Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nose-to-Nose Training

One of our challenges as a part-time unit is that during the cavalry riding school it is hard on us and our horses to try and train new troopers and prepare for our cavalry riding demonstration at the same time. This year we decided to solve the problem by combining the two. We realized that the later stages of the riding school cover the same things we have to practice for our riding demonstration anyway. We are also training two new horses for the cavalry so we are adding them to the mix and getting three training tasks done at once. It turns out that it is working very well and it is easier on everyone, including the horses. Last Tuesday we had the students ride the two new horses. The idea was that if the students rode horses that didn't already know the routine that it would force them to really control the horses. The idea seemed to work pretty well. I had experienced troopers ride at the front of the column so the students had only to follow them and get their horses to comply. One of the maneuvers we practiced was one we call the "nose-to-nose" maneuver in which two different single files of riders gallop toward each other than turn into the center of the arena at the last second to form a column of twos. It is pretty impressive to watch if done correctly. Of course, some of the horses don't like it and will try to turn early. Others, however, will continue on and actually collide with the other horse, so you really have to know your horse. Since we had two experienced riders at the front of the two files riding their primary horses, I was not worried that there would be a problem. As the photo below shows, my confidence was misplaced. Fortunately, neither the horses or the riders were injured...although some pride may have been damaged during the making of this photo.

Photo by Ty Holland

Monday, April 26, 2010

Homework in a Horse Trailer

I often make the observation that most people bring their work home in a briefcase but I bring mine home in a horse trailer. Now that the Army is insisting I take all my built up compensatory time (overtime hours) I have to take every Monday off for the rest of the year. That seriously cuts into horse training time, so now I'm in the habit of bringing a couple of them home with me on the weekends. This weekend I brought home Journey, who is still recovering from hock surgery, and Duke who is still in training. It is easier for me to conduct gun training at home than at the Fort as I don't have to worry about other riders. I saddled up Duke yesterday and rode him around our arena which is good sized but not completely clear of mesquite bushes. Dodging bushes while galloping around the arena improves my riding skills--or at least that's the excuse I use for not properly clearing the arena. While I was galloping around I had my son fire off a starter pistol at one end of the arena and then shortened my turns until I was just a few feet away from the gun as I rode past. It is a technique I've used many times before with horses and seems to work pretty well. Once the horse stops reacting to the sound of the pistol going off, I take it and fire it while riding. I'll keep doing this until the horse becomes completely accustomed to the sound then I'll get out the .45 and let him get used to that. I'll just have to explain to my neighbors what I'm doing first so they don't call the sheriff.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hock Bandages

If there is one part of a horse that can't keep a bandage, it is the hock. I don't care how fancy the bandage is or how clever you are in wrapping it, the bandage will wind up around the horse's fetlock within a couple hours. Today, after I found the bandage around Journey's hock slumped down on his hoof for the third time, I cut it off and stuck a large band-aid (that's a "plaster" for my British friends) over the wound site with a little triple-antibiotic cream underneath. The adhesive sticks to the hair on the horses leg pretty well--that is why they hurt so much when you tear them off your own skin. It stayed on all day and was still on when I left this evening. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bloody Horse Hocks

One of our horses, Journey, has a "hock knot" that protrudes from his right hock. The bump just suddenly appeared a few months ago and no one can figure out why. It appears to be old scar tissue based on the results of the recent biopsy. We were not initially alarmed about it until it started to grow. In recent months it doubled in size. Our vet cut it open a couple weeks ago to try and determine what it was and to take the biopsy samples. She closed up the wound and sent Journey back to us with instructions for care. Unfortunately, the wound became swollen and when the stitches were removed, the wound opened up again. Thus, our vet returned today to scrape away the proud flesh and re suture the wound. My job during all of this is to hold the horse and try to keep him calm while the vet digs around in his leg. We had moderate success at this with the help of powerful sedatives. However, as I stood there holding Journey's head and watching the blood pour from his wound, I began to wonder at what point I became so inured to seeing so much blood. I don't know if I ever had a problem with it but I see it so often now, I don't even think about it. Bloody, nasty, infected horse wounds seems to be a regular part of my life now. Should I be proud of this or worried?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jittery Horses

Although B Troop exists primarily for military ceremonies, we go through "event seasons" each year. We've just come out of what we call the "parade season" and have just started the "ceremony season". Since most military personnel rotate to new assignments during the summer when their kids are out of school, most change of command ceremonies occur in the summer. This gives everyone time to move from one location to another before school starts again in August. Our heavy ceremony schedule won't hit until June, but yesterday was our first retirement ceremony of the new season.

The first ceremony of the season is usually the toughest since the horses have gotten unused to the marching band, flags, and other distractions found on the parade field. Yesterday, was a milestone. Probably our worst performance in many years. We neglected to bring an "anchor" horse--that is, one that will stand on the right side of the line and hold the others in place. As a result, we could not hold the formation for more than a few minutes at a time. The horse on the end would move off the line and every other horse would start spinning. At various points during the ceremony we had all five horses spinning in circles like someone had loosed a bunch of giant spinning tops onto the field.

