Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What I Meant to Say

One of the objectives during the riding school class I was teaching last night was to teach the troopers how to help a lady onto her horse when riding sidesaddle. Because the ladies wear rather voluminous dresses when they ride and because it was inappropriate for ladies during the Victorian era to mount unassisted--they must have a gentleman help them. The troopers must be able to hold the lady's horse still while helping her to rise gracefully up into the saddle. It is more complicated than you might think as the trooper must avoid getting his head beneath the hem of the dress or touching the lady anywhere inappropriate while at the same time preventing the horse from moving. As I was providing verbal guidance on this process I said, "A good trooper should be able to hold the horse still while mounting the lady." Oh well, they knew what I meant.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Wrangling

I spent most of today adding dirt and sand to the horse pens and clearing out the weeds around my office--trying to create a snake-free zone. I was so completely covered by weed debris that I worried briefly about being eaten by a horse because I smelled like fresh grass. Around about 3 pm I decided to bring in Duke who was hanging around near the feeders in the pasture, seemingly alone. As soon as I pulled his halter out of the shed and started toward the pasture gate about eight more horses appeared from the tree line--all looking directly at me. Duke saw me and started toward me as did Sabre and Kidd. Duke was suddenly flanked by both the other horses, which is bad news for a low ranking horse like Duke, but he held still until I got the halter on his nose, then he shot out from between them like a cannon ball. The other two horses followed us to the gate which is a bad scene because sometimes they try to squeeze out with you. As I was contemplating how I was going to complete this delicate operation, Duke shoved the gate wide open with his nose. He didn't care about the situation, he just wanted to get out and get to his pen. Fortunately, the other horses did not try to run through the gate. Once I had Duke groomed and put away I turned and saw the majority of the herd waiting at the gate. I was hoping to just get my two out of the pasture but it was looking like I would have to bring the whole herd in. I began pulling them out one at a time in rank-order. If you try to violate the pecking order, it causes problems. The horses know the order and expect you to also. Sometimes they will make allowances if they know the low-ranking horse you pulled out of order is your own but otherwise they expect compliance with the protocol. After I got all the gate crowd put away in their pens, I went searching for the Wonder Horse. I found him grazing with the other "bad boy" horses down on the grassy flats. He initially started to walk away but his "cookie sensors" went off and he meekly ambled over to be haltered. All in all, it only took me an hour to get my two horses in.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sidesaddle Stuff

Photo by Ty Holland

When we started the riding school this year we enrolled our first female student. The fort doesn't allow the woman to ride as troopers due to the requirement to maintain authenticity to the 1880s era so the woman have to learn sidesaddle and ride as ladies. They wear these Victorian era dresses and they look awesome. However, they have to go through pretty much the same training as the men except they have to learn sidesaddle instead of weapons employment. I realized last week that I didn't have any sidesaddle information in the student guide so I asked one of the riding ladies, Martina, to help me create some. Together we created an appendix to the student guide that has pertinent information about sidesaddle riding. Martina was so impressed with the final product that she offered to make me an honorary lady. Unfortunately, my wife recently banned me from honorary membership in the Ladies Auxiliary because I had spilled salsa all over her table cloth in the mess tent during the Picacho Peak deployment. I checked again tonight and I'm still banned. So it goes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New School Thoughts and Duke

With expected loses in the ranks at the end of the year and only two male troopers in training (one injured), the Troop commander and I contemplated future school plans. We have more or less decided to have another school in October but instead of the four-month schedule of twice a week classes we will shift to an eight-month schedule of once a week classes. That will allow us to get bodies into the Troop sooner but stretch out the training so that we can work it around some of our big events in the fall. A four-month schedule doesn't have much flexibility in it and can't really be accommodated during certain times of the year. We will see how it goes.

I rode Duke today as the weather was perfect and I was getting bored with the administrative aspects of the job. I didn't really have any training goals other than to give Duke some exercise and get some fresh air. The day was sunny but still cool from last night's rain. Duke is a pretty good ride and puts no hurt on you (unlike the Wonder Horse) so it is fun and relaxing to work with him. He is definitely a pleasure riding horse. I still have lots of training to do with him but decided to take it easy today. It doesn't look like I'll need him for cavalry work anytime soon with so few troopers in training so I can afford to take my time. By the way, Duke has filled out nicely since we got him and he is looking good. A nice, tall horse.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Horse Training Army Style

We were not able to hold riding school tonight because of the rain. I was tempted to mount up at 1700 as the sun had come out and it looked like the weather would clear. However, I guessed it was a sucker hole and that another squall would come over the mountain range as soon as we mounted up. Turned out I was right. I had the students come in to the office a watch some old Army cavalry training tapes. We base our training on the Army Horsemanship manual and the old films illustrate the lessons very well. As we were watching the lesson on the military seat it began to pour outside. I always enjoy watching those old tapes and was especially glad I was staying dry while doing so. The tapes (or DVDs) can be purchased through the US Cavalry Association. Good stuff.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Manpower Problems in the Cavalry

