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.