Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Big Graduation Ceremony

I admit that things were not shaping up very well for the ceremony at first. The rehearsal did not go well primarily because no one showed up except my counterpart in the Plans Division. The Troop commander forgot about it...said something about soup sandwiches...and the Colonel, who was looking out her office window, did not see anybody on the parade field and decided not to come. It was probably just as well. The two of us who showed up walked the field to see if it was safe for a cavalry charge and then we went and found a dirt slinger to fill in all the holes. There is nothing worse than hitting a hole on horseback while at the gallop. A very ugly scene. It was also at this point that my Plans buddy revealed to me that there would be no bugler for the ceremony because he was having some minor problem with a heart or something. He then handed me a CD with the appropriate bugle noises on it. Great. So then I head back to the stables feeling sorry for myself and starting to notice big thunderstorm clouds building up over the Huachuca Mountains. While I'm nervously watching these clouds and getting everything ready for the ceremony, one of the artillery guys from our howitzer detail shows up. This cheers me up a little because I was worried about them making it. The howitzer team was tasked to fire the cannon during the cavalry charge to add drama and noise (and it makes the horses go faster). Turns out I had good reason to be worried. The artillery guy tells me the artillery sergeant won't be making it as his sister died over the weekend in Minnesota. So then we decided to wait and see if the other artillery guy shows up so they can load the cannon. Well, he doesn't so I cancel the cannon thing. No problem though because everyone else shows up and are resolved to do this thing regardless of what the weather is doing. Besides that we have so much press coverage arranged for this event that I'd be hunted down and killed if I didn't produce. There were two TV news stations from Tucson covering the ceremony, CBS and ABC, and of course the local newspapers. We had also heard that the Fort Huachuca Commanding General, Major General Custer (I kid you not) would be there. Well, out on the parade field I'm making last minute changes and coordinating stuff when the troopers show up on horseback. After discussing where to position the horses and such I send them away with our photographer, Ty Holland, to have some "hero pictures" taken. While I'm reviewing the script (because I'm narrating this thing) I'm realizing I can't read it very well because there are rain drops falling all over the script. Dang rain clouds snuck up on me. Oh well, we gotta press because the General just showed up and it's show time. Surprisingly, the whole thing goes off perfectly. The horses are charged, inspiring words are spoken, and spurs are handed out without incident. Afterwards, I head back to the stables to fire up the barbecue for the real celebration while the guys ride back and tend to their mounts. As I'm burning some burgers and dogs the guys are putting their horses out to pasture when I hear another commotion. My least favorite word is being thrown around by excited troopers and that word is "snake!" So I run out into the pasture among all the horses and the guys point out a rattlesnake slithering around between the horses. Having treated several horses for snake bite in the past, I was in no mood for this, so, yelling for the appropriate tools I "humanely relocate" the snake. This done I notice a pillar of smoke rising from the barbecue grill and hustle back to my "grill sergeant" duties in time to save the food. The barbecue goes off great and the news media in the form of Teresa Jun from KOLD Tucson even showed up to interview the family members (fortunately she was not there for the snake incident). She put together a really nice piece on the ceremony which aired at 10 pm and showed the awesome cavalry charge the new troopers put on. Next morning I wake up and see the ceremony is front page news in the local paper. Wow! After a rough start things really came together and Ty Holland managed to get some fantastic photos of the whole thing one of which I've included here. I am very pleased with how it all turned out but I'm glad we only do this once per year.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


We finally tested in our three remaining students in the Cavalry Riding School last Thursday night. The class began on 10 Feb and ran for 3 1/2 months. The class was held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the lessons beginning at 5 pm and ending about 8 pm. Each student attended between 20 and 25 lessons. Some classes were missed due to injuries or work demands. However, it is an amazing process that turns inexperienced riders into men who can perform in a cavalry riding demonstration in as little as 60 hours of training. The process is not easy. We cram a lot of information into a short period of time. The recruits are tested academically as well as physically. We have three primary instructors that divide the teaching duties between themselves. Typically, an instructor only needs to ride with the students once per week but when combined with the rest of the schedule can result in the requirement to ride three or four times in a week. The school is physically demanding for both instructors and students. Although our school is not perfect I think it does a pretty good job of preparing new troopers for the rigors of cavalry riding. I hope the new troopers are as proud of their achievement as we are. Their graduation ceremony will be on Brown Parade Field on Friday at 2:30 pm.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wound Drain

