For four decades, a group of local horse riders have celebrated American patriotism, performing for local parades in eastern Idaho to some of the country’s biggest parades.
The Americana will be celebrating its 40th anniversary on Aug. 14. The group has performed in over 500 performances across the U.S., with over 200 riders participating throughout the Americana’s existence.
“It’s kind of a big family deal,” said founder Mel Griffeth. “It’s been extremely rewarding. With 50 horses and 50 riders carrying the American flag, you feel the patriotism of this great country.”
The group has performed in several U.S. states and even Canada. Griffeth said some highlights include performing in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., and performing in Washington D.C. three times.
He said a Fourth of July parade organizer from the district became interested in the Americana after seeing a picture of them when they performed in the Days of 47 parade in Salt Lake City. Griffeth was in Alaska during the phone call and didn’t believe the man when they first spoke, but he returned home and Americana members were already preparing and fundraising for the trip.
They performed in the district for the first time in 1991. Griffeth said they performed another time in 2000 and then again in 2004 for former U.S. President George W. Bush’s Presidential parade.
“We’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences,” Griffeth said. “It has been a very patriotic thing that we got started.”
One time, Griffeth said the Americana was riding over to the Washington Memorial but was on the wrong road and going the wrong direction on a one-way road, although none of the other motorists seemed to mind.
“Everyone was just waving and having a good time until a policeman had come along,” he said.
The officer stopped Griffeth and was not pleased at the convoy of 53 horse riders that were going the wrong way on the road, he said. Griffeth asked the officer for directions and eventually the officer helped them get to the Washington Memorial.
“Can you imagine 53 horses riding around the Washington Memorial with American flags,” Griffeth said. “That policeman is still my buddy today and he’ll call me a couple of times a year. When I came around the corner during the parade, after we got settled down, he said to me ‘I’ve never seen a prettier picture on the mall than that Americana group from Idaho.’”
Griffeth, turning 85 in August, originally started the group as a 4-H group back when he was a rodeo coach in 1981. Then Madison County Fair board member Max Palmer asked Griffeth if he could put on a performance with his horses for the county’s Fourth of July rodeo and eventually other cities and counties caught wind of the group and asked them to perform in their events, which has continued to this day.
The Americana is mostly a family group, Griffeth said. Most riders are either a part of the immediate family or are extended family members that catch interest in the group from their relatives.
Griffeth’s daughter Melanie Schwendiman became a Roman rider for the group in 1988, Schwendiman said. Roman riding is riding two horses at a time with a foot on each horse and Schwendiman continues to do it for the Americana.
“There’s just something special about when you’re on that horse and carrying an American flag,” she said.
She said she enjoys riding and participating with the group because it allows her to be involved with her family.
“I’m pretty lucky to be able to do something like this with my mom and dad,” Schwendiman said. “That’s pretty special to be involved with something for 40 years and to be able to do it with your parents and your family.”
The family is hosting an Americana reunion on Aug. 14. They are inviting all riders that have ever performed with them to attend and are asking anyone that has previously been involved to call them.