Fortunately, the horses were able to get through the "pass in review" portion of the ceremony without killing anyone. During this portion of the ceremony we march past the spectators. For some reason, the marching band always marches directly toward us as we pass in front of the reviewing party. This maneuver traps the horses between the crowd and the hated, horse-eating, marching band. I had images in my mind of my horse starting to spin as I marched past with the guidon staff in the salute position causing the unfortunate decapitation of a senior officer. Fortunately, we marched past without incident.

Since we survived the pass in review we then lined up for the post ceremony pistol charge. Four of the five horses we were riding were blazing fast so we were looking forward to a good time. Our acting commander put us into a skirmish line for the charge and tried to advance us from walk, to trot, to gallop per the manual. Unfortunately, my horse was having none of that. When the commander commanded us to go to a trot, my horse apparently heard "charge" and was off to the races at warp speed. There was no holding him. We were moving so fast that my hat brim flopped down over my eyes and for a few moments I was blind. I solved the problem by lifting my head which caused the brim to flop the other way--it looked stupid but at least I could see where I was going. I knew there was a sprinkler head sticking up somewhere on the left side of the field so I started moving my horse toward the right. The commander, on an equally fast horse, closed the distance and rode up on the right side. That is the moment captured in the picture you see above by Ty Holland. The horses were probably moving at about 35 mph although it seemed a lot faster. The thrill of the charge made the previous hour of fidgeting and spinning seem more tolerable. It is amazing how a good charge can change your perspective on everything.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Too Many Horses, Not Enough Time

Our horses need training. Too many of them are hard to ride. I have new riders coming into the Troop but they don't have the skills to ride the category 2 horses--the ones with issues. Unfortunately, my graduates from last year's school don't seem to have the skills either. Or maybe it's just that they aren't reckless enough. The horse I ride, the Wonder Horse, is a beast. I dare not let any but the most experienced riders take him out. Unfortunately, I have many more like him. I need to spend time with each of the hard cases and teach them to give to the bit, drop their heads, and collect themselves. If I spent all day, every day, I might be able to do it. But that is not possible. I'm lucky to get on a horse two or three times a week even though I work in the stables. There is something very wrong with that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hoof Boulders

While checking the horses this morning out in the pasture, I noticed Wyatt had a rock stuck in his right front shoe. The rock was about four inches long and wedged into the heel of the shoe pretty tightly. I used my knife (it has a hoof picking attachment on it) to pry it out but it was a struggle. I am amazed at the kinds of things that horses get stuck in their feet. I have a small collection of odd objects on my desk that I have removed from various horses over the years. Screws, rocks, sharpened sticks, metal objects, etc. Someday I'll actually get display case to showcase all this stuff.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Trip to the Horse Clinic

I had to take a couple of our horses to the Arizona Equine Clinic in Gilbert today. It is a three hour drive so we don't do this often. Three of our horses have unusual physical problems that needed an expert opinion on so we got copies of their x-rays and made the trip up north. Of course, neither the Troop or the vet clinic on post could afford the cost of the examinations and treatment so we got the funds from the Fort Huachuca Cavalry Association. I do not know what we'd do without the generosity of this organization. The total cost for the examination and treatment was $1,410.

One of the horses, named Bob, is a recent acquisition for the Troop but has had lameness problems off and on since we got him. Our Army vet diagnosed him on Friday with bilateral navicular so we decided to take him up for examination and possible treatment. They confirmed that he had sore heels but not necessarily navicular. The x-rays didn't show any obvious signs of navicular disease but perhaps the beginnings of it. However, they went ahead and gave him steroid injections in the naviucular bursa on both front legs and we will see if it fixes his lameness issues. We will also have the angle of his hooves changed to get him off his heels. We hope he recovers as he has great potential as a cavalry horse.

The other horse, Charlie, has a strange swelling on the front of his front right cannon bone. He has an old injury there from 2006 which he re-injured in 2008. In the past few months he has developed this strange swelling on the old injury site but has had no lameness. The vet could not figure it out so we thought we have the horse experts check it out. They, however, don't understand it either but gave Charlie a steroid injection and wrapped the leg to see if that causes the swelling to go away. We will see if a couple weeks. If not, he will just have to live with this strange, squishy lump on his leg.

The third horse, Journey, who we did not take up there, has a knot of his right hock. Again, it is a mystery. The post vet cut it open last week to look at it and took some biopsy samples but doesn't know what it is. We took the x-rays to the horse clinic but it isn't clear what it is. We will have to wait for the biopsy results but it may just be old scar tissue that has calcified. Journey isn't lame but the knot is pronounced and recently became bigger. Hopefully, it will not get worse and cause him to become lame.