Friday, February 26, 2010

Saber Training with Duke

I finally got a chance to work with Duke today. I was planning to ride him in muster the past few weeks but was foiled for many different reasons. I've had others ride him to keep him fit and to progress his training but have not put much time on him myself except to use him to ride the fence line once in a while. Today I decided to blow off all my other responsibilities and just went out and rode. I started out in the dressage area and was pleasantly surprised by his performance. For one thing, he has a lot more energy than he did a month ago. My biggest challenge was keeping his speed down as he really wanted to step out. He transitioned well and picked up the corners surprisingly quickly. I ran him through the routine a couple of times and thought it went better than expected. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to post on him with his weird four-beat trot. He wasn't pacing much but his gait is odd at a trot and even at a canter. After that, I went over to the pole-bending area to work on neck reining and to get him used to the saber. Again, I was surprised at how nimble he was on the poles. Once he picked up the pattern, it took very little effort to maneuver him through the s-turns. I even pulled the saber and feinted at the poles while neck reining him through without a problem. Now, his reaction to the saber rattle was a different matter. The instant the blade slid out of the sheath, Duke started dancing and moving backwards or sideways. I sat on him and slid the saber up and down in the sheath for five minutes or so figuring he'd get used to it after a while. He never did. Oddly enough, waiving the saber around next to his head did not bother him. It is only when I drew it or slid it back into the sheath that he reacted. At one point, I dismounted and again slid the blade up and down in the sheath. Duke did not react to the sound when I was standing next to him. He also did not mind the saber rattling sound when he was standing next to another horse. It only bothered him when I was alone with him and mounted. Very strange. To help him burn off some energy, I took him to the jogging track and let him do his weird fox-trotting thing until he tired of that and went into a gallop. I can't believe how much stronger he is now. He is eager to run now. He is starting to feel like a cavalry horse.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Riding in the Dark

One of the reasons I joined B Troop long ago was the beauty of the ride from the arena to the stables at night. Southeast Arizona is one of those places where you can still see the stars at night. They are so clear and close, it is like you are floating among them. However, last night as I was getting ready to lead the riding school students back to the stables, I realized there was almost no moon to provide light. It is a twenty minute ride through the woods to get back to the stables. I warned the students that when I turned the arena lights off that it was going to be dark. While horses see better in the dark than we do, they still get spooked by objects and shadows they can't see clearly. When you are riding in the dark you have to keep your weight centered in the saddle so that when your horse suddenly leaps sideways in reaction to a deer or some other animal you don't wind up swimming in thin air. Well, as soon as I turned out the lights, the inky darkness closed around the riders like they were in an underground tomb. As I moved toward the horses I could hear their hooves nervously scraping on the ground like they were in a dance competition. I found my horse and mounted up and moved the column out before something bad happened. Fortunately, the Wonder Horse was calm and took the lead without fear. The rest followed relatively calmly since they now had a leader. Unfortunately, I could not see where I was going very well. Parts of the trail are sandy and you can pick out the path as it is lighter even in the dark. Eventually, however, the trail became dark because the stable personnel had spread manure all over it. At some point, I wandered off the path and into the woods. Realizing I was off the trail but still able to see the lights of the stable building ahead, I put the column into single file and tried to thread my way through the brush. I emerged from the trees next to a pasture where the stable horses are kept. These horses hearing a large group of animals emerging from the darkened woods immediately stampeded. The sounds of the stampede spooked our horses as well and things got dicey, quickly. Luckily my horse did not loose control and I soon glimpsed the trail where it had become sandy again. I got the column of riders back onto the trail and safely home. Whew.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fort Lowell Park

Photo by Ty Holland

B Troop made its annual appearance at the La Reunion de El Fuerte at Fort Lowell Park on 13 Feb. The event is sponsored by a local Tucson group that seeks to preserve the history and character of the neighborhood in the vicinity of Fort Lowell. Little of the original fort still remains but what does still exist is preserved at what is now called Fort Lowell park. However, some of the old houses surrounding the fort still exist and the character and history of an important part of the "Old Pueblo" can be seen and experienced during this annual event. The event kicks off with a procession at the San Pedro Chapel at which the troopers provide a saber arch through which the mass attendees pass on their way in. B Troop has been supporting this event for many years and is an important part of keeping the old heritage of this place alive. It was from Fort Lowell, after all, that Captain Whitside rode southeast to establish Camp Huachuca in 1877.

