The just-announced grand marshal for the 2018 National Western Stock Show parade, scheduled for January 4, 2018, is a horse. Yes, a horse: Thunder, the mascot of the Denver Broncos. Surprisingly, though, Thunder is neither the weirdest choice to fill the role nor the first animal to do so, although humans are a far more traditional pick.
The National Western Stock Show's roster of grand marshals since the parade through downtown Denver started in 1984 appears to be incomplete: After Denver Mayor Federico Peña in year one and Colorado Governor Richard Lamm in 1985, no one's listed until rodeo star Larry Mahon in 2002.
Another blank spot follows in 2003 — but since then, the honorees have mostly been pretty distinguished. They include Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Rulan Gardner (2005), U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (2006), baseball Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan (2008), cowboy poet Baxter Black (2009), Colorado Rockies star Todd Helton (2010), Secretariat owner Penny Tweedy Chenery (2011), Peña again (2012), Mayor Michael Hancock (2013), Denver Post owner Dean Singleton (2014), basketball legend Chauncey Billups (2015) and beloved Broncos kicker Rich Karlis (2016).
Much more embarrassing was 2007, when the parade's grand marshal was Rin Tin Tin X, a dog that was supposedly a direct descendant of the original Rin Tin Tin, who was at the center of many popular movies during film's silent era. Apparently, Benji's third cousin wasn't available.
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The upcoming appearance by Thunder, who's ridden and trained by Ann Judge and owned by Sharon Magness Blake and Ernie Blake, doesn't exactly qualify as rare. In addition to trotting across Mile High Stadium whenever the Broncos score (which hasn't been that often this season), Thunder appears at the Stock Show every year whether he's the grand marshal or not, as well as at Magness Blake's annual Western Fantasy fundraiser, public exhibitions, charity functions and visits to schools and hospitals.
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Oh, yeah: Thunder was supposed to be the grand marshal in 2017, but the parade was canceled due to bad weather.
"Unfortunately, we did not have a parade last year, and so we are thrilled for a second chance to celebrate Thunder, not only as the best mascot in the NFL, but also as a symbol of our Western spirit and a representative of the equine community,” said National Western Stock Show president and CEO Paul Andrews in a statement. "Sharon, Ernie and Ann are an invaluable part of the Stock Show family and embody the Western lifestyle. We appreciate them sharing Thunder with us and with all of Denver."
Guess it's better than Rin Tin Tin XI. But barely.