Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Empire Ranch

Last Saturday we performed at the annual open house held at Empire Ranch near Sonoita, Arizona. It is an old and historic ranch that is the process of being restored. The open house is held each year to help raise funds for the restoration. The open house is attended by several thousand people and features an interesting collection of western performances and displays.

Of course, B Troop is a major attraction at the event. We are provided a large performance area and three time slots in which to demonstrate cavalry riding. This year we had only a few available riders so we decided to demonstrate individual tactics. I set up a course that allowed for the use of both saber and pistol and included a series of jumps. It was a good opportunity to practice the type of riding employed at the National Cavalry Competition. Unfortunately, although thousands of photos were taken at the event, I have not been able to gain access to any to illustrate this post.

With only four riders available to perform, we brought only four horses to ride. One of them, of course, was the Wonder Horse. Our first performance was the saber demonstration in which we engaged a number of targets while negotiating a series of jumps. I spent about 10 minutes warming up the Wonder Horse in the hopes that he would perform without misbehaving. We managed to get through the whole course twice before he became so agitated that I feared to take him through again. I was, also, at this point, getting fatigued. I then put Apache away and took Regent through the course. Regent is also an excitable horse but not nearly as erratic as Apache. Regent, without any warm up, performed nearly perfectly.

For our next performance we demonstrated field jumping. I did not participate in this event as we had to take turns manning the course and narrating the performance. The other riders did well and had a good time with their chosen mounts in negotiating the jumps.

Our last performance was mounted pistol. I chose Monte for this event and he performed very well even though I hadn't ridden him in a very long time. It was very fun taking Monte through the course as he is not at all a challenge to ride. Ten minutes on the Wonder Horse and you are ready to take the rest of the week off but 20 minutes on Monte and you barely break a sweat.

The crowd seemed to enjoy the performances and the few of us who were able to support the event had a good time despite the length of the day (13 hours) and the physical challenge of making it all happen. It is a shame we don't have more opportunities to do this kind of riding more often as it is much more enjoyable than parades and ceremonies.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Helldorado Weekend

Photos by Ty Holland

Each year during Helldorado weekend, B Troop makes the 25-mile journey from Fort Huachuca to Tombstone. Twenty five miles was the standard cavalry march back in the day so it is a literal "rite of passage" for the men and woman to make this annual trip. Of course, the horses and riders need to be conditioned for the ride beforehand. It is not a good idea to try and make the trip without the proper conditioning as you can really hurt your horse and yourself.

The troopers usually depart the fort about sunrise and make the first 15-mile trip through the desert to the San Pedro river, where they stop for lunch beneath the Charleston bridge. My job is to set up the lunch camp and to bring along a couple of spare horses in case we need to swap any out. We almost always have to replace a couple horses at the river even though they are pretty well conditioned. I have the military veterinarian meet us at the river to give all the horses a thorough check during the lunch break so as not to take any chances.

This year we had to remove three horses from the line as a precaution although none were seriously injured. Two had sore backs and one appeared slightly lame on a rear leg. One of our troopers had also come down with the flu during the ride and had to discontinue his participation. I swapped out the horses and gave the sick trooper a ride back to the fort. The remaining troopers and ladies mounted up and finished the remaining ten miles to Tombstone by following the Charleston road.

I returned the injured horses to the stables and put them up for the night and then headed back to Tombstone to set up the evening camp. We usually stay at the Lucky Hills Ranch just outside Tombstone. They have a few rustic cabins and a corral to keep the horses in. I set up the evening meal and had the vet check the horses again. All the horses were fine this time. After everyone had eaten and the horses had been bedded down, I headed back to the fort to prepare for the following day. I begged off going back to Tombstone to enjoy the traditional promenading on Allen Street as I was well spent.

The next morning I was back at the fort at 0530 to prep the spare horses to return to Tombstone. Two of the three injured horses from the previous day were fine after a night of rest in their pens, so I loaded them up so that the troopers would have their preferred mounts for the Helldorado parade later that morning. I met Debbie at the ranch at 0700 to set up breakfast and get things moving for the day. The troopers were moving slow after a night of carousing in town so I had to wake them up a little--gently--in the military fashion. Debbie had made a fantastic breakfast of egg casserole and tortillas with salsa and everyone dug in. After a hearty breakfast, everyone starting moving in the right direction and they got their horses and gear prepped in plenty of time to make the parade.

The parade was well attended and our troopers and ladies looked great. They won the Curly Bill Brocius award but we're not really sure what that means. Perhaps some of the troopers had committed a crime the previous evening. After the parade we tore down our camp, loaded the horses into the trailer, and headed back to the fort. At the fort we unloaded the horses and equipment and finally called it a day about 1500.

Helldorado weekend is a back breaker of an event. The logistics of supporting a moving cavalry column of even a few troopers requires a huge amount of work. I spent 12 hours on my feet the first day and 10 the second--most of it on steep, rocky terrain. I had more people on the ground providing support then I had people in the saddle and it was still a staggering work load. I'm glad so many people enjoyed seeing the cavalry in Tombstone but I'm also glad I only have to do this once per year.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Videos

Here are a few videos from the competition. The first one is of the saber attack at the end of the Major Howze competition. We placed second in that event.

The second video is of Jay Hizer winning the Level 3 Mounted Pistol competition.

The last video is of Pete Criscuolo winning the Bolte Cup competition.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Charlie Horse

Photo by Ty Holland

After about two months of rest, Charlie had his first ride today since the colic surgery. He had lost over a hundred pounds as a result of the surgery but is now back up to his normal weight plus about 20 pounds. The challenge now, is to turn the fat into muscle. Today was the first step. I saddled him up and rode him around the pasture for about 15 minutes. He got sweaty everywhere his tack touched his body but that is to be suspected with a horse that's been doing the equivalent of sitting on the couch eating Twinkies for two months. Charlie is a big horse and usually very well muscled. Right now he looks like a sack of potatoes on legs. It will be fun to redevelop his muscle tone and get him back into cavalry shape.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part III

The Brits and Aussies posting their colors at the closing ceremonies

The day began with the closing ceremonies for the NCC. The plan was to raise the colors and then parade past the reviewing stand once, then circle around again to stop in front of the crowd. The Wonder Horse was particularly agitated. He just about destroyed the whole ceremony. If it wasn't bad enough that he was spinning around and moving out of formation but he got the horses next to him worked up as well.

After this fiasco was over, we set up to perform a mounted drill demonstration. We did it at a trot because we were in an open field and we didn't want any horses getting lose and trampling spectators. Someone elses horse did get loose (the rider had ground tied him) and went rampaging across the parade ground with his bridle dragging behind him. He eventually ran up against a fence and bloodied his nose. Our vet subsequently treated the horse and it was okay. Otherwise, our performance was uneventful. Apache was good because it was something he was familiar with.

The final event of the competition was the Bolte Cup event. It is a multiple weapons course with numerous jumps and obstacles. The riders who finish in the top five places in Level 3 events are invited to participate. However, one of our Level 2 riders, Pete Criscuolo, had done so well he was invited to the Bolte Cup along with our Level 3 rider, Jay Hizer. I volunteered to be an assistant judge in the competition and got a first hand look at the course. The course was, as the designer stated, "evil". It started with a series of difficult jumps combined with saber targets, then it required the rider to dismount and fire at a target while keeping his horse from moving, then the rider remounted, drew his pistol and engaged a series of balloon targets interspersed with jumps.

The level of riding skill required in this event is daunting. Our first rider, Jay Hizer, had a good run and finished with only two faults. Under normal circumstances this might have been enough to win but our second rider, Pete Criscuolo did even better. Riding a horse, Monte, that he had never really practiced on or ridden much at all until this competition, he managed to complete a flawless run. He did not miss a single target or knock down a single jump. As a result, Pete became the first rider from Fort Huachuca to win the Bolte cup and perhaps the first rider to ever complete the Bolte Cup event without a fault.

