The Lighted Horse Parade celebrates its 25th anniversary!


-Articles and photos by Ley Bouchard- 

The Lighted Horse Parade celebrated its 25th anniversary at 6:30 p.m. November 26th In Pelican Rapids, MN. Indeed one of the best openings of the Christmas season in the state, the Pelican Chamber of Commerce and the organizers of the parade are to be commended. It looked like hundreds of people lining the street watching the lighted horses and rigs decorated for the Christmas season. People come early and shop the stores’ specials, eat dinner in the restaurants and enjoy caroling on the street. It really starts off the holiday season right!

Audrey Wifall organized the event this year and many years in the past. “I have chaired the event for about 13 years now. Jeff Johnson started it and gave it to me for ten years. I handed it to Cindy Trane and then she handed it back to me three years ago. We love our teamsters and all the work they do just to get their teams, harnesses, wagons and themselves ready to come to our parade then drive here, harness, and hook up, go through the parade, get back to the staging area and tear down, load up and drive home.  Bless them all!  They are all pleasant and happy to help us get everyone into the Old Fashion Christmas Spirit.”


Teamsters put a lot of time and effort into preparing their horses to be parade ready, getting their wagons decorated, costumes for themselves and horses decked out. Becca Babolian explains: “Leather has all been cleaned and conditioned. Boy was that a job! The big strings were really dirty. The big strings have 48 bells each and I’m not looking forward to polishing them. The neck bells, thankfully, don’t need polished. The short string does, but that’s only 7 bells. I’ve been told ketchup is the thing to use to polish brass bells, but I’ve never done it that way. Guess I will do some googling to decide which way I want to polish them. The bells are all reproduction bells so polishing them will not affect their value.”

Valarece Long drives Tonka, a POA gelding, and wagon owned by Becca Babolian.

This years’ event included many members of the Red River Harness and Saddle Club as well as the Midwest MN Harness Club.  Teamsters included, according to Wifall: “Bob Dalman, Shelley Johnson, Polly Thorsness, David Biewer, Charlie Grose, Carol Sheridan, Brett Lien, Zachary Miller, Ryan Peterson, Christy Bjorgan, Val Long, Becca Babolian, Adam Johnson, Heather Westby, Ardean Johnson, Jeremy Johnson, Jeff Claypool, Dennis Sobtzak, Matt Johnson, Mark Radke, Brian Laymon and Katelyn Schaefer.” 

Polly Thorsness drives Kit, her mule, in the Lighted Horse Parade in Pelican Rapids, MN.

Wifall said the event was started 25 years ago by Jeff Johnson of Johnson Furniture in Pelican Rapids.  Original teamsters still around include Bob Dalman, Jeff Johnson, Wally Rodewald and Richard Rollie.

“I don’t know exactly my title,” said Wifall, “I organize the teamsters and sponsors, get things organized, where, when, day of event, etc.   I have eight helpers who are terrific– they know what to do and we just get it done. I have help with making signs, making ornaments and bandanas for all of the teamsters as a special gift.  It is sponsored by the Chamber but has a committee under them and me under them so whatever that makes me I don’t know?

Christy and Elroy Bjorgan, 11 year members of the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Posse, gave wagon rides in Pelican Rapids from 3-5 p.m. and decorated their horse and wagon right before the parade. They have given rides 3-4 years.  Christy is a horse sergeant for the Posse, ensuring and certifying the horses are well-suited and healthy to be used in the Posse.  The Posse is called into action for natural disasters and used for search and rescues.

Christy likes the Lighted Horse Parade because “everyone is so happy to see you drive by and people are waving and saying Merry Christmas.  It’s fun to try to make people wave who won’t;  it’s a challenge to pick someone and see if you can get them to wave. It’s fun to see the people you know and puts you in the Christmas spirit.”

Polly Thorsness wrote on her Facebook page about her preparations for the parade: “Different cart for today’s parade than the last couple of years. Becca Babolian raised the bar so I added something new.” 

Polly Thorsness drives Kit, her mule, in the Lighted Horse Parade in Pelican Rapids, MN.

She talked about why she does it every year: “I’ve been driving in this parade since 1998, except for two years, one being 2020 when they didn’t have it. The most memorable has been the night it was stormy and icy, and my mules slid down the hill where we were going around the block to head down the second time through. Since then, they have us going the opposite direction up the hill instead of down. I keep doing it because I work at Bell Bank and I provide the float. It’s a commitment if loyalty to Bell that keeps me doing it since I joined Bell in 2008.”

This will be shared to the VENews Facebook page at: Please tag yourself and your horses in the photos and I can update the web site with correct names.

A video of the parade may be seen at the VENews You Tube channel at this link: