Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bob's Surgery

Photo by Ty Holland

We had to take Bob up to AZ Equine on Monday for his neurectomy. Bob has had trouble with his front feet since we got him. He was finally given an MRI a while back and it was determined that a neurectomy was his only hope. We finally got the approval and funding from the Army to proceed. We brought him home on Wednesday and he will be on pen rest for six weeks. Because nerves have a tendancy to grow back when they've been severed, we can supposedly delay the process by keeping the horse from engaging in much active for the first few weeks. This is the exact opposite of the treatment I underwent when I severed the radial nerve in my right arm years ago during a bad riding accident. I had to constantly exercise the arm to generate nerve regrowth. It took six months of constant activity. With Bob, we don't want that to happen too quickly, so the stall rest is supposed to help slow the process of nerve regrowth. We will see. I hope we can keep him going for a couple of years before we have to either retire him or do another neurectomy. He's a good horse and I look forward to seeing him moving without the pain in his heels.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Ride

Debbie and I hosted a trail ride and Christmas party at our house today. We had ten horses and riders show up this morning for a two hour trail ride. After tacking up, I led them through a gate on the south side of our community and onto BLM land. The horses wanted to take off when we got onto the flats but we had a couple of inexperienced riders with us so I urged the troopers not to give in to temptation and bolt across the plain. From there we meandered through the chaparral to a low hill overlooking the valley. It was a very enjoyable ride and we got back to the house in good time. We groomed the horses and turned them out to the north pasture and then went inside to eat.

Debbie had set out an absolute feast while we were gone. Everyone brought a side dish or something to drink so we did not want for anything. It is good we rode before feasting or the horses would not have been able to hold us up. Good food, good drink, and good conversation. When everyone was out of talk and full of food, we loaded up the horses again and Debbie and I bid our guests farewell. Good times all around.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Custer's Last Stand

Last Wednesday we finally have the change of command ceremony for Fort Huachuca's commanding general--Major General John Custer. We were short handed, as usual, and could only field five riders. With an important ceremony such as this, it is important to select horses that you know will behave themselves. However, with several horses out with injuries, I had to make a choice between Apache and Cochise.

When Apache is good he is fantastic but when he's bad he is a nightmare. Apache can destroy an entire formation when he's having a bad day. Cochise, however, will often try to back out of the line when he hears the marching band or cannon fire. With three generals on the field there would be lots of cannon salutes (15 to be exact). Both horses like to paw the ground during ceremonies and both horses are high strung. It came down to a evaluation of which horse had the potential to disrupt the ceremony the most. I decided that Cochise was the safer of the two.

Cochise, while a great horse during the charge, does not stand well on the end of the line. I decided to wedge him in between two other horses, Chili and Journey, in hopes he wouldn't move much. It was a good plan except there was some personality problem with Journey. Journey kept trying to bite Cochise and eventually kicked him in the right rear leg. Because the ceremony hadn't begun, I quickly dismounted and checked Cochise for lameness. Detecting none, I mounted up again and moved Cochise to the end of the line. Journey, instantly calmed down and we had no more problems.

Cochise, to my disbelief, stood calmly through the entire ceremony (about an hour and a half in length) including the 15 gun cannon salute and the passing of the dreaded marching band. I was very impressed with him. In fact, all the horses stood well during the ceremony. Perhaps they knew it was the General's final ceremony.

After all the lengthy speeches, we finally lined up for the pistol charge. Cochise is a very fast horse but controllable. We went into a skirmish line to prepare for the charge and I held Cochise in check although he was eager to go. I saw a couple of other horses depart the line before the charge command (as often happens) but still Cochise stayed on the line. When the charge command was finally given, I let Cochise go. It was like releasing the brakes on a fighter jet launching from an aircraft carrier. Because we were already behind a couple of the other horses, I had a rare opportunity to just let him go with no restraint. It was awesome. Cochise went into hyper drive as I popped off all my rounds while emitting loud "eehaws" on the way up the parade field. Regent, another fast horse, was well ahead of us and his rider brought him into a left turn to try and bring his speed down and avoid hitting the gazebo at the end of the field. Unfortunately, this put him into my lane so I had to deploy the brakes early on Cochise to prevent a collision. However, Cochise responded promptly to the bit and we came to a gentle stop well short of the other rider.

It was one of our better ceremonies. I had been worried that if we had a bad performance that there would be inevitable comparisons to the battle of the Little Bighorn. However, this time the horses were on their best behavior. I went so well that the next day one of the colonels shouted his appreciation to me as I was driving on post. At last, Custer and the U.S. cavalry were able to put together a good ending.

Friday, December 10, 2010

NFR Opening Ceremonies

The trip to Las Vegas went well for us. We drove up on Friday morning leaving at 0600 and arriving about 1500 local time which was an hour behind Arizona time. We arrived about the same time as all the rodeo contestants who were competing that evening. We unloaded our horses, parked the trailers, picked up our passes for the arena, and headed to the hotel. We had been put up in the Orleans Hotel and Casino which is a truly immense place--crowded and loud. We eventually got cleaned up and reassembled downstairs for dinner at one of the numerous restaurants in the hotel. We didn't stay up very late (about midnight, I think) as we were all pretty tired from the drive up.

The next day we got to the stables about 0800 and took care of the horses. We had a rehearsal at 1000 in the arena. We needed four horses for the ceremony but I brought two spares also. I had our two veterinarians ride the spares so I could get them desensitized to the arena. When we finally got into the arena, which was inside the Thomas & Mack Center, I noticed that my mount, Regent, wasn't enjoying the experience. He was very agitated--shaking his head and arching his neck. However, I also noticed that one of our spares, Charlie, wasn't having any problems at all. I switched horses with the vet and rode Charlie instead. It turned out to be a good decision. Even though Charlie had undergone colic surgery a little over three months before, he was steady as a rock through the whole thing. After the rehearsal we put the horses away and headed back to the hotel for lunch and a quick combat nap.

After an early dinner, we were back at the stables at 1700 to feed the horses and to go to the rodeo. We had been given tickets so we could watch the rodeo and then afterwards we were to attend a dress rehearsal for the following night's opening ceremonies. The rehearsal was pretty intense. We had to get the horses used to standing in a darkened tunnel with laser lights and loud music being played in the arena. They also added a fog machine to create a mist curtain through which we were supposed to ride for dramatic affect. The horses struggled with it at first but eventually got used to the fog. Getting them to go into the arena was another matter. We were arranged in a column of twos with the flag bearers up front. As we entered through the narrow gate into the arena, the second two riders split out to take positions on the ends with sabers drawn to act as the color guard. However, the first two horses would try to back up into the tunnel so the two in the rear would have to push them forward. After we got this down, we practiced escorting a stagecoach into the arena for the halftime show. This was less traumatic, so it went quicker. We practiced for several hours until the NFR people were satisfied we could pull it off. We finally got back to the hotel about midnight and had a quick bite before going to bed.

The next morning we went in at 0800 to feed the horses and prep our equipment for the show. Unfortunately, Las Vegas was holding a marathon that day and the city was split in two with no detour signs showing us how to get to the other side. It took us forever to get to the arena and then we had to endure the same ordeal on the way back to the hotel for lunch. We were to be back at the arena that night by 1730 for a 1745 ceremony. The live show was even more crazy than the rehearsal. The tunnel was lined with chutes that had broncs in them for the opening ceremonies and bulls in them for the halftime show. Plus, they added pyrotechnics to the opening ceremony that we had not experienced in the rehearsal.

However, it all went well enough. It was a great experience to ride into the arena with 18,000 screaming rodeo fans cheering us on. It was a lot of work getting to that point, but worth the effort. The crew was in the mood for celebration after the ceremony but I was pretty tired and knew I had a 10 hour drive in the morning so I begged off at midnight while the rest partied on. The trip back to Arizona the next day was uneventful and we finally got back to the fort about 1800. It was a good trip and I guess we did well enough that we might get invited back next year. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Road to Vegas

I took some time off to celebrate Thanksgiving last week but couldn't completely get away from the job. Well, actually, I couldn't get away from it at all. I had to bring two injured horses home with me so I could keep an eye on them (some people take their work home with them in a briefcase--I take mine home in a horse trailer). Of course, one of them kicked the other in the head. The head belonged to Charlie, of course. Everything happens to that horse.

