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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Horse Colic

When I arrived to feed the horses this morning, I noticed one of our horses, Chili, laying down by the water trough. He was still sitting upright but it is unusual for a horse to be on the ground at feeding time. As I started to put the hay out I noticed that Chili was by then completely down and laying on his side. It was obvious I had a colic problem. I put a halter on him and took him out of the pasture to begin the "colic walk" while I called the vet on my cell phone. The military vet was in Tucson, of course, so I called Debbie and asked her to track down the local civilian vet for help. The military vet called back to say that none of her vet techs were available to help me so I asked her to have her staff draw up some meds to give to the horse. I then asked Debbie to pick them up on her way out to help me. I walked the horse for about 40 minutes before Debbie showed up and we were able to administer the pain killers. The horse recovered quickly and the civilian vet showed up to check him out and give him some more meds. By the end of the day Chili was back to normal. Thank goodness for cell phones.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rehab for Wyatt

One of our stalwarts, Wyatt, strained a tendon a month or so ago. He didn't completely bow it but strained it pretty badly. We put him on pen rest for a while and when he was starting to move normally I put him out into the small pasture for a weekend. Unfortunately, he re injured the tendon and was down for a few more weeks. He finally recovered but then we had to begin the process of reconditioning him for cavalry work. We started out slow a week ago with 25 minutes of riding at a walk with five minutes of trotting mixed in. Every three days we increase the trotting by five minutes. He is up to ten minutes now and is doing well. The first day he was pretty sweaty and lacked energy but today when I rode him he did fairly well. He had good impulsion despite the fact he's been doing this every day for a week. It pays to go slow with tendon injuries and hopefully he will be ready for ceremonies again in another week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life at the Stables

Some folks wonder what it is that I do all day at the stables. I thought I'd give a run down of what a typical day is like. Times are approximate:

0700 - Arrived at the stables. Trooper Jay showed up at the same time to feed his horse. Since he usually gets there before me, he often gives hay to my boys when he feeds his own. As he got out of his truck, I complained that he was late and my horses were hungry. He laughed but by the time I'd dumped my junk in the office and walked outside, he'd already fed Apache and Duke.

0715 - Finished mucking out the horse pens and treated the wound on Apache's coronet band.

0730 - Checked my e-mail messages

0800 - Took the pressure washer out of the shed and hooked it up to see if it would start. Yesterday while cleaning out the water trough in the main pasture, it failed. I figured it was broken but gave it another try. Fortunately it started up just fine. Since it was working I decided to clean out the trough in the small pasture but needed to drain it first. While the trough was draining, I walked the fence line and noticed one of the hot wire mounts was broken. I went back to the shed to get a replacement mount and also grabbed the shears to clean brush out of the fence line.

0830 - Saw the Troop commander mucking out his horses and went and chatted with him about something. Can't remember what.

0900 - Worked on the plan for the MI HoF events and sent it out for coordination. Maybe that's what I spoke to the commander about. Started the swamp cooler in the office because it was already getting hot in there.

1000 - Called the Army Community Services (ACS) volunteer coordinator to set up a meeting to discuss our volunteer list. Made an appointment for 1630. As I was finishing up the call, a girl knocked on my door and told me that a tree had fallen on one of our horse trailers.

1030 - Backed the truck up to the damaged trailer and put a ladder on the tailgate in order to get on top. Brought the chainsaw. The trailer roof was dented and the running lights were smashed but otherwise no significant damage. Two giant branches from an old dead oak tree fell on the trailer. I tried to cut them off with the chainsaw but the wood was too hard. I eventually just pushed the branches off the trailer. They probably weighed a 1,000 lbs each but were just hanging on the edge of the roof. Decided I needed to sharpen the chainsaw.

1130 - Lunch time. While I was eating lunch, Apache began clanging his hoof incessantly on the metal bars of his pen. I finally went and put him in the small pasture along with Duke to get some peace and quiet. Answered a few e-mails and got a call from the vet clinic about their on-call roster that I had requested. Wanted to know if they could fax it to me. Ha ha.

1230 - Worked on the recruiting campaign plan for the next riding school. Traded e-mail messages with the commander on this until about 1615. Refilled the swamp cooler tanks several times. It was cooler outside the office but, of course, couldn't use the computer outside.

1330 - Visited by a former member of the Ladies Auxiliary who now works for a test agency on post. She wanted to know if we'd be interested in supporting a test involving nighttime detection of horses sometime in July or August. Sure, why not.

1430 - Finally got around to sharpening the chainsaw which I noticed sitting on the porch when my visitor left. Put some Nu-Hoof in someones shed who said they were out.

1500 - Brought Apache and Duke in from pasture, groomed them and mucked out their pens, and fed them about 1530.

