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U.S. Marine Corps' Mounted Color Guard carries the American Flag and the Marine Corps Standard in the 135th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, 2024. The Rose Parade is part of an annual celebration, Tournament of Roses, that includes various floats, bands, dancers and equestrian units, and is meant to showcase the beauty of Pasadena, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kristina Judy)

Pasadena, California. (January 17, 2024): In this photo by Corporal Kristina Judy, the Marine Corps' Mounted Color Guard carries the American Flag and the Marine Corps Standard in the 135th Rose Parade. The Rose Parade is part of the annual Tournament of Roses celebration that includes various floats, bands, dancers, and equestrian units. As the only mounted color guard in the Marine Corps, it is quite an honor to be selected to represent America at patriotic events across the nation.

Marines who join the color guard have little or no equestrian experience so they are trained by civilian horse whisperers to ride and maintain horses and operate a ranch effectively. The horses in the unit are wild mustangs adopted from the Bureau of Land Management's Adopt a Horse and Burro Program. Before they are adopted by the team, these horses are “green broken” by federal inmates meaning they are only partially trained and only recently learned to be under saddle.

Initially, Marine stablemen establish a training routine designed to bond rider and horse so that trust and cooperation is firmly established. Next, they work in arenas where they are sensitized to loud noises and moving crowds so that the horses relax and trust their handlers.

While the A-Team is on the road doing performances, the other stablemen deal with the care and transportation of the horses while others remain behind to maintain the facilities or do administrative work. Like any dude ranch,  stablemen feed the horses twice a day and make sure they have adequate water in this desert environment. Just like cowboys of old, these Marines groom and clean their steeds, muck out their stalls, and tend to their daily maintenance.

All these efforts pay off when the team performs, spit and polished, in front of thousands of proud Americans each year.