Meanwhile, I was getting constant phone calls and e-mail messages about upcoming events. One of the events is a trip to Las Vegas this weekend for the National Finals Rodeo. We are to carry the national colors during opening ceremonies on Sunday night. We travel up Friday, rehearse on Saturday, do the ceremony on Sunday, and return Monday. It's a big deal--the Super Bowl of rodeos so I'm trying to make sure I have everything in order. I have planned in as much redundancy as I can with backup horses, equipment, and people. I'm also bringing our veterinarian team, just in case.

Selecting the right horses for the job is the most important task. Unfortunately, several of our best candidates are down with injuries. The horses need to be able to stand still in a darkened arena with a spotlight on them while the national anthem is played. I've selected four of our calmest horses with two backups and have also selected our most experienced riders. With horses you can never be completely sure things will go well, but you can at least reduce your risks with practice and good planning. We will see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Training Duke

After the National Cavalry Competition was over I resolved to spend more time training horses. Of the several projects I have, none is more important than gun training Duke. Last June we conducted a cavalry riding demonstration at Wren Arena which involves a fair amount of gun fire and, indeed, some cannon fire. I was planning to ride Apache in the show but he got sick and I decided to ride Duke instead. Duke's training wasn't complete but sometimes you can get a horse through the demonstration okay anyway. Big mistake. Duke didn't like the gunfire at all and it was a real ordeal to get him though the demo. Since then I've been keeping him away from gunfire until I could get him retrained.

Duke had regressed pretty badly. I have had to go back to the beginning with gunfire. I start out with a cap pistol using the usual technique of having someone fire the pistol while I ride the horse at varying distances until he gets accustomed to the sound, then I begin firing from the back of the horse. Duke, however, wasn't even able to handle this so I've been holding him on a lead line while firing the cap gun a few feet away from me and rewarding him when he doesn't move his feet.

Because of our schedule and other considerations, I haven't been able to conduct this training with any consistancy. However, I've decided that other matters can wait and horse training will be a higher priority. As such, I've been able to get three good sessions in with Duke this past week.

The training has been frustrating. Duke just didn't seem to be getting any better. Everytime I'd fire the cap gun he'd jump and start rolling his eyes and snorting or try to run in a circle around me. Just when I was beginning to think the whole thing was hopeless, I finally had a small breakthrough. I was finally able to get him to stand without jumping while firing the cap gun today. I could even hold it over my head and fire it without him moving his feet. He doesn't like it much, but he is no longer panicky about it. Hopefully, I can keep up with the training and we will see some more progress. Getting through that first barrier always seems to be the toughest when it comes to horse training. Duke's a good horse and has potential to be a good cavalry horse, so here's hoping things will get easier.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veteran's Day Parade

Photo by Ty Holland

I rode the wonder horse in the Vet's Day parade yesterday and, for a change, he was good. I didn't think things were going to go well when I arrived at the stables because Apache was running around in his pen. It was cold and dark and he knew something was up so he reacted to this situation in his normal scary fashion. But, when you've ridden a horse at his worse, nothing much intimidates you anymore. For whatever reason, by the time I had him groomed up, he was nice and calm.

We arrived in our normal staging area in good time and tacked up the horses. Next we drove the trailers over to the city park where the parade would end and then shuttled the drivers back. We were the last entry in a parade of about 52 participants. Most of the other parade entries were marching bands and military personnel on foot. Since we were last in line, we could watch the entire parade before it even began.

The crowd was fairly substantial and even though there were only seven of us riding, we often could not hear the commands of the XO as we marched down the street. Sierra Vista is a military town and the crowd was pretty patriotic--and loud. We performed out handful of parade maneuvers with our carbines resting on our right thighs. You learn over the years how to carry the rifle without all the blood draining from your hand as you ride.

When we finally got to the park, we held a short ceremony in which the city leaders, most of whom are retired military, reflect on the sacrifices of our veterans. The speeches were followed by a 21-gun salute from a howitzer battery which our horses stood pretty well for. We did have a problem with Cochise who somehow wound up on the end of our line. He doesn't like being on the end and constantly tried to fade back behind the line of horses. I finally asked Monte's rider to fallout and take the end. Once Cochise was safely bracketed by two other horses, he calmed down and stood still. Other than that everything went well and the Wonder Horse got a cookie for being so good.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Horse Exams

We finally had time to take some of our boys up to the Arizona Equine Clinic to have them checked out. Both Charlie and Cochise were checked for stomach ulcers and Bob had an MRI done on his front feet.

Charlie was recommended for a stomach scope by the veterinarian who performed his colic surgery at the end of August. The surgeon had a concern that the colic may have been caused by stomach ulcers. However, since he had lost so much weight during the surgery and recovery that we didn't want to put him through a fasting cycle until his weight was up and he was healthy.

Cochise, who had gone off his feed during the trip to San Angelo, Texas in October, was also suspected of having a stomach ulcer by our military veterinarian. However, we decided to hold off on having his stomach scoped until Charlie was ready to go.

Bob has had mild lameness for several months now. We removed his shoes which has improved his condition but he is still slightly lame when turning on his front legs. Previous x-rays did not reveal any clear signs of navicular so we decided to get an MRI done to see if we could determine the cause of his condition.

The veterinarian accomplished the stomach scopes by inserting a tiny camera into the horse's nostril and threading it down the throat into the stomach. We could watch the live image on a TV monitor as the camera made it's way to the stomach. In Charlie's case there was still a little food in his stomach despite his having fasted for 20 hours. The vet pumped water into his stomach via another tube inserted into his stomach and then drained the material out. The camera was reinserted and the vet thoroughly explored the inside of Charlie's stomach. Fortunately, no sign of ulcers were detected. The same procedure was performed on Cochise with the same results. Neither horse had stomach ulcers which was a huge relief. I remarked to the doctor that this experience in combination with Charlie's colic surgery has given me too much familiarity with Charlie's insides. I have to admit, though, that the gastroscope process was fascinating.

Bob had his MRI done over a period of several hours. The images were sent off to a specialist for analysis but we will not have the results until next week. We are hoping he has a hoof cyst or some other easily corrected problem. However, we can't help but notice how much better his feet are and how much less lame he is since we removed his shoes. He has small hooves for being a 1,300 pound horse and he may just be destined to be shoeless. Hopefully the MRI analysis will give us a better idea of how to correct his lameness.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Empire Ranch

Last Saturday we performed at the annual open house held at Empire Ranch near Sonoita, Arizona. It is an old and historic ranch that is the process of being restored. The open house is held each year to help raise funds for the restoration. The open house is attended by several thousand people and features an interesting collection of western performances and displays.

Of course, B Troop is a major attraction at the event. We are provided a large performance area and three time slots in which to demonstrate cavalry riding. This year we had only a few available riders so we decided to demonstrate individual tactics. I set up a course that allowed for the use of both saber and pistol and included a series of jumps. It was a good opportunity to practice the type of riding employed at the National Cavalry Competition. Unfortunately, although thousands of photos were taken at the event, I have not been able to gain access to any to illustrate this post.

With only four riders available to perform, we brought only four horses to ride. One of them, of course, was the Wonder Horse. Our first performance was the saber demonstration in which we engaged a number of targets while negotiating a series of jumps. I spent about 10 minutes warming up the Wonder Horse in the hopes that he would perform without misbehaving. We managed to get through the whole course twice before he became so agitated that I feared to take him through again. I was, also, at this point, getting fatigued. I then put Apache away and took Regent through the course. Regent is also an excitable horse but not nearly as erratic as Apache. Regent, without any warm up, performed nearly perfectly.

For our next performance we demonstrated field jumping. I did not participate in this event as we had to take turns manning the course and narrating the performance. The other riders did well and had a good time with their chosen mounts in negotiating the jumps.

Our last performance was mounted pistol. I chose Monte for this event and he performed very well even though I hadn't ridden him in a very long time. It was very fun taking Monte through the course as he is not at all a challenge to ride. Ten minutes on the Wonder Horse and you are ready to take the rest of the week off but 20 minutes on Monte and you barely break a sweat.

The crowd seemed to enjoy the performances and the few of us who were able to support the event had a good time despite the length of the day (13 hours) and the physical challenge of making it all happen. It is a shame we don't have more opportunities to do this kind of riding more often as it is much more enjoyable than parades and ceremonies.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Helldorado Weekend

Photos by Ty Holland

Each year during Helldorado weekend, B Troop makes the 25-mile journey from Fort Huachuca to Tombstone. Twenty five miles was the standard cavalry march back in the day so it is a literal "rite of passage" for the men and woman to make this annual trip. Of course, the horses and riders need to be conditioned for the ride beforehand. It is not a good idea to try and make the trip without the proper conditioning as you can really hurt your horse and yourself.

The troopers usually depart the fort about sunrise and make the first 15-mile trip through the desert to the San Pedro river, where they stop for lunch beneath the Charleston bridge. My job is to set up the lunch camp and to bring along a couple of spare horses in case we need to swap any out. We almost always have to replace a couple horses at the river even though they are pretty well conditioned. I have the military veterinarian meet us at the river to give all the horses a thorough check during the lunch break so as not to take any chances.

This year we had to remove three horses from the line as a precaution although none were seriously injured. Two had sore backs and one appeared slightly lame on a rear leg. One of our troopers had also come down with the flu during the ride and had to discontinue his participation. I swapped out the horses and gave the sick trooper a ride back to the fort. The remaining troopers and ladies mounted up and finished the remaining ten miles to Tombstone by following the Charleston road.

I returned the injured horses to the stables and put them up for the night and then headed back to Tombstone to set up the evening camp. We usually stay at the Lucky Hills Ranch just outside Tombstone. They have a few rustic cabins and a corral to keep the horses in. I set up the evening meal and had the vet check the horses again. All the horses were fine this time. After everyone had eaten and the horses had been bedded down, I headed back to the fort to prepare for the following day. I begged off going back to Tombstone to enjoy the traditional promenading on Allen Street as I was well spent.

The next morning I was back at the fort at 0530 to prep the spare horses to return to Tombstone. Two of the three injured horses from the previous day were fine after a night of rest in their pens, so I loaded them up so that the troopers would have their preferred mounts for the Helldorado parade later that morning. I met Debbie at the ranch at 0700 to set up breakfast and get things moving for the day. The troopers were moving slow after a night of carousing in town so I had to wake them up a little--gently--in the military fashion. Debbie had made a fantastic breakfast of egg casserole and tortillas with salsa and everyone dug in. After a hearty breakfast, everyone starting moving in the right direction and they got their horses and gear prepped in plenty of time to make the parade.

The parade was well attended and our troopers and ladies looked great. They won the Curly Bill Brocius award but we're not really sure what that means. Perhaps some of the troopers had committed a crime the previous evening. After the parade we tore down our camp, loaded the horses into the trailer, and headed back to the fort. At the fort we unloaded the horses and equipment and finally called it a day about 1500.

Helldorado weekend is a back breaker of an event. The logistics of supporting a moving cavalry column of even a few troopers requires a huge amount of work. I spent 12 hours on my feet the first day and 10 the second--most of it on steep, rocky terrain. I had more people on the ground providing support then I had people in the saddle and it was still a staggering work load. I'm glad so many people enjoyed seeing the cavalry in Tombstone but I'm also glad I only have to do this once per year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Videos

Here are a few videos from the competition. The first one is of the saber attack at the end of the Major Howze competition. We placed second in that event.

The second video is of Jay Hizer winning the Level 3 Mounted Pistol competition.

The last video is of Pete Criscuolo winning the Bolte Cup competition.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Charlie Horse

Photo by Ty Holland

After about two months of rest, Charlie had his first ride today since the colic surgery. He had lost over a hundred pounds as a result of the surgery but is now back up to his normal weight plus about 20 pounds. The challenge now, is to turn the fat into muscle. Today was the first step. I saddled him up and rode him around the pasture for about 15 minutes. He got sweaty everywhere his tack touched his body but that is to be suspected with a horse that's been doing the equivalent of sitting on the couch eating Twinkies for two months. Charlie is a big horse and usually very well muscled. Right now he looks like a sack of potatoes on legs. It will be fun to redevelop his muscle tone and get him back into cavalry shape.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part III

The Brits and Aussies posting their colors at the closing ceremonies

The day began with the closing ceremonies for the NCC. The plan was to raise the colors and then parade past the reviewing stand once, then circle around again to stop in front of the crowd. The Wonder Horse was particularly agitated. He just about destroyed the whole ceremony. If it wasn't bad enough that he was spinning around and moving out of formation but he got the horses next to him worked up as well.

After this fiasco was over, we set up to perform a mounted drill demonstration. We did it at a trot because we were in an open field and we didn't want any horses getting lose and trampling spectators. Someone elses horse did get loose (the rider had ground tied him) and went rampaging across the parade ground with his bridle dragging behind him. He eventually ran up against a fence and bloodied his nose. Our vet subsequently treated the horse and it was okay. Otherwise, our performance was uneventful. Apache was good because it was something he was familiar with.

The final event of the competition was the Bolte Cup event. It is a multiple weapons course with numerous jumps and obstacles. The riders who finish in the top five places in Level 3 events are invited to participate. However, one of our Level 2 riders, Pete Criscuolo, had done so well he was invited to the Bolte Cup along with our Level 3 rider, Jay Hizer. I volunteered to be an assistant judge in the competition and got a first hand look at the course. The course was, as the designer stated, "evil". It started with a series of difficult jumps combined with saber targets, then it required the rider to dismount and fire at a target while keeping his horse from moving, then the rider remounted, drew his pistol and engaged a series of balloon targets interspersed with jumps.

The level of riding skill required in this event is daunting. Our first rider, Jay Hizer, had a good run and finished with only two faults. Under normal circumstances this might have been enough to win but our second rider, Pete Criscuolo did even better. Riding a horse, Monte, that he had never really practiced on or ridden much at all until this competition, he managed to complete a flawless run. He did not miss a single target or knock down a single jump. As a result, Pete became the first rider from Fort Huachuca to win the Bolte cup and perhaps the first rider to ever complete the Bolte Cup event without a fault.

Needless to say, we were all ecstatic that Pete had done so well. Last year in Nebraska, Pete hadn't had much luck with the NCC events so it was particularly satisfying to see him come home with so many honors this year. It just goes to show you that when you combine the right man with the right horse, anything can happen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part II

Pete Criscuolo on his way to winning our only jumping ribbon

The days during the NCC are long. The first event is usually at 0930 but there is always something that has to be done beforehand requiring an early morning feeding of the horses. The day usually starts at 0600 with stable call at 0700 and "boots and saddles" at 0800. Of course that means feeding at 0500. The end of the day usually involves some social event that you have to scramble to get cleaned up for. So each day you have to get up at about 0400 and maybe you get to bed by 2200. Some stayed up a bit later to socialize but by the time I got back to my room, I wasn't ready to do anything but go to sleep.

The first event of the day was field jumping and I decided to give Apache another chance to redeem himself, or perhaps me. The Level 3 course included a single blue barrel which is a real challenge for Apache. The Wonder Horse hates blue barrels for some reason and I have a hard time getting him to jump three, let alone a single one. It takes some practice to keep your horse from running out and we had none, so I decided to drop to Level 2.

The Level 2 course was straightforward with an in-and-out, oxer, and a couple of direction changes. Nothing that Apache shouldn't have been able to handle. However, I knew I was going to have trouble getting Apache into the arena. The event director said we could have a person on the ground help lead our horse in but my comrades were under a shade tree a couple hundred feet away and were unable to help. They saw me struggling to get Apache in and saw that one of our riders, Martina, was closest, so they began yelling at her to give me a hand. She complied, but instead of running over to help she starting jumping and throwing her arms up into the air. It might have helped but she was probably 50 feet away while she was doing this. I could hear the commotion behind me but was focused on Apache and getting him forward.

