The Merced County Sheriff Posse rang in the New Year on the global stage over the weekend, trotting as part of the 133rd Rose Parade in its return to Pasadena.  

The annual parade returned to full bloom Saturday after being canceled because of the pandemic last year and attracted thousands of fans. For the 12 members of the Merced County Sheriff Posse who participated in the spectacle, the experience was a long time coming. Posse member Laurette Locke of Hilmar said the group last participated in the parade a decade ago. She’s applied to be in the parade again every year since, but didn’t receive approval until this year’s event.  

“This year we got in and it was very, very exciting,” Locke said. “I mean, there’s no parade like it. It’s just incredible.”

The posse was formed in 1948 and consists of all volunteer riders, who Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke has described as “goodwill ambassadors” of the county. Most riders reside in Merced County, with some from Hilmar in addition to Atwater, Stevinson and Merced. In the past, posse riders have been a part of search and rescue efforts, and many support the community through financial obligations as well.

  The group participates in large parades often, and has also taken part in four Inaugural Parades in Washington, D.C. Rose Parade officials estimate that 700,000 people lined the streets to watch the event in person on New Year’s Day, while 37 million Americans and an international audience of 28 million tuned in to watch it on TV.

“It’s the biggest parade in the world, and it was so nice to see that many people smiling at us,” Locke said, adding that the crowd seemed more enthralled by the horses than usual thanks to the recent popularity of the show “Yellowstone.”

The massive crowd was a change of pace from the small-town parades they’ve stuck to throughout the pandemic, Locke said, and the group felt a sense of normalcy — despite reminders of the pandemic all around them, like testing requirements to participate. From festivities beforehand to the thrill of completing the parade’s route, it was the experience of a lifetime, she added, and a hopeful sign of good things to come.  

“We can only hope that the worst is behind us and 2022 is a much better year.”