Although B Troop has faithfully supported this event for over 25 years, it is recognized that the ground at the park is the worst they ever have to perform on. The performance area is actually a playing field used for local youth soccer leagues. The field is a mixture of very hard earth and very soft earth. The hard parts are like cement with a thin layer of dirt and grass on top. The soft parts are dotted with gopher holes and it is not unusual to have a horse hoof sink a half foot into the soil. The field is notoriously slippery regardless of the weather conditions. This year the field was still wet from recent rains, so the Troop commander wisely chose to conduct the riding demonstration at a trot and did not perform any charges. Nevertheless, we still had one horse go down on the turf during warm ups. Fortunately, neither the horse or rider were seriously injured.

Regardless of the footing on the field, the event sponsors are always very gracious and appreciative of our appearance. They made sure we were well fed with an authentic meal of tamales and beans and provided a traditional desert of carrot cake (in honor of the horses). It is another of the unique and historic events in Arizona that B Troop attends in order to fulfill its mission of preserving the history and heritage of the cavalry. To learn more about the efforts to preserve the neighborhood see

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Recruits

On Tuesday we started the new cavalry riding school for this year. We have four recruits; two male and two female. We began, as we always do, with instruction on how to care for horses and how to put the cavalry tack on them. It is always exciting to start a new class and this one seems particularly good natured and eager to learn. Of course, once the riding starts, the physical challenges come into play. Next week we will begin the process of teaching them balance without the aid of a saddle. It is the toughest phase of training and separates the men/woman from the boys/girls. Hopefully, in four months we will have a new crop of troopers and ladies to fill our ranks.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Split Hooves

I was checking the horses this morning in the pasture after feeding them to see if any had a missing shoe or injury. Everyone was looking good until I got to Bob, the last horse in the line. I saw blood on his left rear hoof which is never a good sign. I haltered him and took him out of the pasture to take a better look. He had torn open the back of his heel bulb at the coronet band. These type of injuries are the worst as it is hard to keep them from getting infected. Fortunately, the wound was fresh so I cleaned it out and called the vet. The vet was in surgery and couldn't come out until the afternoon and I had to leave for a meeting concerning repairs to one of the parade grounds. Fortunately, Debbie was able to come out and treat the wound and get Bob started on the antibiotics that were prescribed by the vet. Debbie cleaned up the wound and wrapped it up and put a duct tape boot over the bandage to keep water out. The vet came out later and re-examined the wound and trimmed some of the hoof material away that might trap bacteria. She flushed the wound out again and reapplied the bandage. I then covered that with another duct tape boot. Hopefully, Bob's wound will heal quickly without getting infected. As is often the case with new horses, he has a tendency to get injured.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Army Equine Conference

Geronimo's grave at Fort Sill

Last week I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for the annual Army Equine Conference. This year's conference was hosted by the Fort Sill Field Artillery Half Section. Most of the Army equine units were in attendance including Fort Irwin, Fort Carson, Fort Hood, Fort Riley, Fort Huachuca, and Fort Myers. Only Fort Sam Houston was absent. The conference was also attended this year by the Parson's Mounted Cavalry from Texas A&M University. Texas A&M has a large mounted unit that is manned by the Army cadets there.

The conference is the only opportunity the Army mounted ceremonial units have to get together and exchange information. With turnover high in most active duty units, it serves to provide some degree of continuity for the individual programs. Although there is no overarching authority governing the horse units, the effect of the conference is to establish a kind of standard for program management. As each unit briefs their own program, ideas are transferred and a sort of pseudo standard is established. No one wants to have the program that is out of sync with the others.

The agenda includes operations briefs from each unit as well as guest briefers who discuss issues pertinent to the cavalry. This year we had a brief on horse nutrition and one on the history of Army pack horse techniques. There were also opportunities to visit the hosting post's museums and horse detachment facilities. Fort Sill has several impressive museum displays. One is a fully equipped cavalry barracks, circa 1775 with mess hall and kitchen. They also had an interesting native American display which included Geronimo's saddle and gun belt. Geronimo himself is buried at Fort Sill. Finally, the post has an impressive artillery museum which features a life-size diorama of a horse drawn artillery section.

The final day of the conference included a round-table discussion of specific issues affecting horse units. The participants were given an opportunity to discuss specific details and techniques of rider training, horse training, and tack issues. Many ideas were brought up during the workshop and discussion was lively.

Next year's conference is planned for Fort Myers near Washington D.C.