1600 - Traded some more e-mails with the commander and then drove up to the meeting with the ACS lady. I waited in the lobby for a while and drove everyone else out with my stable stench. I finally met with the ACS lady and she gave me a giant stack of paperwork that needed to be filed on the volunteers in order to correctly register them. Apparently, all of our previous records had been lost. The new paperwork includes background investigations. Can't wait to tell everyone.

1700 - Headed home, at last.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fly Masks

Because of all the rain we had last winter, the fly problem is pretty bad this summer. The flies get into the horse's eyes and irritate them causing them to swell and get infected. With horses that have runny eyes, we have to keep their fly masks on both day and night when they are in their pens. Usually, however, we take the masks off at night when there aren't any flies about. The problem is that with the long summer days, we can't take the masks off before we leave for the day as the sun is still high in the sky. Fortunately, the horses have figured out a solution on their own.

I left my two horses in the small pasture over the weekend. The small pasture has a lot of flies in it due to the proximity of the manure pile. Thus, I instructed the weekend duty trooper to keep their masks on while they were in the pasture. Of course, the horses like the masks on during the day when the flies are out but don't like them at night. Since there would be no one out there at night to take the masks off, the horses would take them off themselves. Each morning the masks could be found on the ground next to each other. Obviously, the horses would reach a mutual agreement at some point in the evening to remove their masks. Grabbing hold of each other's masks with their teeth, they would pull them off and drop them on the ground. The next morning, the duty trooper would find them and put them back on. The horses wouldn't mess with the masks during the day, only at night. Smart horses.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Duke's Debut

We had another ceremony early this morning and I decided to introduce Duke to Brown Parade Field. However, since I haven't been able to accomplish much with his gun training, I unloaded all the cartridges from my pistol so I wouldn't be tempted to fire during the charge. It is almost impossible to resist the impulse when galloping up the field.

Duke, although much more nervous than Apache, was able to stand in formation a little better. He still has trouble with the saber and the guidon and tries to back away from them whenever they appear next to him. After a while he got used to them but I spent a good deal of time getting a leg workout as I spurred him back into position.

We did a pass in review in front of the crowd which got a little interesting. The first problem we encountered was when the marching band approached us just as we started our column movement. The lead horse, Kidd jumped first and Duke soon followed but both managed to get back into formation. Everything went fine for Duke until we passed in front of the reviewing stand. The crowd began applauding, a noise that Duke has apparently never heard before. He simple disappeared from the column in the blink of an eye. I got him to go back in but it was kind of embarrassing.

The next ordeal was the charge. As we formed up into the skirmish line Duke became very nervous. As we began the charge he began to gallop at pretty good speed and was able to stay up with the other horses. However, he was so nervous that I could feel him shaking as he ran. Then the pistols and cannon went off. I was glad I unloaded my pistol as he was clearly not ready for the noise. I felt him shudder as the guy next to me fired his pistol. We finished the charge in fairly good order and Duke quickly recovered from his fright. I think I will do one more charge without firing and then use 1/3 loads for his first exposure to the pistol.

Duke did okay for his first event and was actually easier to handle than the Wonder Horse. It was the difference between riding a frightened horse versus riding an angry horse. Someday, though, I'd like to ride a normal horse but that's probably not in the cards.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Riding the Wonder Horse

We had a ceremony on Brown Parade Field at 0700 this morning. I had elected to ride Apache which is always an ordeal but he needed the experience. There were only five of us but all the other horses were old hands at this and were relatively good. Not my horse. He began pawing at the ground as soon as we got into formation. First one hoof, then the other. Then he'd shake his head up and down for a while and try to rub his head on the neighboring horses. Once in a while he would try and chew on my saber or the saber of the guy next to me. He never stopped moving.

After a while, he started to calm down a little then something new happened. We were on the left end of a long formation of troops. The ceremony called for ripple commands which means the commander of the unit on the extreme right shouts his command, followed by the next unit to the left, and so on down the line. From Apache's perspective this meant that something loud was quickly advancing toward him. He tried to turn and back out of the formation which was bumping the other horses and pissing them off. Then, the worst happened. I had a guidon boot on my right stirrup as a matter of habit (or because I'm too lazy to swap out stirrups when I'm not carrying the guidon). Suddenly, I noticed that the saber scabbard of the guy next to me got stuck in the socket of my guidon boot. I tried to back up slightly which usually solves problems like this but the damned thing wouldn't come out. We were at parade rest so my saber was out and in my right hand. As the ripple commands advance down the line, I knew I had only seconds before I had to bring my saber up in salute. Finally, I grabbed the stuck scabbard with my left hand and jerked it out of the socket just in time to make the salute.