Apache eventually decided that I wasn't going to let him back out of the arena so he sped toward the first fence. He cleared the jump with ease and then lined up for the in-and-out. He took this obstacle with ease also but I managed to lose both stirrups in the second landing. Stabbing my boots back into the stirrups, I lined up on the third jump and cleared this one easily as well. Given our speed and performance, things were looking good for us. Then, disaster struck. The next jump required a hard right turn just before the open gate to the arena. Apache saw the escape route and made for it instead of the jump. I pulled him up too late and we broke the timer plane. We were once again, eliminated. The rest of our team didn't do much better but one of our riders managed to pick up a second place ribbon in Level 2.

The final event of the day was the mounted saber course. I almost decided to participate but when I ran the likely scenarios through my head, I realized that Apache wouldn't be able to hack the course. Once I saw the course, I was convinced I had made the right decision. Unlike previous years, when the course for all three levels was the same, they got a new course designer who added some really challenging jumps and targets. Each level was increasingly more complex and challenging. The Level 3 course involved chopping up targets that consisted mostly of potatoes. In some cases the rider had to pierce the target with the point of his saber, and other times he had to slice the potato with a slashing attack. There was also a parry target that required the rider to parry an arm simulating a saber attack and then follow up with a slashing attack on an associated head target.

The courses were tough and not a single member of our team picked up a ribbon in any of them. Apache would not have fared well and would probably have dumped me on the ground as he had the previous year.

So the day was pretty much a bust for our team with only one ribbon to show for our effort but the best was still to come. The final day of the competition turned out to be a real surprise for us and one of our riders achieved something that none of had ever achieved before.

Monday, October 4, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part I

Photo by City of San Angelo

The competition was held this year at Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas from 30 September to 3 October. According to the host, the US Cavalry Association, about 70 competitors showed up. In addition to Fort Huachuca, teams from Fort Irwin, Fort Carson, and Fort Riley attended. Fort Hood, although a few hours away, was not able to send a team. However, both Great Britain and Australia sent teams.

The competition was better than it had been in previous years. Both Fort Irwin and Fort Carson sent impressive teams this year which had the affect of spreading out the awards between the military teams a little more evenly. Fort Carson sent a particularly strong team and managed to edge out the other military units in awards.

The drive over was brutal and we arrived late on Monday after a 13 hour drive and a blown tire along the way. The next morning I discovered that one of our horses, Cochise, had gone off his feed due to the trip and also wasn't drinking. Fortunately, we brought our vet team with us and they had a fully stocked vet truck with them. They began treating Cochise for a possible ulcer and kept him hydrated by pumping about nine gallons of water into him daily. He recovered after three days but was not usable for the competition. However, since we brought two spare horses, his rider was still able to compete--a crucial benefit to the team as it turned out.

The first day we were there we practiced on the parade ground at Fort Concho and got the horses acclimated to the environment. They were pretty jumpy at first but eventually calmed down--that is, except for the Wonder Horse--Apache just never settled down the whole week.

The second day we participated in the "School of the Soldier" taught by Ray Thomas and later some of our team members participated in the jumping clinic. It was hot that day but we got some good practice in.

On Thursday, the competition started with Military Horsemanship, Mounted Pistol, and the Major Howze events all occurring the same day. It made for a long day. Our team did pretty well though with a couple ribbons in horsemanship and a couple in pistol including first place finishes in both Level 2 and 3.

Apache and I completely bombed in horsemanship which I thought would be his strong event. We were fifth in the lineup but the third contestant was thrown off his horse requiring an ambulance to be called. In the subsequent delay, Apache became increasingly agitated. By the time we started he was almost completely useless. He entered the dressage area okay but did not stand during mounting and was unable to maintain the trot. He constantly tried to speed up and when we went to the canter, he busted out of the area and we were eliminated. After that I didn't see any point in entering into the pistol competition. On some days it just takes two hands to control Apache.

In the late afternoon, we traveled to a nearby state park for the Major Howze competition. I'm guessing the route was about six miles long. The trail was much flatter than the one we rode in Nebraska the previous year. Once again, we were joined by a couple of riders from Fort Irwin as we did not have enough riders for a full team. The ride began in a wooded area with a narrow trail winding in and out of the trees. I managed to bang my knee on at least one tree before I started using leg cues to bend around the trunks. The rest of the trail was pretty uneventful except for one portion that required walking the horses through a rocky pool of water. Fortunately, the Fort Irwin team had worked on getting their horses through water so we didn't have the problems we had the previous year.

After about 40 minutes we arrived at the target area. The targets were in a confined area and set close together. One of the target sets was placed in front of a tree. Our team leader set us up for the charge with a minimum of commands and we started our attack from what seemed like 100 feet out. I was concerned about being able to hold Apache in but he stayed on the bit all the way to the target. Because of the compactness of the target set and the tendency of the targets to blend into the background, I was not actually able separate out my targets until the last moment. I heard a lot of commotion to my left but resisted the temptation to look and stayed focused on my first target and watched with satisfaction as my blade penetrate into the bulls eye. As I rode through, the target collapsed toward the ground forcing me into a moulinet in order to withdraw the blade and prepare for the second target. Again, I watched the point sink into the bulls eye on the second target and I rode through without incident. Apache, to his credit, never wavered from his lane.

As we passed through to the other side, we reassembled and reformed to complete the event. I later learned that the commotion to my left had been caused by some of the riders being cut off during the charge. It seems that not everyone had held their lane causing confusion at the point of attack. In at least one case, one of our horses had gone right over the top of a target. Despite this, we had a fairly high kill ratio and our time was decent so we managed to get second place in this event.

It had been a long day but successful. The level of competition had been keen and that would not change for the rest of the week. I will summarize the rest of the competition results when able.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Getting Ready for the NCC

The last couple of months have been a real challenge as far as getting ready for the National Cavalry Competition goes. We have had more than the usual amount of bad weather, horse injuries, and trooper injuries. We lost a third of our training days to almost daily thunderstorms. Even as late as last week, we had to skip training due to a rain storm. Horse injuries have been off the scale this year. We lost Charlie to colic surgery, Monte to a stone bruise, Apache to a puncture wound, and Cochise to a fall on the jumping course. All but Charlie will still be going to the competition but valuable training time was lost for each horse. Meanwhile, we had two troopers get injured along the way. Frank took a bad spill during saber training and Pete was kicked while wrangling horses in from pasture one day. In addition, our vet tech, Kasey, was kicked by Charlie. However, all three will be at the competition, although Frank will be limited to parade riding only.

We have no idea how well we will do. The competition at the NCC is fierce but everyone else has had time limitations and injuries to deal with as well. We will be bringing two new riders to the show, both on horses that has never been in competition before. I will ride the Wonder Horse again but have no idea how well he will do. I suspect he will do well in horsemanship but not so well in the other events. I just wasn't able to complete our training objectives this year. I'll be pleased if I can just complete the events.

Regardless of how well we do, I'm sure it will be fun. It always is. We have our vet team with us this year which gives me some comfort and takes some of the load off me. We will also have two people on the ground who will provide invaluable help. All in all, we have eleven people on the team with seven of them riding. It will be good to see our fellow cavalrymen from around the country again and hopefully a few from other countries. It's always good to rub elbows with folks who share a passion for riding and the cavalry.

We will start heading to Texas on Monday. I won't have access to a computer while on this trip but, I will provide a summary of events once I get back. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jump Training

For the last couple weeks I haven't been riding Apache due to his hock injury. Instead, I was riding Regent whose trooper was out of town. Regent is like an older, more mature version of Apache. He is very spirited by a little easier to control than Apache. Okay, a lot easier.

Today, I rode Apache for the first time since he was injured. We set up a fairly complex jump course in the arena and started out with Level 3 riders. Apache was horrible. He'd go over most of the jumps but he'd leap straight up into the air so that when we landed I was nearly bounced out of the saddle. He had a particular problem with jumping over some blue plastic barrels. It was brutal work and I was soon exhausted from trying to keep Apache under control. I decided to take a break while a couple of the other troopers worked their horses.

