When my friend Nancy Phares invited Clifford to appear at Kids Club Live, I didn’t know what to expect. An annual event in Royal Oak hosted by Detroit Public Television, this live gathering of the TV show “Kids Club” includes notables like Barney the purple dinosaur.
Clifford’s appearance was sponsored by the Michigan State Fair and there were a couple of tents set up for us with tables and banners promoting the fair. Expecting a large crowd, we fashioned a small “photo booth” next to an upright banner, under the shade of the tent, to discourage kids from wandering around and getting under his feet or going behind him.
As the show opened around 9 am, the crowd went into the auditorium to see the Barney show. As it ended, they began to wander outside. Ignoring most of the other displays, which included temptations like bugs and dinosaur bones, the kids took one look at Clifford and made a beeline for us.
There was such a crowd that Deb stuck around and began to organize them into a line. That line stretched all the way across the parking lot to the door, and stayed that way until the first shift ended around noon.
Both days had three shifts like this, which entailed a couple of hours of meeting one person after another while Clifford posed for photos with adults and children, babies and grandmothers. He posed with groups and single individuals.
He posed with people of all colors, shapes and sizes. He wore his glasses for kids who wore glasses. He stayed in place when I walked away and waited, watching me until I gave the signal that the photo was done. He put his ears forward when I asked.
One of the highlights was when Clifford got to meet Clifford, the Big Red Dog.
Between photo opps, I offered him water and asked him to do tricks, play fetch or paint pictures just to break up the repetition. I kept a constant barrage of various treats so he never knew what he was getting.
Clifford really enjoyed the event. But by the time we reached the third shift on the second day, we were all getting tired. I whipped out my secret weapon: Pieces of fresh apples. This seemed to placate him and he hung in there with me through the last of it. Despite the exhausting schedule and repetition, he never became irritable and showed no signs of burnout or temper. There was not one tail swish, nor did he ever even pin his ears. As the day wore on his head would sag, and he fell asleep through some of the photos. But he was patient through all of it.
Through it all, Detroit Public TV’s Deb Nicholaou helped and supported us. She took photos for people, organized crowd control, gave Clifford lots of kisses and kept me company.
Afterward, I asked her how many people we had met that day.
“Thousands,” she said.
Clifford was happy to get home and spent the whole next day hanging out with his sister.
Thinking back, I realize that a lot of those people had never seen or been close to a horse. I hope we managed to leave them with a nice memory, and a small inkling of the tremendous generosity of the equine heart.