After a seemingly endless ceremony, we finally began to move into position for the pistol charge. Brown Parade Field is about 400 yards long and has a relatively steep grade to it. We always charge uphill as charging downhill can get you into trouble. There is a road that runs all the way around the field. At the bottom end of the field is a stone wall whose top is flush with the field but drops down about four feet to the road. Charging that direction can result in your horse launching off the wall into the road if he doesn't stop in time. At the high end of the field, the road is flush with the field so it isn't so traumatic if your horse runs out. However, also at the high end of the field are a number of trees and a large stone gazebo. Most of the time our horses stop prior to the gazebo and we rally in the trees.

Apache had no clue what he was supposed to do when we formed up for the charge. We had gone down the field in a column of twos and drew pistols. We executed a counter column movement and then spread out into a skirmish line facing up the field. Or at least, that was the intent. Apache immediately had a psychotic episode and began spinning around in a circle and shaking his head. I was prepared for him to rear up but he never did. As I was spinning I noticed one of the other troopers was having trouble with his horse also but, unfortunately, he elected to put his finger inside the trigger guard. Thus, while his horse was jumping around he fired off a round before the charge began (no one was hurt and the trooper was subsequently levied a beverage fine by the First Sergeant). Eventually, most of the horses began to gallop up the field--except Apache who was still busy spinning in a circle. Suddenly he noticed the other horses were leaving and decided he should catch them. Off we went at a speed slightly less than the speed of sound. Because of our late start, we got caught in the cannon discharge. It was one of those rare days when I actually heard the cannon during a charge. I quickly fired off all my rounds and enjoyed the ride for a few seconds and then, at about mid field, began the business of stopping the Wonder Horse. With my pistol now empty, I was able to safely put both hands on the reins and haul back with everything I had. We sailed through the trees and past the gazebo and were heading toward a line of marching troops that had just left the field. Finally, I began to feel Apache's energy bleed off and was able to stop him without maiming anyone. I think I strained about three different muscle groups in the process of doing this.

Which reminds me, I need to go take some Motrin. God I love this job.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crossing Streams

Folks who live in the wet places on the earth probably never worried much about getting their horse to cross a stream. In Arizona, it's a little more problematic as we seldom have flowing water. Fortunately, right now, we do at the base of the Huachuca Mountains. Although it hasn't rained in months the winter snow melt is "springing" out of the ground in the creek in our main pasture. All my life I never really knew what a spring was until one erupted about 100 feet from my office at the stables. It amazes me that water can travel so far underground and then suddenly appear out of the ground. No wonder we have so many caves out here.

It is obvious the horses are having no trouble running through the water. They have established a fording point which is covered in muddy hoof prints. They could easily jump over the stream but choose to just slosh through it. Hopefully, this fearless fording action will be remembered in September when we compete in the National Cavalry Competition.

Last year we went to the competition in Nebraska which has some flowing streams. One of the events is called the Major Howze event in which teams trot in formation through a 6 - 7 mile course through rough terrain and then attack a series of saber targets meant to simulate an enemy village. The rules required us to have a team of eight riders but we only had six. We asked a couple of guys from the Fort Irwin team to join us since they didn't have eight either.

We were moving at a pretty good clip through some unbelievable terrain when we came up on our first stream crossing. Our horses pretty much went through without incident. However, the Wonder Horse, not wanting to get his hooves wet, jumped over the stream. Unfortunately, there was a low hanging branch at the fording point so I had to quickly duck to avoid getting beaned. What I didn't think of was the pommel shield of my McClellan saddle rising up and slamming me in the gut so hard I had to reach out and reclaim my lunch. After everyone was convinced that I hadn't been killed we turned our focus to a new problem. The Fort Irwin horses had never seen water before. They refused to cross. Since we were in a timed event, this was a problem. Eventually the horses got across but after a few more miles of riding we encountered a second stream crossing. This time all the horses were acting up since the herd assumed there was something wrong with the steam based on the reaction of the Fort Irwin horses. Now we were struggling to get all eight horses across. One of the Irwin horses managed to catapult itself over the stream from a flat stance without touching any water of mud. It was awesome to see. Somehow we got all eight horses across and raced on to our objective.

Despite all our problems with the streams, we managed to keep up a good cross country pace and hit our objective in good time. Each rider had to line up on two targets and take them out in one pass (see photo above). I hit my first target square and felt my saber tip plow into a thick wooden board. The impact shivered my arm from wrist to shoulder but before I could think about it, Wonder Horse had me on the second target and I hit that one in the center too but fortunately missed the board behind it.

Surprisingly, we had the highest kill ratio and best time of the event, winning first place. I admit we practiced the event a couple times during the year but we didn't think of the stream thing. Hopefully, we will be better prepared the next time.