Monday, August 31, 2009

Finding Horses and Losing My Keys

Debbie and I drove up to Safford today to check out a new prospect for purchase. The horse was an 8 year old Missouri Fox Trotter. We checked out his temperament which seemed pretty good. He was apparently used for packing and hunting in the mountains. He was not at all bothered by the cap gun or anything else that Debbie threw at him. He did keep a close eye on Debbie though as she moved around him. He wasn't shod very well and he has a touch of mange but otherwise a reasonably healthy specimen. When I got ready to load him up for the trip back to Fort Huachuca, I realized I had locked my keys inside the truck. Debbie wanted me to lock the cab because her purse was in there but I forgot to take the keys out. I fashioned a key-retrieval device out of some wire and a horse whip and used it to hook the keys through the crack I left in the window. I managed to get the keys all the way to the crack when the wire slipped and dropped the keys into the map pocket in the door. Fortunately, the stable owners knew someone with a device they could use to open the door. It wasn't a lot more sophisticated then my manufactured key-retriever but there's did the job. Anyway, we got the new horse back to the fort and we will see if he can pass an Army physical.

Friday, August 28, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Back

We tried to accomplish some more gun training with Journey, one of our horses with a gunfire phobia. We had progressed pretty well with him over the last week. We were able to shoot a .22 starter pistol off his back without any real trouble. He went through the saber course a couple nights ago while his rider fired the .22 and didn't seem to have any issues. Until today, that is. I had his rider take him through a barrel course with the .22 but also attached some balloons to the barrels. We had all kinds of problems then. For some reason Journey attached a different meaning to gunfire when coupled with balloons. I stopped what we were doing and moved to another area and asked his rider to ride him around for a while until Journey calmed down. I then attached balloons to the railing around the arena and had his rider continue moving about the training area. Journey was still having trouble with the balloons even though his rider no longer had the gun so we changed our tactics a little. I asked the rider to focus on getting Journey to listen to him even though he was afraid of the balloons. That is, whenever Journey began to show signs of fear, the rider would give him a different task to take his mind off of the balloon. When it became possible for Journey to pass the balloons without incident we added the gun back in. I began to fire the .22 again as Journey rode around the arena making sure not to pull the trigger when he was passing a balloon. As Journey began to disassociate the gunfire from the balloons, I gave the pistol to the rider and asked him to fire as he rode but not when he was passing a balloon. After a while Journey could complete the circuit around the arena without reacting to the gunfire or the balloons. We called it a day at this point but will work some more on overcoming this balloon problem.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Saber Training

We practiced saber drills last night. The saber course included a variety of ground targets, high targets, ring targets, and a head target. The course also included some low jumps and a tarp to make things interesting. Most of the horses did very well including our new horse. One of our horses, Sabre, was having trouble with the tarp. We will put a tarp in front of his feeder to help him overcome this problem. He'd go over the tarp but not right away. He's stop and look at it and then cross it like a cat running through water. It was all a lot of fun. Trying to alternately hit high and low targets while going over jumps is really challenging. You really have to rate your horse's speed while still maintaining a gallop. Trying to spear a four inch ring at a gallop can be challenging too. We are all looking forward to participating in the National Cavalry Competition next month. I don't know how well we will do but it is always fun just being there with like minded cavalry riders.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gun Training Again

Sometimes horses that have been trained to put up with gunfire regress and have to be retrained. I'm not sure why this happens but I suspect it has something to do with an association with some other trauma. Perhaps the rider was in the habit of yanking on the reins too hard when shooting or maybe he fired too close to an ear. For the past week I've been working with one of the troopers to retrain one of the horses who's been in the cavalry for about eight years but who had developed a phobia about guns. This particular horse had been accidentally shot in the neck with a blank cartridge a couple of years ago but his fear of gunfire predated that incident. That just reinforced it. We started the retraining with the usual method of having one individual fire a cap gun while another rode the horse around in an enclosed area. As the horse becomes more desensitised to the noise, the rider brings the horse closer and closer to the shooter. Once the horse is desensitized to the cap gun, the rider takes the gun and continues to fire while riding the horse. Once the horse is okay with that we move to a louder weapon--in this case a .22 starter pistol. In four short lessons we have progressed from a horse frightened by the sound of a cap gun a 100 feet away to one that can put up with a .22 being fired off his back without flinching. The trick to completing the training is to not get carried away with progress and push the horse beyond his comfort zone. If you start to have problems you have to take a step back to where the horse is comfortable before you can move forward again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Purchase Requests and Horse Hide and Seek

I tried to submit a purchase request today to get a horse trailer painted using an online application called PRWeb. It has been about six years since I used it so I was a bit rusty. The old way to submit a purchase request was to type up a form and give it to the right people to sign. Now it is all done electronically. Unfortunately, about 95% of the application consists of wasted electrons. I suppose all the features are useful or important for large complex government purchases but are complete useless for getting a horse trailer painted. At least I don't have to carry the form around to different people to get it signed.