Lately we have had a lot of horses get injured. There isn't anything in particular that is causing them to get injured, just bad luck and unusual circumstances. Of four horses that were on the injured reserve list last week I had one with an eye injury, one with wire cuts on his back leg, one with a splint bone fracture, and one with lameness in his front legs. The horse with wire cuts had healed up enough last week to let him go out into the quarantine pasture--a small area where injured horses can recuperate from their wounds. Unfortunately, when I brought him in at the end of the day I noticed a huge rip in his left cheek. A nasty wound for sure but it was also a downward tracking wound which meant it would be hard to flush out and would likely get infected as it wouldn't be able to drain properly. Well, Miss Debbie flushed the wound out and then she called the vet to come have a look at it. There is no way to bandage a face wound that large and sewing it up just traps the drainage in the wound. The vet came out and flushed the wound some more and then decided to sew it up. I questioned her on that since by sewing up the flap it would trap the drainage and cause the wound to get infected. She replied it wouldn't be a problem as she would install a drain. I still wasn't getting it as there was no place to put the drain as the tear in the cheek was completely horizontal. It was sort of like having a shirt pocket on the horse's cheek. Stuff could go in the top but not come out the bottom. I couldn't stay and discuss it with her due to other duties I had but left her with the horse's assigned trooper. I later learned through him she had put a drain in but I didn't really examine what she had done very closely until it came time to remove the drain. It was then I realized that she had poked a hole in the bottom of the "pocket" to insert the drain. It worked perfectly and the wound healed up quickly with no infection. Genius.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Standing Still

During the Soldier Reburial Ceremony today we had eight horses lined up for several hours. Normally, we only have them standing in formation for about an hour. An hour is a long time for a horse to stand still. Some have mastered the art and simply go to sleep while they're standing there. I remember once being on a horse named Peanut who fell asleep during a ceremony and was awoken when the band started playing. He whinnied and jumped a little but then remembered where he was and went back to sleep. Unfortunatley, some horses can't relax in formation and are constantly moving around. It makes a difference where the horse is in the formation also. Some horses are good on the ends of the line and we call them "anchor horses" because they keep the line in place. Otherwise, the line starts moving slowly away from the band or flags or whatever the horses don't like. Some horses have a real problem regardless of where they are. These horses will suddenly back out of the line and if they spin around can completely disrupt the entire formation. The rider on these horses has to be constantly moving his hands and feet to keep the horse from leaving the line. It's realy frustrating and the rider has to stay on top of the horse the whole time anticipating what he is going to do next. There is not cue for "stand still" but you can cue your horse to lower his head if he's getting antsy. The horse I was on today (Apache the Wonder Horse) was constantly bobbing his head and pawing at the ground which is not as bad as when they try to back out of the line but it is still distracting. I tried to keep him relaxed by asking him to lower his head but it is hard to give that cue when you have a saber in one hand. I need to come up with a one handed head down cue (other than whacking the horse on the head with the saber).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Horse Trailer Design

Horse trailers come in all kinds of different varieties. Most cavalry units have the fancy gooseneck, slant load trailers with windows, individual dividers, tack racks, wrap around logos, sleeping quarters, hay racks, etc. Our little unit has always used regular, no frills, slant load stock trailers. I recently acquired a Calico 4-horse stock trailer with a single divider in it for the unit. I use the same for my personal horses. The divider is set up so you can put two forward and two in the rear but some of our horses are pretty big so it works out better to just put two in it with one in each compartment. I squeezed three into it today but it looked a little cramped in there. Probably not a good idea for a long trip. Plus, while it was tying in the last horse I found myself squished against the side of the trailer as the horses shifted around to get comfortable. One feature I do like is the escape door. It makes cleaning the trailer easy and allows you to get into the front of the trailer without having to approach the horse from the rear. You just have to remember to duck your head if you leave by the escape door. I have rattled my teeth more than once when I forgot to duck. All of our trailers have rubber mats in them to give the horse some traction while we're moving. I coat the wood floors with deck sealer once in a while to keep the urine and other nasty stuff from rotting the boards. The sealer unfortunately makes the boards very slippery so you have to have rubber mats to keep the horses from skating in your trailer. The only problem I have with the mats is that they have a tendancy to slide out the back if you don't have something to hold them in place. The trailer manufacturer put a brace on one side of the trailer that corresponds to a slot in the mat and is supposed to hold the mat in place but unfortunately, the mat just starts sliding out from the other side. In our older trailer I just screwed the last mat in so it doesn't move and holds the other mats in place. It makes cleaning the floor boards a little bit tougher but solves the problem of sliding mats. Another good feature in the new trailer is that the lip on the entrance to the trailer is rounded so the horse can't scrape his leg on it if he slips getting in or out. This feature saves a lot of coronet band injures--one of my least favorite.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Cavalry Riding School