B Troop holds a Cavalry Riding School every year starting in February. The school lasts about four months and we usually get four students to sign up. The school is scheduled so that the graduates are ready to ride at the end of May just before our event schedule gets busy. This year we had four applicants for the school like we usually do. However, we have already lost two of them. One student was not able to pass the Phase I riding test and another was injured during the test. We don't know yet if the injured soldier will be able to come back and finish the school. He didn't break anything, just a badly bruised and strained back. If he can't come back, we will only have two possible graduates in May which won't be enough to sustain our numbers for the year. Many of us old timers are wanting to hang up our spurs at the end of this year and we need new blood to allow us to do so. We are considering holding a second riding school in the fall, which is a daunting thought given the level of effort required. It is tough to find people willing to ride in the cavalry. Tougher still to keep them in it once they've completed the training. It seems real cavalrymen are a dying breed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Last Battle at Picacho

Photo by Ty Holland

Last weekend we participated in what may be the last re-enactment of the Battle of Picacho Pass. Picacho Peak State Park hosts an annual re-enactment of the battles that took place in Arizona and New Mexico during the Civil War. B Troop portrays the Union cavalry and has been doing so for many years. However, due to the state budget crisis, many of the parks are closing--including Picacho Peak.

I rode in the battle but did not take the Wonder Horse. Apache reacts violently to new experiences and since this was likely to be the last time we attend this event, I saw no reason to make him suffer through it. I rode Chili instead who doesn't really like the gunfire but doesn't doing anything dangerous in reaction. He soon figured out that if he hid behind the other horses, I couldn't shoot. I spent most of the battles trying to get Chili our from behind the other horses.

It was all fun by very tiring. I'm still trying to recover. I must be getting old.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rodeo Riding

Photo by Ty Holland

A couple weeks ago we were requested to provide a riding demonstration for the college rodeo as well as carry the colors during opening ceremonies. We worked pretty hard to get ready for it and even suffered some mishaps along the way (see "Downed Rider" post). Unfortunately, after all that effort, we were cancelled at the last minute by the rodeo organizers because they ran out of time. It was a big disappointment for the troopers and many people in the audience were upset too.

However, we did still carry the colors on both Friday and Saturday. On Friday I rode Apache to try and expose his to the rodeo environment. He did not do well. Apache does not like new experiences and the chaotic rodeo scene just overwhelmed him. As we waited to make our entrance, the sponsor flag bearers and rodeo contestants galloped in from all directions to get into the arena. Apache was certain he was being attacked by all of them. The riders in addition to the noise, people, dogs, vehicles, and general mayhem just drove him around the twist. I was not looking forward to the gallop into and around the arena with a guidon in my hand. When he gets crazy like that, I like to have two hands on the reins. Fortunately, once we got going, Apache was able to release his anxiety by running and he was easier to control at the gallop then standing still. After the ceremony and on the 20-minute ride back to the stables, he was on the verge of losing control the whole time. I was getting really mad at him because in my mind, he no longer had a reason to be agitated. It wasn't until I got off of him and saw the expression on his face, that I realized how terrified he had become. I carefully groomed him and let him dry out (he was dripping wet and the gallop around the arena only lasted about 3 minutes). I let him spend the night in his pen to let him settle down and rest. I decided at that point that I would not ride him in the demonstration the next day and would ride Cochise instead.

Cochise is also not a very calm horse. He gets very agitated and rides with his head up in the air which makes him rough as a cob. When we bounded into the arena with the colors, he was rocking me way up out of the saddle. His head was so high that when I was pulling back on the reins to keep him from bolting, my rein hand was in my chest. We rode that way all the way around the arena. He bounced so hard that the guidon came out of the stirrup boot before we had even got to the end of the arena. I carried that dang stick in my hand with no support at the bottom. You can see it in the photo above that Ty Holland took. It is harder to do that than it looks.

All in all, though, we got the job done. Any performance you can walk away from is a good one.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Downed Rider

We were practicing for the big rodeo show on Saturday last night and had a chance to prove that old adage about horses not stepping on people. One of the features of the riding demonstration we give is that we gallop through the gate at the arena to make our entrance. Oh, and we fire a cannon at the same time so the horses are riding through the cloud of smoke. Well, our new commander, Frank was riding Monte who is known to buck during a gallop. I warned Frank about this and told him how to handle it but neglected to tell him when this phenomenon occurs. Frank was expecting it to occur as Monte entered the arena when he usually does his bucking act about two thirds into the arena. Right on cue, Monte started bucking like a bronco at the traditional point. Frank was caught completely off guard and performed a series of acrobatic maneuvers in the air before landing in the dirt. Unfortunately, he landed directly in my path. We were at a full gallop and in a column of twos. I was on the inside file and had a horse and a fence rail to my left. I had little room to move. Frank, who was laying on the ground locked eyes with me momentarily before quickly rolling to his left. I, simultaneously tried to cue Apache to move to my left although there was very little space on that side. However, Apache upon seeing Frank on the ground, had already begun to move that way anyway. We cleared Frank by a foot or two as we pounded past him. Frank, luckily, was not seriously damaged and mounted up again and performed several more practice entrances at a gallop. I honestly believe that Apache would not have stepped on Frank but he was wise to roll out of the way anyway. You have to love this business.