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LOOK: Denver kind of *is* a cow town

The National Western Stock Show’s annual kickoff parade returns.

It’s been three years since Gary Lake’s longhorns hit the old dusty trail down 17th Street to kick off the National Western Stock Show. Lake, who’s provided the parade’s signature livestock for 17 years, was glad to be back. So were his steers.

“They really enjoy this downtown,” he told us from beneath his black cowboy hat. “They like being around people, they handle easily. Longhorns are very, very intelligent animals, and so give ’em a chance and they’ll do it right.”

And do it right, they did. Onlookers stretching the 11 blocks between Union Station and the Brown Palace hooted and hollered as they passed by, led onward by a collection of riders.

Some of the horses, however, had a little trouble getting started. While 17th Street was plowed clean, the backroads between their staging area in a Coors Field Parking lot and downtown were covered with ice. Zoe Wallerstedt watched carefully as her horse, Tari, stepped gingerly over the frozen pavement.

“These horses are just trying to keep their feet under them,” she said.

But the animals probably aren’t as disappointed in Denver’s snow situation as the city’s human residents.

“They’re so surefooted that they just know the way, we just trust them,” Malinda McGuffin said atop her horse, Jazzie. “They’re amazing.”

It was 13-year-old Aven Sibille’s first time riding in the parade. She and her 13-year-old mount, Marshmallow, were all in.

“I’m excited. I’m really happy that I’m here,” she told us. “You don’t usually see horses in a city. They usually live out in the open, in the country, so I think that’s special.”

As everyone finished the route, Gary Lake watched proudly as his steers loaded themselves into a trailer.

“They did great,” he said. “We started out with a crowd of about 2,500 people 17 years ago. Now, there’s a hundred thousand on the streets. They love to see the longhorn.”