One of the obstacles we were working on was a bounce combination. It is a tricky jump as the poles are only 10 feet apart and the horse has to make the second jump without taking a stride. One of our troopers was working Cochise over this obstacle when disaster struck.

I was about to mount up Apache again to try and work him over the bounce myself but before I got mounted, Cochise had a bad wreck. He had hit the first pole in the combination and got his legs tangled up in it and then hit the second pole as well. He fell head first into the dirt, sending his trooper over his head. The trooper was unhurt and quickly got to his feet. Cochise got up too but he was shaky and clearly hurt. I feared he had broken a leg.

When I got to him, I could see that he had scrapes on his face and knees and was showing signs of lameness in his front left. I feared a knee injury but did not know how bad. I hitched a ride back to the stables and called the military vet and took the horse trailer back to the arena to load up Cochise. By the time I got back to the arena, Cochise was doing much better. He was walking without lameness but was still clearly in pain but I didn't know where.

The vet tech met us at the clinic and began taking Cochise's vitals. I had brought Apache along as a battle buddy for Cochise. While watching Cochise as we waited for the vet, we began to suspect a neck injury. Cochise would not lower his head to eat the abundant grass in the paddock we were in. He also wouldn't shake his head to shoo the flies off his face which he particularly hates. Since he couldn't lower his head to drink, I scooped water in my hands and held it to his muzzle so he could take a few sips. The vet tech gave him banamine to take some of the pain away.

Eventually, the vet arrived and took some x-rays. The quality of the images were not good enough to show any trauma but by then Cochise was starting to lower his head a little. The vet gave me some ointment for his scrapes and told me to give him bute twice a day for three days. By the time we left, Cochise was already starting to lower his head to eat grass. He is doing much better as I write this and already getting bored with pen rest. Cochise has had a tough year so far but he is a tough little horse. Hopefully, he will make a complete recovery.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Healing Horses

Apache went in to the vet clinic today to have his wound checked out. I was suspicious of the wound and guessed that it was more than just a cut on the hock. A more thorough exam done under sedation revealed that it was a puncture wound. Naturally, it was downward tracking. The vet opened it up and flushed it out again. Apache isn't lame but the swelling in his leg is pretty significant. Hopefully the antibiotics will kick in and prevent it from getting worse.

During a previous bandaging session with Apache I made the mistake of telling the vet tech about a previous vet who had put poka dots on a leg bandage to annoy me. I prefer plain dark colors on the horse bandages and the vet staff usually likes to put colorful ones on. Thus, when I went to pick up Apache today I found him with the bandage shown in the photo above.

Charlie is still doing well and starting to put on a little weight. We tried to weigh him this morning but the scale malfunctioned and had to be repaired. We will try again tomorrow. Apache will keep him company this weekend in an adjoining stall so the two can commiserate together about their injuries. And so Charlie can laugh at Apache's leg bandage.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More Horse Problems

Today I discovered that the Wonder Horse had lacerated his left rear hock while out in pasture over the weekend. The cut was not bad but by the time I discovered the wound, it was already infected. It doesn't take long for an infection to set in during the fly season. His entire hock joint is swollen. The vet techs came out and cleaned and bandaged the wound but I'm sure the bandage will be off my morning. I suspected a puncture wound beneath the cut but it's the vet techs didn't find anything. Unfortunately, Apache will be on pen rest until the wound is healed. With only a few weeks left before the National Cavalry Competition, it couldn't have happened at a worse time. I may have to drop down a level or not compete at all if I can't get Apache healed quickly.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fort Bowie Ride

Geronimo and his warriors at Bowie station awaiting their journey into exile 124 years ago.

Yesterday we made our annual pilgrimage to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site to pay homage to the end of the Indian Wars and to the soldiers who died fighting it. We always make the trip on Labor Day weekend which is also the anniversary of the surrender of Geronimo. Since B Troop memorializes the unit that pursued Geronimo until his surrender and then protected him from the law enforcement entities that wanted to hang him, we have made it part of our tradition to remember the day.

We started out at the trail head where the new Apache Pass road crosses the old Butterfield Stage route near the west end of the pass. The starting point of our ride is not far from the scene of the wagon train massacre that occurred during the infamous "Bascom Affair". The trail is rugged and it is hard to imagine a stagecoach rumbling through at night up and down steep gullies and ridges. The Chiricahua Mountains have not seen as much rain as the Huachuca Mountains this year and I was relieved to see that there was not heavy undergrowth along the trail. The pass is very beautiful, nevertheless, and I never tire of making this particular ride.

When we arrived at the Fort Bowie cemetery, there was a small crowd of people waiting for us. The Troop Executive Officer, who was filling in for the commander, read the historical account of the site and then read aloud the names of all the soldiers who were once buried there (some are still there). After he finished a team of four troopers fired three volleys in their honor and then our bugler played taps. The sounds of the rifles and bugle reverberated off the canyon walls and added poignancy to our little annual ceremony.

We continued up the trail to the old fort ruins, passing the first Fort Bowie ruins on the way. Below the ruins we passed through Apache Springs which is still producing a trickle of water through the steep canyon, heavily wooded and cool. Emerging from the canyon, we saw the fort ruins and the little museum building where our cook awaited us with lunch.

After arriving at the museum we first tended to the horses first as required by the cavalryman's creed. After dismounting we removed their bridles, loosened their cinches, checked their legs for cactus spines and injuries, and then watered them.

About then, some tourists arrived and we posed for photos, answered questions, and discussed cavalry history with them. Most people who come to Fort Bowie on the day of our annual ceremony don't know in advance that we are going to be there. They are always delighted and really seem to get a lot out of it. We do the ceremony mostly for ourselves and in keeping with our mission to keep the cavalry history alive but it is always nice that a few people get so much out of it.

After a great lunch, we mounted up again and headed back down through the canyon to our waiting trucks and trailers in Apache Pass. The Fort Bowie trip is a long day of hard work but it is one of our favorite events. We've doing it for eight years now and hopefully for many more years to come.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Riding the Wonder Horse

I had a couple of good sessions with Apache this week. On Thursday I worked on backing up straight. He has been giving me fits with that but finally decided to cooperate. It's always surprising when after weeks of work your horse finally just does what you've been asking him to do.

Today I worked on jumping through the in-and-out. We started out at 36 feet but eventually got to 24 feet between the jumps. He never ran out and only clipped the poles once or twice.

We were having more trouble with the 36 foot in-and-out than we were with the shorter distance. He got perturbed with the 36 foot gap as he wasn't hitting the second jump at the right stride. We took a break to let him overcome his frustration and then we tried again. He had no trouble with the second try. he was so light and responsive on the bit that I was able to give him his head between jumps without fear of a run out or a miss stride. When we shortened the gap between jumps to 24 feet, he went through them with ease.

One never knows with Apache when he's going to perform and when he isn't. He was remarkably calm today. Must have been something in the air.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Major Howze Training

Troopers launching saber attack against targets

Today we practiced for the Major Howze event, one of the events at the National Cavalry Competition. I had previously scouted out a good trail between the stables and Chaffee Parade Field that provided plenty of stream crossings, gates, and steep terrain. The ride was a little more than five miles long. I asked another trooper, who couldn't ride due to a medical profile, set up the saber targets for us. I acted as the guide, Abdul of the Tallywacker tribe, who was to lead the troopers to the target area and who constantly referred to his charges as Yankee, pig-dogs.

The ride started out pretty well with everyone maintaining silence and holding formation despite the rugged terrain. We got through our first gate okay but the second gate was a big heavy iron contraption. The trooper assigned to handle the gate pulled his back muscles while trying to move the monstrosity. He, however, mounted up again and off we went. Being up front, Apache was relatively calm. Had he been in the back he would have constantly wanted to gallop. Since he was up front, and a little intimidated, he maintained a nice steady trot.

