Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Traveling to the NCC

It takes two days of driving to get to Fort Robinson, Nebraska from Fort Huachuca. Hard driving. Fortunately for me, my buddy Jay likes to drive. I spent two days sleeping in the back of the truck eating snacks. The other passengers, Pete and Bill, were also taking advantage of Jay's driving fetish to catch up on missing REM time. It was like Jay was driving a truck full of bobble heads. The trip was uneventful for a change. No blown tires or other vehicular problems. Our first stop was in Raton, New Mexico, which I'm told meant "rat" in Spanish. I had found an overnight stable there which turned out to be pretty nice. Unfortunately, it had snowed there that day. Yes, snowed. It was cold and our horses were shivering. Who would have thought we needed stable blankets in New Mexico in September. We double flaked the horses to give them some warmth, closed up the barn doors, and went in search of our hotel. I had booked seven rooms at the Comfort Inn at Raton but as we drove down the only street in the town we saw no sign for the hotel. Frustrated, I called the hotel and the clerk answered, "Quality Inn, formerly known as Comfort Inn." Crisis resolved. They had changed names a week earlier. Go figure. After dumping our bags we went in search of a restaurant to get some chow. We found a Mexican restaurant with a sign that was missing some letters so it read, "Rest rant". Perfect for us. It had big screen TVs in it so we could watch the Dolphins - Colts game. The chow and beer was good so we went back to the hotel with full stomachs and a motivation to sleep.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cavalry Olympics

We finally returned from the National Cavalry Competition yesterday evening. It was a very exciting trip and the troopers brought home plenty of ribbons. Fort Robinson, Nebraska is a beautiful setting for a cavalry competition. We stayed on the fort in an old historic Victorian era house with three floors and creaky wood floors throughout. There were a total of five different Army teams competing along with the usual assortment of re-enactors. The opening ceremony on the old parade grounds was very colorful and included about 50 horses. I have plenty of stories to share so I will include them as I am able. Until then, enjoy the photo of 49 cavalrymen in a column of fours during the pass-in-review ceremony.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Off To Nebraska

Tomorrow morning at 0600 we hit the trail for a two day journey to Fort Robinson, Nebraska for the National Cavalry Competition. We will be taking seven troopers and eight horses; one horse is a spare. We will remain overnight at Raton, New Mexico tomorrow and continue on to Fort Robinson on Tuesday. Wednesday will be a day to get the horses adjusted to the new surroundings and get a little practice in. The troopers from Fort Irwin are going to join us on a couple of the team events as they did last year. As such, we will need to practice a little with them. The horsemanship and pistol competitions are on Thursday and the jumping and saber events are on Friday. Saturday will be the platoon drill competition and the director's cup competition. The competition will be fierce again this year with Fort Hood, Fort Riley, Fort Irwin, and Fort Huachuca all sending teams. I haven't heard about Fort Carson yet but they usually send a team too. Of course, there will lots of individual competitors as well. It is always a good time and we are really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Horse Checks

Today was horse check day where we physically examine each horse to see if they have any injuries. Well, Debbie checks the horses, I just hold them to make myself feel useful. Most of them were okay but several had conditions that warranted taking them out of their pens to check for lameness. That is my other role during these checks, I get to run with the horses. That is, I run up the road as fast as I can with the lead rope in my hand while the horse lazily trots along beside me. Debbie watches their feet and how they move and will sometimes see something. Then she'll ask me to watch while she runs the horse but I never see anything. She does the same thing while checking the horse's backs for soreness. She'll detect some strange quiver in a muscle and then ask me if I can feel it. I never do. Feels like a horse's back to me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Test Driving a New Horse

I tried out a new horse named Duke for the Troop today. We picked him up in Safford a couple weeks ago and have been subjecting him to the grueling Army pre-purchase physicals. He, in the words of our farrier, was the most poorly shod horse he'd ever seen. We put new shoes on him and tried to trim him up right but there was no way to completely correct his hooves in front. To even him up, the farrier put a corrective shoe on the right front. However, the new shoes and hoof trim made him a little lame so we gave him another week off. I took him to the round pen today and had him trot and gallop a little to see how he was doing. He was not showing any lameness but the odd shoe seemed to bother him a little. I then took him into a little riding arena and tried him at different gaits. He was not responding well to neck reining so I tried him with direct reining. I realized that he was not responding very well to that either and was obviously used to a heavier hand. I really had to exert some pressure on the reins to turn him. He was willing to transition to a trot and gallop but seemed unenthusiastic about it. However, since he was so calm about everything I decided to take him out onto the jogging track. He got a little more enthusiastic about galloping once we got out into the open. He is well broke and will make a good beginner horse if he passes his final physical. He lacks physical conditioning, though, and will need to be worked up slowly before we start using him in our training program. He is a surprisingly tall horse and has a narrow back. Duke is unbelievably friendly and gentle enough for a child to ride.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bob's Surprise Run

