As a fifth generation Rose Parade rider, Carla Routt carries the tradition forward.
By: Kimberly Locke
Photos: Fernando Cerda
From presidential inaugurations and polo matches with Hollywood cowboy legends to the Rose Parade, Carla Jean Fischer Routt and her family of Palomino-loving horse breeders and owners have been a part of California history for generations. Routt, who is still going strong in her “golden years,” has some significant milestones to her credit. But then considering her pioneering family stock, it’s no surprise Routt inherited a strong will and independent spirit. She still rides, on horseback that is, in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. The event is a long-standing family tradition for as far back as Routt can remember and now extends to five generations.
Their decades-long affiliation with the Rose Parade began with her grandfather, John “Jack” Turner, who first rode in the parade back in the 1940s. Routt recalls that her parents, Beatrice and Conrad, rode as guards for Shirley Temple’s inaugural grand marshal appearance in the parade in 1939. That was the parade’s 50th anniversary.
The Turners rode as a family unit in the Rose Parade and dozens of other parades throughout the U.S. Routt was just a little girl when she rode in her first Rose Parade and still recalls the excitement of being part of such a historical event. “Anytime I rode with my family I felt on top of the world and this feeling was especially true when I rode in the Rose Parade,” she says. “My family was so special. We worked together and played together,” recalls Routt. Her parents and aunts and uncles all worked for her grandparents, Jack and Cecile, in the oil business, The Turner Petroleum Company, and then they all formed the T and F Oil Company and the T and F Oil Corporation.
Her earliest memories of riding are when her mother knitted a seat cushion to put behind her saddle for Routt to sit on and then tied the youngster to her to keep her from falling off the horse. That was when Routt was about three years old.
Fast forward to about 1989 when Routt and three other women were invited to ride with the Long Beach Mounted Police (LBMP) equestrian unit in the Tournament of Roses Parade, a time when the unit was still made up of all male riders. For many years leading up to 1989, Routt rode in the Rose Parade as a marshal of the Western Group but never as part of the LBMP even with her family’s history.
It was Routt’s husband, Gerry, at the time LBMP president, who made the women’s participation in the Rose Parade possible. “It was a total surprise to most of the members and they were not happy about it, especially my riding in the front row with them,” she recalls. “But, that was the deal my husband made.”
Prior to her first ride with the LBMP in the Rose Parade, and just after Routt had ridden with the unit in Cheyenne, Wyoming, one of the male riders asked if they could borrow her horse and sterling silver saddle made by legendary Western wear craftsman Edward Bohlin to use in the same parade, and as Routt recalls, “I told them to get lost.” After all, the LBMP was formed in 1935 by businessmen, sportsmen and civic leaders to spotlight the City of Long Beach and to maintain California’s golden traditions of horsemanship and outdoor way of life. Routt’s grandfather began riding with the unit in the 1940s. However, the silver saddles and golden palominos, the very trademarks of the mounted police unit, were such an integral part of Routt’s life that her involvement with the LBMP seemed only fitting. It was also Routt’s grandfather who convinced the unit to ride only Palomino horses.
“After that parade, I decided I should become a member if they were going to continue to have me ride with them. After I wrote a letter to the Long Beach chief of police requesting membership and, after some resistance on the part of some of the older LBMP riders, I finally became the first woman to be a LBMP member. That was also in 1989,” recalls Routt. The following year Routt was elected to be on the LBMP Board of Directors and holds the title as the first woman to be elected board president. She still serves on the board.
A tribute to her grandfather and his achievements, especially in the world of Palominos, is represented by a floor-to-ceiling portrait that hangs in Routt’s home today. The work, signed by an artist named Fazzio in 1950 and painted from a colored photograph, shows her grandfather Jack proudly atop his grand champion Palomino Top Hat, Premiere Parade Sire title winner in 1949. The portrait has been previously displayed in the Gene Autry Southwest Museum in Los Angeles for Turner’s historic role in the breeding and raising of champion Palomino horses including having served as president of the Palomino Horse Association of California.
That history includes being invited to ride in the presidential inaugural parades in Washington, D.C., for former U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. Turner and his wife, Cecile, were even invited to Eisenhower’s presidential inaugural ball. And, Routt’s father, Conrad Fischer, rode as a member of Los Charros del Desierto, which was a private organization for avid cowboys, and featured trail rides where the dinners were catered by chefs from around the world. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was also a member.
However, parades weren’t the only activities that Turner believed Palominos could participate in. He was, as Routt recalls, determined to prove that the Palomino could do the same maneuvers as any other horse and often times, better than they could. That included Roman riding exhibits and even racing. And to help prove his point, her grandfather assembled a polo team made up of family members who competed against guest celebrities. “Those days I would spend a lot of my time at my grandparents’ ranch, which was a noted hangout for many Hollywood stars and especially Western film stars such as John Wayne, Wild Bill Elliott and Spade Cooley,” she says. “Whenever John Wayne showed up he always liked to ride Major, my uncle Carl’s Palomino. That was because Carl and John Wayne were about the same size and Major could accommodate them.”
The Turner ranch was made up of 10 acres owned by her grandparents and another seven acres owned by her parents, with both parcels of land abutting one another and located in Lakewood, California. It was from there that her grandfather would enter his Palominos in all types of competitions, said Routt. Eventually, city zoning laws pushed out ranchers such as the Fischers and the entire family relocated to what was then a very quiet, tiny rural community known as Rolling Hills overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Her family traveled across the United States, and even to Hawaii, to ride in dozens of parades with their Palominos. But parades and polo matches weren’t the only types of events that her family’s Palominos would successfully participate in.She recalls when her grandfather decided to race one of his Palominos against quarter horse racehorses at the track. Routt was just 13 at the time. “My grandfather bet Frank Vessels Sr., a good friend and the founder and owner of the Vessel Race Track [it would later become Los Alamitos Race Track] for quarter horse racing, that could take any horse from our place and put it against any quarter race horse from his racing stock and we would win,” she says smiling. “My grandfather took this one horse, Little Sage, and he put her in for training for a few weeks, put her on the racetrack, and although she started slow, she ended up two or three lengths ahead of Frank’s racehorse.
“But my grandfather wasn’t satisfied with winning just the race so he picked up my grandmother and me and we went up to Santa Rosa, California, where they were having the all-Palomino National Horse Show. I was to compete in Western riding against Clyde Kennedy, the top horse trainer in the country at that time. And I was to take this horse that had just come off the racetrack, been driven up to Santa Rosa, and then compete against this famous man. Well, I did it and I won. I was so nervous because I didn’t want to embarrass my grandfather. That was the last thing I’d ever want to do,” she remembers. And with the earnings from winning the competition, Turner bought her a hand-engraved saddle and a beautiful handcrafted leather jacket she proudly displays in her living room.
Throughout the years, Routt has owned a number of Palominos including Top Hat’s Topsy Turvey, Top Hat’s filly and winner of the Pacific Coast Cutting Championship; and Major and Tarzan, who both appeared in The Foxes of Harrow, a film made in 1947 starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara, and Leave Her to Heaven featuring Gene Tierney. All of the family’s silver saddles were used in the 1950 movie, The Silver Bandit, starring Spade Cooley.
Today, her Palominos Trey Watch or “Trey” for short, and Chexx Rated, affectionately known as “Chexx,” continue to keep Routt in practice and ready to ride.