We forded two small streams in good order and up and down a couple ridges before descending down a long sloping ridge covered in grass. Eventually, we rode down into Huachuca Canyon where a good sized stream flows and the grass was about stirrup high. Apache shied a few times in the grass as there were creatures running around in it which bothered him. We crossed Huachuca Creek twice as it meandered through the canyon but there was no water in it this far down the canyon--surprising given the amount of flow in the creek less than a mile up stream. The creek had steep banks so I was expecting an ordeal trying to get Apache through but he forded it like a champ.

Finally, we left the grass and got onto a paved road. I signaled to the riders to dismount so we could let the horses catch their breath and to check their tack. Apache's saddle hadn't moved and his cinch was still tight so I began to walk him around a little. The other troopers wordlessly followed suit. After five minutes I signaled them to remount and we trotted on.

Since we were now on flat ground I didn't anticipate any further problems. We were only about 15 minutes from the target location. However, as we were trotting down a dirt road one of the horses went lame. I asked the trooper with the lame horse and the trooper with the sore back to fall out and wait by the paved road for us to come back and pick them up later with a trailer. The remaining four of us rode on.

Approaching the target area, I heard a small explosion in the distance. I wondered about it but figured it was coming from one of the numerous test facilities in the area. However, as we rounded the last corner coming up on Chaffee Field, I was shocked to see a half dozen tactical vehicles in our target area with a squad or two of soldiers in full battle gear running around. As we got closer I could see that they weren't in our target area but adjacent to it. As we rode up, their squad leader signaled for us to stop. She explained that they were in the middle of IED training (hence, the explosion I had heard earlier) and they were wanting us to leave the area. I pointed to our own target set and explained that we were going to attack them and would be gone in a couple minutes.

Our team leader signaled for us to draw sabers as we rode up to the target area. We quickly lined up, selected our individual targets, and wordlessly made a left flank and charged the targets. Apache was fine with this as he had no idea what we were doing. He maintained a good gallop in hand but I missed my first target somehow (my own fault) but nailed the second one. Our team leader hollered for another target pass since there were still some remaining due to the loss of two members of our team. However, Apache now understood what we were doing and started getting overexcited. I retired from the formation and dismounted to calm him down while the others attacked.

The second run went well and we regrouped to clean up the target area. I handed Apache off to the three remaining riders and jumped in the truck with the target materials in it and left to go rescue our two stranded riders. The lame horse seemed to have a stone bruise as opposed to a fetlock sprain so I administered bute and put him on stall rest once we got him back to the stables. Hopefully, he won't have any long-term problems. The trooper with the sore back took his own painkillers and prescribed hot tub treatment for himself at home.

It was a good ride and the weather was perfect. I've never been much of a fan of trail rides but tactical maneuvering through the wilderness at a trot is fun. Unexpected problems such as injured horses and drilling soldiers in the target area just adds to the challenge. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Charlie Update 2

Charlie is getting better. He has found his appetite but still isn't drinking enough. He goes on frequent walks to help him relax but he misses his herd terribly. He still hasn't developed any complications so our hopes are high. Debbie visited him today and took a picture of him. He has lost some weight but I'm sure that six weeks of stall rest and plenty of food will cure that problem.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Charlie Update

Charlie continues to recover and is doing well so far. He has not developed any complications and will hopefully be able to come home on Wednesday. Our military vet and the technician he kicked on Monday went to visit him in Tucson today. There were no hard feelings (pun intended). The only problem Charlie's having right now is being away from his herd. If he gets through the weekend without developing any problems, he should be good to go. Then we begin the long road of rehabilitation.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bad Monday

Photo by Ty Holland

When I came in to work this morning a little after 7 AM, I went out to feed the horses in pasture. After I had put the food out, I noticed that one of our horses, Charlie, was laying down near the feeders. Whenever a horse lays down at feeding time it is a sure sign of colic. I went to get a halter and pulled Charlie out of the pasture and began walking him around the stables while calling the military veterinarian.

The mil vet was out of town but she sent a couple of her vet techs to check on the horse. Charlie was clearly in pain and was taking a "saw horse" stance whenever we stopped moving. It was not a good sign. Mild gas colic is not all that unusual but it was clear that Charlie was having more than just a little gas problem. The vet techs called the military vet back and described Charlie's symptoms. It was decided to call out a local civilian vet to treat Charlie.

While we were waiting for the local vet to show up we continued to walk Charlie around the stables. His pain rapidly grew worse and he would constantly stop and try to lay down. He was also getting very sweaty. We decided to walk him around the wash rack and spray him with water to cool him down. Because Charlie kept trying to stop, one of the vet techs got behind Charlie and tried to push him on. Charlie, to his credit, gave a warning kick but when this was ignored, nailed the vet tech in the stomach with a rear hoof. The tech cried out and crumpled to the ground.

I stopped walking Charlie, who immediately laid down, and I called 911 for an ambulance. Both the horse and the soldier were laying on the ground writhing in pain. I don't remember exactly what happened next but I remember trying to explain to the emergency dispatcher where we were while trying to continue walking Charlie. I'm not sure how Charlie got back up again. The injured vet tech, a tough young woman, worked through the pain while the other tech went to flag down the ambulance. The ambulance soon arrived and I was able to turn my attention back solely to Charlie.

The local equine vet arrived shortly after the ambulance along with some people from the stables. We got Charlie up and gave him some more pain killers and then the vet asked if Charlie was a candidate for surgery. I deferred to the military vet tech who quickly got the authorization to have the surgery done. I was very surprised when it was approved as colic surgery is very expensive. The nearest surgeon was in Tucson, an hour and a half away. The equine vet asked if I preferred to take him to the clinic in Phoenix where we usually go but I was afraid Charlie wouldn't survive that long of a journey, thus I decided to take him to Tucson. Good thing I did.

We loaded Charlie into the trailer and I was soon on my way to Tucson. The vet advised me to not tie him up in the trailer as he would probably want to lie down. He did lie down and he became so still in the trailer that I feared he had died. At one of the stop lights on the way through town I jumped out and checked to make sure he was still moving. The whole journey to Tucson was frightening as I did not know if Charlie was alive or not. Every once in a while he would trash around but then he'd get still again.

When I finally arrived at the surgeon's clinic, I began to wonder how I was going to get Charlie up and out of the trailer. However, as soon as we opened the door, he jumped up and stepped out. I led him into the surgery and turned him over to the surgical staff who immediately began to prep him.

I was permitted to watch the surgery through a window. They had Charlie prepped and on the operating table within an hour of his arrival. I watched while they opened him up and lifted all of intestines out onto a table next to him. The surgeon had told me that once he looked inside, he would know whether there was any point in proceeding. Since he did not stop, I began to have some hope. The surgeon and his staff were initially very tense but after about an hour they began to relax slightly. I was relieved when they reassembled Charlie and began to close him up. The surgery had taken 90 minutes.

We got him there just in time. Charlie had a twisted colon and would soon have died without the surgery. Colic surgery is a 50-50 chance at best but somehow Charlie had survived it. Fortunately, the surgeon did not need to remove any of the colon. However, Charlie is not out of the woods yet. He had a lot of fluid build up in his gut and this all has to be drained out. If Charlie is able to resume normal bowel movements in the next couple of days, this should all work itself out. Time will tell.

Exhausted and hungry, I returned to Fort Huachuca late in the afternoon. I received word en route that the vet tech had suffered a broken rib and bruised arm but had been released from the hospital. She will be okay. I hope Charlie, likewise, recovers soon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Saber Practice

Photo by Ty Holland

Somehow, tonight, we managed to dodge the thunderstorms and get in a little practice. I set up a small saber course with a series of challenging targets. Everyone did pretty well. The horses were much calmer than they were last week and no one got dumped or hurt. We had a combination of targets on the ground and at shoulder height mixed in between and included with various jumps. The guys learned to keep their horses at a slow canter and even dropped down to a trot when necessary. One of the target series involved an offside high target followed by a ground target, then a jump, then a ring target at shoulder height. We encourage using the correct saber stroke so that the blade was always moving away from the horse. This complicated the targeting problem but the point is to make the practice more challenging than the event.