We recently picked up a new horse for the Army named Bob. Bob is a former Cowboy Mounted Shooting horse that we picked up in Tombstone. He is a big boy. We weighed him last week and he came in just under 1,300 lbs. When you cinch him up you can see the fat wrinkles around the girth. He is also slow. You have to use your spurs to get him out of a walk and then you have to keep after him to maintain your gait. However, he is also very friendly and calm. Guns and other scary sounds and objects don't bother him and he is willing to do whatever you ask of him. Today, I rode him in a ceremony for the first time. He did very well standing in formation for an hour even though he was standing next to a horse he hadn't been introduced to yet. As we got closer to the portion of the ceremony where we perform our charge, I began to worry about how he would perform. I had this image in my mind of trying to spur a reluctant horse from a trot into a gallop in front of the post's senior leadership who were present for the ceremony. However, at the end of the ceremony and as we positioned ourselves for the charge I felt a sudden change in Bob. His head came up and I actually felt myself restraining him a little. Then the order to charge was hurled into the air and off we went. Bob surprised everyone by pounding up the field ahead of every other horse there. Even Regent, who had a bad start, couldn't catch him. Although Bob is not a blazing fast horse like Cochise or Apache, everyone, including me, was amazed at Bob's speed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Late Night Jumping

We practiced jumping tonight with seven riders. It was a long night. I designed a jump course I called "circling the drain". It turned out to be an appropriate name as the horses were not cooperating. It may have been the shadows in the arena or something on the wind but they were spooking at stuff they normally don't have trouble with. We set up a number of tough obstacles including an in-and-out, oxer, water hazard, and of course, the dreaded blue barrels. Charlie and Regent were doing well until Regent began to have problems with the water hazard jump when we raised it to 30 inches. We're not sure why. He could jump it at 24 inches but not 30. Charlie was plowing through the course so fast I think he may have broken the sound barrier. The rest of the horses were experiencing varying degrees of success. We were seeing a lot of refusals and run outs on some of the obstacles. It is amazing to see a 1,200 lb animal come to a complete stop from a gallop within one millimeter of the jump pole. There will be several troopers walking with a hitch in the gait tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fort Bowie

We made our annual trip to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site last Saturday. We go once per year to commemorate the surrender of Geronimo and to honor the soldiers who were once buried there. It is kind of a big deal for us because we memorialize the unit that was credited with capturing Geronimo. We ride a portion of the old Butterfield Stage route through Apache Pass and stop at the cemetery in Siphon Canyon. The soldiers buried there were removed to the National Cemetery at San Francisco when the fort closed down in the 1890s. However, some civilians including some who were former soldiers are still buried there. We give a little presentation on the history of Fort Bowie and then read aloud the names of all the soldiers who were buried there. At the conclusion of the reading, we fire a salute to them. Afterwards, we ride on up the canyon to the old fort ruins and have a picnic. Apache Pass is a beautiful place and it is always a treat to ride through on horseback. We had a fairly large crowd by Fort Bowie standards this year. At least 20 people braved the mile and a half hike to the fort to see us. We answered lots of questions about the cavalry and posed for lots of photos. The visitors seemed to really enjoy our being there and we look forward to our next visit.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Trusting Your Horse

A few of us got together this morning to practice jumping with our horses. The horses are starting to get into it. Even Cody, who never met a jump he liked, was clearing 30 inch jumps. Apache and Regent, who tend to rush the jumps, were doing pretty well when we were letting them do their thing. The only way you can get safely over a jump of 2 feet or more is to trust your mount. That is you have suppress the fear that your horse will refuse the jump and send you flying over the obstacle by yourself. This requires a level of mutual trust that you won't see matched between any other combination of man and beast. If you trust your mount enough to commit to the jump and let your horse do his thing, you will sail effortlessly over the obstacle and leave you still in balance for the next jump. If you freeze up and get behind the saddle, you will strangle your horse, making him apprehensive of the next obstacle. Then you both lose the trust you need to succeed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More Pistol Training

We set up a pistol course tonight and ran the boys through. Some horses are doing well and some not so well. We set one of the jumps at about 2 ft with two targets immediately after. We found it hard to clear a jump that high and still have enough balance and control to hit targets. Slower horses did better at this than faster horses. Clearing the low jumps and hitting targets was no problem. We also used tiny little balloons and short rounds (1/3rd load) which made it all much more challenging. I figure if we can hit tiny balloons with short rounds we will do okay in the competition with full size balloons and full loads.