Sunday, July 26, 2009

Horse Hunting

Buying a new horse is a time consuming and frustrating process. With our herd aging (all out horses are between 11 and 20 years old) we need to start looking for some new acquisitions. Our non-profit support group, the Fort Huachuca Cavalry Association, ran "horse wanted" ad in the local paper. The requirements for cavalry horses are somewhat detailed so the ad pointed readers to their web site which outlined the requirements. The ad started out slow but by the second week we were getting a good number of calls. A good number in the sense that we were getting more calls than we could handle. Debbie followed up on the calls to inquire about the horses offered and found that they all met the initial requirements. Displaying the requirements on the web site cut out a lot of the calls from people wanting to sell mares or paints or physically unsound horses. Now the project is not so much eliminating the impossible but choosing among the best. We have examined up to four horses so far and have come up with two possibles. Two were eliminated already--one during our temperament check (fear of gunfire) and one during the vet exam (arthritis). We checked out another horse that passed the vet exam but we think it is a little small and its conformation isn't all that good so we are holding off on that one. We looked at another on Friday that looked very promising but since the vet is out of town this week, we have to hold off on the physical exam. It's nice to have some actual choices and the ad process worked very well. We were fortunate that the newspaper publisher, Sierra Vista Herald, ran the ad for free in thanks for our service to the community. Now that's community support.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bighorn Battlefield Photos

I just finished reading a book titled, "Where Custer Fell: Photographs of the Little Bighorn Battlefield Then and Now." In the book the authors compare modern day photographs to photos taken in the years after the battle. The earliest photos were taken a year after the battle--a fact I was completely unaware of. The authors use the photographs to show changes that have occurred to the battle site but also to illustrate the battle itself. In many cases a veteran of the battle would revisit the battleground and have a photo taken of himself describing the action in a particular location. Thus, the photos provide a visual record of a battle participant's testimony that has often gotten confused in written accounts. The book also provides some interesting photographic accounts of where the original grave markers were and how some of them have moved or disappeared or were placed incorrectly. You have to be a Custer-buff to enjoy something like this and it helps if you've actually been to the battlefield. Anyway, I have included a photo I took myself at the battlefield a few years ago. It is a photo of a stray Indian pony I found up on Weir Point. The view is to the north with the visitor center in the distance (marked by the trees on the ridge) and the Custer Monument which is on the hill to the right of the visitor center. It was from Weir Point that the remnants of Reno's and Benteen's battalions witnessed the final destruction of Custer's command.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jumping Practice

As we get ready for the National Cavalry Competition in September, we have realized that we need to brush up on the fundamentals of riding. Most of what we do in the cavalry is pretty basic, just spurring horses and pulling triggers but competition riding requires a little more skill. At the core of everything we do in competition is jumping. Jumping a horse over an obstacle seems pretty simple on the surface. Just point the horse at the obstacle and hang on as he effortlessly sails over the vertical. In reality it is the most complex form of riding. Both the rider and the horse need to set themselves up just right to clear the jump. If jumping one obstacle wasn't complicated enough, jumping several in succession can be a real challenge. Now add a few pistol targets and saber targets to the course and now we're talking some fun. The horse is the key, of course. The horse has to overcome his fear of the obstacle and also has to put up with the rider when he's jumping over it. The rider has to control his horse to the obstacle and then control his body so it doesn't hinder what the horse is doing. The problem with jumping is that the rider tends to over think the problem. He's thinking about controlling his horse's stride so his horse can set himself up for the jump, controlling the horse to the obstacle to prevent a run out or refusal, keeping his chin up, getting into a two-point stance at the right moment, releasing the bit at the exact right moment, positioning his weight so he is neither behind or ahead of the saddle, and by golly, not sitting down too damn early. The rider can get so wrapped up in getting all these things right that he invariably forgets some critical element and misses the jump. The only way to prevent over thinking the jump is to practice the individual parts of the jump so neither the rider nor the horse have to think about them to do them correctly. Once the techniques are down the rider can start to do them without concentrating on them. Then the rider can work on putting it all together in a complete package. Most of the little things can be practiced on ground poles and low jumps. Using the ground poles allows the rider to practice for longer periods of time without wearing out the horse. Jumping is hard on them and should be kept to a minimum. Having an experienced rider on the ground is important too. This person needs to watch both horse and rider to see where the mistakes are being made. It is hard for a rider to detect them on his own without an observer. However, as complex as jumping is, it is also the most rewarding experience as the rider and horse must really be in tune with one another to do it correctly.

Monday, July 6, 2009


It is hard to describe the thrill of riding a horse in a pistol charge. The link to the video from Fort Huachuca is of the Garrison change of command ceremony last month. At the end of the video you can see B Troop conducting its charge across Brown parade field. I'm on the horse closest to the camera. Just prior to the charge, the Troop had executed a counter column movement. I was just coming up to the skirmish line when the charge was ordered and the cannon went off. You can hear the cannon boom and then see my horse, Cochise, jump from zero to 40 mph in less than a second. We quickly caught up to the line and began to pass it. Because Cochise is so fast I have to delay his departure slightly so he doesn't pass the other horses before we pass by the crowd. Needless to say, this kind of activity is very exciting to watch but is absolutely mind-blowing to participate in.