I rode Apache through the course only twice. He gets very agitated in these events and gets progressively worse the more I ride him. His first run is usually his best. I normally will trot him through the course without saber drawn to get him used to it and then, after a couple runs at a trot and gallop, I'll draw the saber and go to work. The problem with this method is that by the time I get to the serious run, Apache is already outside his own skin. Tonight I didn't bother with a warm up run, I just took him through at a canter with saber drawn. He did well but by the end of the course was getting agitated. I dismounted to calm him down and then gave it another try. He started out bad, so I circled around and made him start over. We went through it okay but by the end he was really getting excited. So, I called it a night before he got worse. I tied him up and I could see the relief on his face when he realized he was done. I want to teach him that if he does it right the first time, he doesn't have to do it again. I will try this strategy again on Thursday and see how it goes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cavalry Photos

A friend of mine, Ty Holland, who takes very good photos of B Troop in action selected a photo he took of me at Picacho Peak earlier this year to be his "photo of the month". The photo also appeared in the local paper recently. I've attached the photo but if you want to see more you can go to his web site.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Major Howze Training

The Major Howze event at the National Cavalry Competition is a very challenging cross-country event that ends in an attack on a series of saber targets. The course is 6 to 7 miles long and crosses some challenging terrain. Last year at Nebraska we won the event with the help of a couple of riders from Fort Irwin.

The most dangerous part of the event is the saber attack at the end. Sometimes the horses will pass through the targets and then slam on the breaks sending the rider onto the ground. We lost one of our team members last year while preparing for the competition due to this very problem. At the competition one of the members of the team from Fort Carson also had this same experience.

To combat this problem, I had the guys practice last night attacking the saber targets in the arena where the ground is a little softer and the horses can't run off. I set up eight rows of targets with two targets in each row. I first had everyone go through at a trot without sabers. Then, we went through at a canter without sabers. Next, we went through at a canter with sabers drawn but did not engage the targets. At this point we started to have problems. One rider lost control and nearly hit the fence. A second rider was dismounted when his horse started to buck uncontrollably. A third had trouble but managed to stay on. The rider who fell was shaken up and his horse stepped through the reins and broke them. After we cleaned up the mess and got the rider out of the arena, we continued. We went through the targets again at a gallop but tried to engage them. Again we had problems. Another rider was dumped when his horse bucked and slammed on the brakes. Fortunately, the rider was not seriously hurt although his glasses were broken. We had a 50% kill ratio on the targets.

Not a very good showing but that is why we practice. It is a tough event, and people who take it on have to be prepared for some bumps and bruises. The Major Howze event is the essence of cavalry riding and is a big prize at the Cavalry Games.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Riding the Wonder Horse

Since we didn't ride last night I decided to saddle up Apache after lunch to do some work. Naturally, the second I fit the bit into his mouth I heard a clap of thunder and it began to rain. I looked up and saw a big thunderstorm forming directly over the stables. I don't mind riding in the rain, but riding in thunderstorms is not a healthy activity. Cursing, I removed all Apache's tack and went back inside until the storm passed.

An hour later I tried again and got Apache out into the training area. We worked on horsemanship which he is fairly good at. For the Level 3 horsemanship event this year at the Cav Games, we have to trot into the arena beside our horse before mounting. Then, we have to mount without our horse moving and salute the judge. I practiced this several times with Apache while a group of Mexican laborers watched while resting in a shady area nearby. They must have wondered what in the heck I was doing. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun, right?

I also worked on a portion of the test in which I have to back up my horse. Apache doesn't do this very well. He'll back up a few steps but usually gets sideways in the process. I have to focus on my cues to keep him straight and backing the required distance. Sometimes I forget to apply leg pressure at the right time and Apache gets confused and frustrated. I have to work on disciplining myself to give the right cues so the horse understands what I want. Of course, with the recent rain combined with the heat, there was rivers of sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes as I tried to work on this. Finally, I got the response I was looking for and decided to call it a day. An hour on Apache on a cool day is hard but in the August heat, it is brutal.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


We have been just clobbered with rain at the Fort. Everytime we schedule a practice, the thunderstorms start. We had rain with hail again today. Last week it rained everyday. This week it was supposed to dry up but obviously that is not the case. The horses are starting to get webbed feet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beer for My Horses

After muster tonight we found out that Duke likes beer. Trooper Jay and I were relaxing by the hitching posts waiting for our horses to dry when we accidentally discovered that Duke likes beer. Jay had finished his can of Bud and was letting his horse graze next to Duke's pen. Duke reached out with his nose and started licking the top of the empty can. Then he grabbed it with his teeth and would have made off with it if Jay hadn't taken it back. Somehow, I think Duke may have been exposed to beer before.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Cochise and Apache

I brought Cochise home from the horse hospital today. He is no worse for the surgery and is in good spirits. We had no trouble getting him into the trailer at the hospital. He will stay at my ranch for a couple weeks until he is completely healed. I don't have indoor stalls at the fort and don't want him exposed to the weather while he is recovering. Hopefully, his surgery will keep him in the Army for a few more years.

The military vets wanted the portion of his anatomy that was removed for more biopsies. Thus, I had to carry this thing home in a jar of formaldehyde. The jar fell over in the front compartment of the truck and was rolling around on the floor of the cab as I was driving back to the fort. The formaldehyde was leaking out a little and causing my eyes to burn. I was hoping the gate guards wouldn't stop the truck for a search. It would have been hard to explain having a severed penis in the truck. Fortunatley, I was not stopped. The jar is sitting on top of my desk at work now so I can take it to the vets on Monday. I don't know if I want to keep it for my museum of horse parts, though. It's tough to look at it without thinking of John Wayne Bobbit.

Yesterday, I took Apache out for more work. I know I'm supposed to focus on a single training objective but both Apache and I get bored by that. We worked on several things including military horsemanship, jumping, and lead changes--all in the space of about 45 minutes. Apache was in good form and didn't beat me up the way he usually does. We still have some rough areas to work on but he's really coming along with jumping and lead changes. His transitions are unbelievably smooth and he remains light in the mouth if not completely on the bit. I wish I had the time to ride him once a day. He'd be outstanding if I did.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Horse Detecting

We had a strange request yesterday from the Army. They wanted us to pack some loads onto a couple of our horses and then ride around in the woods with the pack horses in tow to see if they could detect us. They set up all kinds of sensors on the ground and even had one up in the air tracking us. As an observer to the test, I couldn't help noticing that you cannot hear a column of horses walking through the woods unless they cross an asphalt road. Modern warfare sure has taken a strange turn. It seems the horse is coming back. Someone recently gave me a copy of Horse Soldiers about the Afghanistan war and how horses are being used there. Can't wait to read it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Surgery for Cochise

Photo by Ty Holland

Debbie and I took Chili and Cochise to Arizona Equine today to be examined. Chili has a cracked tooth and Cochise has cancer growths on the end of his penis. They were evaluated for possible surgery. Chili has had the cracked tooth for a long time but hasn't had any real problems with it. However, as part of the tooth as broken off our military vets thought we should get a second opinion on whether or not the tooth should be removed. With Cochise it was a case of determining if the cancer had spread too far already or if it could be stopped with a partial penis amputation. After a consultation between AZ Equine and the mil vet, it was determined to hold off on removing Chili's tooth. However, it was determined that the cancer in Cochise had not yet spread and that he could be saved with surgery. Thus, Chili came home with us tonight and is safely back in his pen while Cochise was left in Phoenix to be operated on tomorrow. Apparently, there is little post op care required for this surgery other than pain killers and antibiotics. No wound flushing or other difficult treatment. We will probably pick Cochise up again in a couple days. Hopefully, the surgery will stop further spread of the cancer. He's a solid cavalry horse and we'd hate to lose him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Military Horsemanship