I spent an hour today trying to find horses in the pasture at feeding time. It was raining too of course. I have no idea where they were. Half of them were at the feeders waiting patiently. The other half was out hiding somewhere. I walked around the pasture (58 acres) three times looking for them and never saw them. Suddenly they just appeared. I guess they got tired of the hide and seek game.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Horse Injuries

We turn our horses out to pasture on Friday evening and assign a trooper to feed them twice per day over the weekend. The pasture feeder is also responsible for locating all the horses and verifying that they have no missing shoes or injuries. Unfortunately, we received the dreaded "evening feed" call last night that indicates that there was a problem. The pasture feeder reported that he could not find one of the horses. It is unusual for one horse to be missing unless something is very wrong. In this case, our large quarterhorse named Charlie had not appeared for the evening feed. Fortunately, he was eventually found but was also found to be injured. The trooper indicated he was "pretty beat up" on the shoulder and back. Debbie and I headed out to the Fort about 6 pm to check the damage. After an examination conducted with a flashlight, it appeared that Charlie had fallen onto some rocks. He indeed had scrapes on his left shoulder and back. His back was very sore to the touch and he was caving slightly when pressed on the lower spine. We figure he had either fallen into one of the ravines that cross the pasture or that he had reared up while playing and had fallen over onto some rocks. The wounds looked very much like he had gone over backwards and then had rolled to his left to injure the left shoulder. There is no telling what happened. Charlie will be okay but will be on pen rest for a while until we can get the veterinarian to check him out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Major Howze Training

One of the events at the National Cavalry Competition is the Major Howze event. It is a cavalry mobility test in which the team completes a seven mile course at a trot and engages a number of saber targets at the end. The event is named after Major Howze who led a surprise cavalry attack on Poncho Villa in Mexico in 1916. The standard trot speed for the cavarly was about six miles per hour but Howze led his attack force at slightly better than seven miles per hour during the last three hours of his night ride into Mexico. The event scores each team on their speed, quietness, and ability to maintain formation. They are also scored on the number of targets they hit at the end. The most important part of preparing for the event is conditioning the horses for an hour-long trot. Fortunately, the regular training schedule of a mounted ceremonial unit takes care of most of the conditioning. We have practiced this event a couple of times on courses of between four and five miles and the horses have had no trouble with it. Today, we practice on a 4.9 mile course which the team finished in 34 minutes. That is a pretty good trot pace of 8.65 miles per hour. At the end the troopers engaged the enemy "village" and took out five of eight targets. The photos below show some of the action.

The enemy "vilage"

One of the villagers talking smack

The cavalrymen approaching the village

The troopers forming their attack

The attack

The body count

Monday, August 3, 2009

Line Officer Saddle Cloths

I finally found a new vendor for saddle cloths. Our previous vendor stopped making them which put us in a bind as seemingly no one else in the country offered them. The cloths, as seen in the masthead photo, are blue with a yellow border. They are made of wool felt according the specifications from the Indian War era. Line officers cloths have a regimental number sewn into the rear corners. Our previous vendor was not able to put the regimental numbers on so I was pleased to find a new vendor that did. The vendor's name is Coon Creek Old West and is located in Tucson. They have a number of other cavalry items that are hard to find such as the Indian Wars Period cavalry canteen. The owner, Leta, is a nice lady and easy to work with. The regimental numbers on the cloth we ordered were a little too small according to our 1885 specs so she arranged to enlarge them to the proper size on our next order and then sent me some replacement numbers for the cloth I had already ordered. She also makes the field grade and general officer saddle cloths. If you need this hard to find item, this is the place to go.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Linking Horses

The classic image of the cavalry is of mounted men clashing with their enemies on horseback. The truth is the cavalry usually dismounted when they fought. The purpose of the horses was to get them to the battle, not necessarily to provide a combat platform. The question is, what do you do with the horses after you dismounted to fight? The Army had a tactic for this in which they would link three horses together and have the fourth man lead them away. Remington illustrated this with his painting titled "Dismounted the Fourth Trooper Moving the Led Horses". The painted shows the horses being moved out at the gallop while the dismounted soldiers form a skirmish line. It is a dramatic painting and an excellent illustration of a little known tactic. However, the reality is more difficult than the painting illustrates. Horses don't necessarily like being linked together and they can easily snap the half-inch wide link strap connecting them together. The procedure of linking horses must be practiced. I have seen first hand what happens when you don't practice it. It isn't pretty. However, once the horses get used to the concept of being led this way and you have an experienced trooper leading them, it is an effective tactic. We, however, do not use the prescribed method of linking the horses from the bit ring. If horses start pulling against each other they can pull the bit right their mouths causing lots of damage in the process. Instead, we link the strap from halter to halter. That way, the worst you will suffer is a broken link strap. The key is practice. Neither troopers or horses will be able to pull this off without lots of practice.