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.