To help units prepare for the National Cavalry Competition in September, the US Cavalry Association offered to send one of their members around to interested parties to give a clinic on military horsemanship. B Troop took advantage of the offer and benefited from the instruction of Ray Thomas who has a lifetime of experience training horses and riders. For two days, he showed us some of the basics of military horsemanship. He imparted a great deal of useful training techniques and knowledge that our guys and gals soaked up like dry sponges. Ray is interesting to talk with as he seems to have a horse story about just about every situation you can think of. We all enjoyed his visit and wished he could have stayed longer.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independance Day

Sunday was the annual 4th of July celebration at Veteran's Park in Sierra Vista. B Troop is an integral part of the ceremony as we are charged with delivering a proclamation to the city mayor as part of the event. We also set up an "encampment" and put on a few demonstrations with the horses and cannon. I was planning on riding Apache but as he is still having problems with a runny nose, I chose to ride Duke instead. I figured I'd have problems with Duke as he was fairly traumatized by the riding demonstration the previous week and it turns out I was right. He was as nervous as an illegal alien mopping floors at a Border Patrol agent convention. I decided not to ride him in the ceremony as the area was tiny and I feared he would trample someone during the 50-gun salute and Air Force fly over. I did use him, however, during the little riding demo we did later. He was reasonably calmed down by then and we had enough room that I wasn't worried about him stepping on someone. He was very agitated at first until he realized I wasn't going to fire a pistol or do anything scary. He settled down after a while and he managed to take the first step forward in his training since the demo disaster. It will take me a while to ease him back to where he was before but I'm sure he can do it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Horse Dental Work

While our mililtary vet was floating teeth last week, she noticed that one of our horses had a cracked tooth. Not just cracked but physically separated in the jaw. We scheduled the horse, Kidd, for surgery up at Arizona Equine in Gilbert (near Phoenix). It takes three hours to drive up there and any treatment at AZ Equine is expensive so we don't make these decisions lightly. We took him up today with the intention of dropping him off and then picking him up again tomorrow but the doctor said he could get it done while we waited (only another three hours). Our military vet and vet technician showed up to observe the procedure, so Debbie and I went and found some place cool to have lunch and kill time and left Kidd in their capable hands. When we returned, the surgery was done and Kidd was waking up in his hospital pen. They had removed the tooth by cutting a hole through his sinus cavity and driving the tooth out with a center punch and hammer. Our vet tech filmed the procedure. They saved the tooth for us which will go into my museum of spare horse parts. Someday, I will be able to assemble a complete horse with spare parts. Frankenhorse.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Riding the Wonder Horse

Since I couldn't use Apache in the demo due to his runny nose, I elected to use him in a ceremony the next day. His nasal discharge had gone away and the vet check didn't reveal anything serious. Probably just a summer cold.

I saddled him up and rode him to Brown parade field with the rest of the guys. The ceremony was big but there were only five of us riding. Four of the five horses were blazing fast: Regent, Cochise, Sabre, and Apache.

The horses stood pretty well accept for Sabre who was fidgety and even started bucking slightly while in line. Apache shook his head a lot and pawed the ground but was better than normal. Even Cochise stood pretty well accept when his rider would lower the guidon, then he'd try and back up a little. From our perspective, there was a lot of movement but the crowd probably didn't see much going on due to the distance.

Things started to get ugly, however, once we began the pass in review. Sabre was acting up and Apache was feeding off of his energy. Just as we were passing the crowd, Apache backed up into Sabre which caused both horses to rear up. Sabre's rider lost his balance and when Sabre got back on the ground began to spin. His trooper slid off and hit the ground but not too hard. Sabre took off running up the field and then back down again. Each time he passed the crowd they would applaud. The narrator announced us as "B Troop-minus" as we passed the crowd. It was a funny military reference indicating we were not at full strength.

The cannon crew caught Sabre and his rider was able to mount up again and join us just as we formed up for the charge. I elected to not draw my pistol until after we began the charge as I wanted to control Apache with both hands to make sure he didn't rear up or spin prior to the charge. It worked well but once we began the charge, it was clear I would need both hands to stop him again. Regent was in front and he is a fast horse but it was all I could do to keep Apache from passing him going up the field. As we reached the end of the field, I began to see-saw the reins to slow the beast down. He came to a stop finally, but it took all my strength. I never drew my pistol.

After we collected everyone up again we went and stood in front of the crowd to pose for photos. We all had a good laugh at the expense of Sabre's rider since he didn't get hurt. We decided that Sabre was doing the missing man formation or was perhaps checking out the ground prior to the charge to make sure it was safe. In any case, no one was hurt and the crowd loved it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Duke's First Demo

Photos by Ty Holland

Yesterday, we performed at Wren Arena on behalf of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame celebration. Although we have been practicing for the cavalry riding demonstration for weeks, we encountered some last minute changes that disrupted out plan a little. For one, our commander was called away for other duties so we had to substitute him with the Executive Officer. Another change was that my primary horse, Apache, came down with a virus and I had to ride Duke instead. Duke has practiced the demo a few times but was not quite ready for prime time.

The demo begins with our howitzer team firing a round through the arena gate and us galloping through the smoke into the arena. However, since we swapped out the commander, we also swapped out horses. The horse ridden by the XO was not practiced in riding through the smoke. He got part way through the gate and then performed a 180 degree turn and started to gallop out. The horses behind collided with him and we had an ugly horse wreck at the gate. Fortunately, no horses or men were hurt and we managed to get back on track within seconds and proceeded on into the arena.

The first part of the demo involves "threading the needle" where the files separate and gallop through each other. Duke is fairly good at this part and did fine except that he was bothered by the people in the stands and shook his head and acted a little crazy as we galloped along the rail. This portion is followed by the mounted drill portion which Duke is also good at. However, when we got to the saber bashing portion, he began to fall apart. He became uncontrollable and wandered out of his position as we lined up for the saber attack. We completed the saber attack and recovered but then things got worse.

The next portion called for us to line up and fire a carbine volley. Duke has never experienced one before and when I cut loose with the carbine, he went nuts. We managed to get back into formation but I was already started to get fatigued by the effort to control him. The next portion of the demo was the pistol charge.

I decided that is was best not to fire the pistol during the charge as Duke was already about to come out of his skin. We lined up and performed the charge but I kept both hands on the reins and did not even draw my pistol. We rejoined after the charge and then formed up for the saber charge. I felt I had sufficient control of him at that point to draw my saber but he was spinning in a circle when the charge command was initiated and we were well out of position for the charge. However, we completed it okay and reformed for the final salute.

Duke was sopping wet at the end of it and I was so fatigued I could barely dismount. It wasn't our prettiest demo but no one was hurt in the process. Duke did okay considering he was in no way ready for a full demo. Hopefully, I haven't set his training back to far in the process.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Duke Rides Again

We had another ceremony on Brown Parade Field this morning and I took Duke for his second appearance. He did much better today. I don't know if the improvement was due to the "sacking out" training I've doing with him or just because it was his second time. He started out pretty jumpy as we formed up on the field. I requested the troopers on either side of me give me a little room so I could work with him. Every time he tried to backup or turn, I'd spur him firmly but gently back into position. By the time we go to the playing of the National Anthem he was able to stand fairly quietly. He even got used to the saber moving around his head. When we did the 'pass in review' I was prepared for him to jump out of line again but as he had a horse on his right this time and the band on his left, he had no interest in leaving the column. He did pretty well in the charge as well, although I did not load any rounds into my pistol. He moved up into the skirmish line well and had good speed as we galloped up the field. In fact, I had to rein him back a little to keep from passing the lead horse. It is amazing how a few months in the Army have transformed him from a skinny, weak, broken down nag into a big, healthy, fast moving, war horse. Duke came out of the charge okay and I didn't have to strain at the bit to stop him. The ceremony was laid out in such a way that the run out we usually use, to the left of the gazebo, had a set of bleachers in it. Thus, we had to halt well short of where we usually stop. I was worried that the horses might come out of the charge too abruptly and dump a rider when they saw the bleachers. I warned everyone beforehand but we had no problems. Duke calmed down pretty quickly after the charge and stood pretty well for photos and nose petting after. All in all, a good day for Duke and he is well on his way to becoming a solid cavalry horse.