While doing some research on how the riding school at Fort Huachuca has changed over the years I discovered some interesting facts. In the 70's there wasn't any formal training for new recruits. The troopers would get together maybe once a month and practice riding. When the senior leadership thought a new guy was ready they would permit him to start riding in ceremonies. Over time the training became more frequent until they were riding once a week on Wednesdays. In the 90's Bob Phillips became the commander and he instituted some formal training. New recruits were required to ride bareback for a while and then given a saddle. Specific training criteria were incorporated and a formal test was given which included bareback riding and several charges while in saddle. Recruit training was moved to Thursday nights so as to not interfere with Wednesday night muster. The training was conducted each Thursday but there was no specific schedule. Whoever showed up was trained and when the instructors thought the student was ready he was administered the riding test. In the new millennium the test began to get more complicated as more of the demonstration riding was incorporated into it. There was also an attempt to institute levels of training to match specific performance requirements. Finally, in the last couple of years a formal school was established with specific class schedule and a lesson plan to teach recruits specific skills and knowledge needed to be a trooper. The changes in the Fort Huachuca riding school are somewhat similar to the evolution of riding training in the old cavalry which went from very little training for new recruits to a very formal school at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


There was a fire west of the fort today that was in front of a 14 mph wind blowing directly at us. Although the fire was about five miles away I could smell it like it was in our pasture. I started prepping the horses and gear in case we would have to evacuate. The slurry bombers were making constant sorties out to the fire to keep it at bay but the word was that five homes had been burned and the Black Tower on post had been evacuated. By about 5 pm the winds had died down some and it appeared the firefighters were keeping the fire outside the west gate. I relaxed a little and after packing up my saddles, started the journey home. From my house in Whetstone I have a great view of the fort and the Babocomari basin. I have a little hill (more like a 5 ft high pile of river rocks) on my property that gives a pretty commanding view of the area. My donkey likes to stand on it because it makes him feel superior to the horses. My wife and I stood on the little pile to get a better view of the fire. We could see that it was still west of the Fort Huachuca perimeter fence although still burning pretty good at 6 pm. Suddenly we were joined on the little hill by our 17 hand, 1300 lb horse Big Whiskey. There was barely enough room on the hill for us but this huge horse decided he wanted to be up there too. It was comical if a little bit dangerous and I wished we had a photo of it. Horses are funny creatures.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scout Huts

Back in the 70's when B Troop was first established they renovated one of the old scout huts on Apache Flats on Fort Huachuca for their own use. The huts were made of adobe and had a walled yard. The Army Indian scouts had lived in them for many years but with the retirement of the Indians the huts had fallen into disrepair. The huts were along the road that now leads to the RV park on post. There is nothing left of the huts now. Not even a brick. I had Kerm Breakfield who used to ride as a scout for B Troop in the 70's show me where the hut used to be. Former trooper Bob Key also sent me a few photographs of the B Troop hut which are shown here. I am trying to get the museum to find me some photos of the huts as they existed when the Indians lived in them but haven't received anything yet. It is too bad none of the huts were preserved for their historical value.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Blackpowder and Blankets

Previously I wrote about the officer saddle cloth shortage and how we had only one supplier and due to the hospitalization of the vendor. My colleague at Fort Hood and I both had an order in and were having trouble getting a reluctant assistant to the hospitalized vendor to complete the orders. We think our order will get filled because the gentlemen wants to do the right thing and help us out but it is obvious we are going to have to find another supplier. However, during the conversation I was having with my Fort Hood associate I realized I had more problems than just a blanket shortage. It turns out that the economic problems have wiped out some of the Mom & Pop vendors that we rely on for some of the obscure items we need for our profession. Namely, my gun powder vendor has disappeared. The cav units need black powder with which to manufacture blanks for the .45s we use and to make rounds for our cannons. I have laid in a pretty good supply of gunpowder and haven't made any purchases for a while so didn't know I had a vendor problem. Thanks to Fort Hood I have a line on a new vendor for gunpowder and cannon primers. Fort Hood has also sent me the pattern and specs for the saddle cloths so I can start seeking out a future supplier. Just another example of how keeping in touch with the other guys in the profession can help overcome obstacles.