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Fiesta’s here: A tribute to Hattie

Tastefully appointed tails.

El Desfile Historico, the annual Fiesta equestrian parade, is one of those Santa Barbara traditions that you can count on. Like clockwork, the first weekend in August, on a Friday morning you will find the streets around Pershing Park flooded with horsemen and women on their well-cared for mounts. Be there at noon this Friday – it’s that time of year.

Some horses will pull historic carriages from the Carriage Museum, others will carry riders on their backs in beautiful dresses or elaborate suits, some will have manes braided in fancy ways. There will be flowers and bands and happy children. A few folks might imbibe some early morning margaritas.  The horsemen and women will be smiling, but not nervous – they’ve done this many times before. It’s a tradition.

There will be confetti in the streets, it might be foggy or the sun might blaze, tacos will be consumed. Tourists will be on hand but you will see a lot of local faces, too. People will bring their grandparents, their kids, and sit along the parade route and watch the riders go by. They might count the horses. We used to do that for Edhat. It was fun.

When I wrote the original version of this post two years ago (yes, this blog employs content recycling. Sorry about that), I mentioned that “for the last 86 years, one of those parade participants has been Harriet Osbourne (Hattie) Feazelle. You might just think of her as the little old lady in the pretty blue dress. For 84 of those years she rode her horse in the parade. She’s La Reina, the queen, of Fiesta. An institution. One of those things you can count on.”

Hattie was the grandmother of my friend Sutton Feazelle Bailey and the mother of my high school English teacher and Santa Ynez neighbor Cita Mainer. She rode in her last Fiesta parade, in a carriage driven by her son-in-law Robert (and Cita), last year in 2011. She was honored (in her 100th birthday year) as the parade’s Grand Marshall. As always, when I saw her in the parade it brought tears to my eyes.

Hattie was in every single Fiesta parade from the event’s origin until the year of her death. She was one of these no-nonsense women who inspired and impressed. I had the honor of interviewing her for a front page profile in the SBNP when she was honored as Vaquera of the Year by the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society. We talked about Santa Barbara the way it used to be – when you could ride horses on the beach from downtown to Goleta, when Stearns Wharf was still a working seafront, when many streets were not yet paved.

When honored for her cowgirl accomplishments, she was humble and self-effacing about it, joking around in an interview. She wore turquoise cowboy boots to the celebration party, and pulled up her skirt to show them off for a photographer (at age 92!)

Hattie grew up on Micheltorena Street in Santa Barbara when State Street was the only paved road. She got her first horse, who was named Chivita, in 1922 and rode to Goleta and back on the sandy South Coast beaches and mountain trails. Fiesta was called La Primavera, not Fiesta at all, when she was in the first parade in 1924.

La Reina de Fiesta

When I asked Hattie back in 2003 how long she’d ride in the parade, she told me: “Till the good man says I can’t ride anymore.” She kept that promise. She will be missed in this year’s parade.

A few Fiesta photos from the archive:

Cascarones!

Mayor Helene Schneider and the 2010 Junior Spirit of Fiesta.

Flower girls.

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