help create specifications for what shoes horses should wear and then inspect the horses to make sure that every horse in the parade was in compliance.
She then created the specifications for proper traction devices to be placed on all the horseshoes in the parade.
According to Patton, who has been a farrier for more than 40 years, fluid from trucks and floats during the parade can create a slick pavement for horses. Specially-designed devices made with tungsten carbide are placed into the horseshoes, creating a safer grip with the street. No horse is allowed on the course without the special horseshoes.
Once the new grips were designed, however, said Patton, parade horse owners then had to get used to them, and make sure they were always used.
“After a year or two,” said Patton, “they got used to me approaching them with a clipboard and checking off their names. And then they just got used to the idea that they were going to be checked, and that they were going to get help on how to be compliant. And also that somebody was checking that they were compliant.”
Gates inspects every horse before the parade, as she has done for more than 20 years, at the Equestrian Center in Burbank.
Patton knows very well what she speaks.
She grew up in New York City, and had a pony from the age of four.
“There was always a blacksmith that came and took care of my horse and that was a very important person in the life of my horse,” she said. “He was so important to my horse’s life.”
After her first horse, she owned a horse until she was 23. She fox hunted. She rode in horse shows.
“I was constantly riding,” she recalled. And then after a modeling and acting career in New York for many, many years she found herself “accidentally” living in Vail, Colorado.
On a 1971 trip from New York to Colorado with a girlfriend, their car broke down. Her friend returned to New York. Ada stayed in Colorado, and naturally, bought a horse.
“I hadn’t had a horse in years,” she said, “but there I was out in the beautiful wilds of the Rocky Mountains.”
She bought a horse, but could not get a horseshoer.
“One guy showed up, he was a cowboy. He was so drunk he could not get out of his truck. I said, ‘You’re not shoeing my horse. You’re not touching my horse.’ “
Patton eventually found a reliable horseshoer, who up and left the area. But she had read an article about a horseshoeing school in Oklahoma, and the rest was the future.
“I’m just going to go to that school,” she said. “I’m going to learn how to shoe horses, so I can shoe my horse and I won’t have this problem anymore. And maybe somebody else has this problem. And I might do like the neighbor’s horse. That’s it. That’s all I thought about. Go to school, learn how to shoe a horse and be able to shoe my horse.”
The school in Oklahoma turned out to be Patton and “49 guys.”
“The teacher said, ‘I don’t want no woman in my school.’ And I said, ‘Hmm, that’s a double negative. That must mean he wants me.’”
The teacher and school both turned out to be “great” experiences, and life eventually took her to Montrose, Colorado, where she shoed children’s ponies.
But homesick for the east coast, she headed back to New York, where she was roundly rejected by every ranch and stable. California was the answer, it seemed. Santa Anita was calling
“When I came to California,” she recalled, “I met the great Harry Patton, who was the head of the union for the entire Western United States. He was head of the horseshoers union at the racetracks. And I went to him and I said, ‘Would you teach me what I need to know to shoe horses at the racetrack?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ So he trained me to take the union exam to be licensed to shoe race horses.”
They married. They partnered up in business. She became a hall of fame farrier, shoeing every legendary horse that ever entered the paddock at Santa Anita.
Then one day the Rose Parade called. Now, no horses will be slipping on Colorado Boulevard come New Year’s Day. Ada Gates Patton will make sure of that.