Needless to say, we were all ecstatic that Pete had done so well. Last year in Nebraska, Pete hadn't had much luck with the NCC events so it was particularly satisfying to see him come home with so many honors this year. It just goes to show you that when you combine the right man with the right horse, anything can happen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part II

Pete Criscuolo on his way to winning our only jumping ribbon

The days during the NCC are long. The first event is usually at 0930 but there is always something that has to be done beforehand requiring an early morning feeding of the horses. The day usually starts at 0600 with stable call at 0700 and "boots and saddles" at 0800. Of course that means feeding at 0500. The end of the day usually involves some social event that you have to scramble to get cleaned up for. So each day you have to get up at about 0400 and maybe you get to bed by 2200. Some stayed up a bit later to socialize but by the time I got back to my room, I wasn't ready to do anything but go to sleep.

The first event of the day was field jumping and I decided to give Apache another chance to redeem himself, or perhaps me. The Level 3 course included a single blue barrel which is a real challenge for Apache. The Wonder Horse hates blue barrels for some reason and I have a hard time getting him to jump three, let alone a single one. It takes some practice to keep your horse from running out and we had none, so I decided to drop to Level 2.

The Level 2 course was straightforward with an in-and-out, oxer, and a couple of direction changes. Nothing that Apache shouldn't have been able to handle. However, I knew I was going to have trouble getting Apache into the arena. The event director said we could have a person on the ground help lead our horse in but my comrades were under a shade tree a couple hundred feet away and were unable to help. They saw me struggling to get Apache in and saw that one of our riders, Martina, was closest, so they began yelling at her to give me a hand. She complied, but instead of running over to help she starting jumping and throwing her arms up into the air. It might have helped but she was probably 50 feet away while she was doing this. I could hear the commotion behind me but was focused on Apache and getting him forward.

Apache eventually decided that I wasn't going to let him back out of the arena so he sped toward the first fence. He cleared the jump with ease and then lined up for the in-and-out. He took this obstacle with ease also but I managed to lose both stirrups in the second landing. Stabbing my boots back into the stirrups, I lined up on the third jump and cleared this one easily as well. Given our speed and performance, things were looking good for us. Then, disaster struck. The next jump required a hard right turn just before the open gate to the arena. Apache saw the escape route and made for it instead of the jump. I pulled him up too late and we broke the timer plane. We were once again, eliminated. The rest of our team didn't do much better but one of our riders managed to pick up a second place ribbon in Level 2.

The final event of the day was the mounted saber course. I almost decided to participate but when I ran the likely scenarios through my head, I realized that Apache wouldn't be able to hack the course. Once I saw the course, I was convinced I had made the right decision. Unlike previous years, when the course for all three levels was the same, they got a new course designer who added some really challenging jumps and targets. Each level was increasingly more complex and challenging. The Level 3 course involved chopping up targets that consisted mostly of potatoes. In some cases the rider had to pierce the target with the point of his saber, and other times he had to slice the potato with a slashing attack. There was also a parry target that required the rider to parry an arm simulating a saber attack and then follow up with a slashing attack on an associated head target.

The courses were tough and not a single member of our team picked up a ribbon in any of them. Apache would not have fared well and would probably have dumped me on the ground as he had the previous year.

So the day was pretty much a bust for our team with only one ribbon to show for our effort but the best was still to come. The final day of the competition turned out to be a real surprise for us and one of our riders achieved something that none of had ever achieved before.

Monday, October 4, 2010

National Cavalry Competition Part I

Photo by City of San Angelo

The competition was held this year at Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas from 30 September to 3 October. According to the host, the US Cavalry Association, about 70 competitors showed up. In addition to Fort Huachuca, teams from Fort Irwin, Fort Carson, and Fort Riley attended. Fort Hood, although a few hours away, was not able to send a team. However, both Great Britain and Australia sent teams.

The competition was better than it had been in previous years. Both Fort Irwin and Fort Carson sent impressive teams this year which had the affect of spreading out the awards between the military teams a little more evenly. Fort Carson sent a particularly strong team and managed to edge out the other military units in awards.

The drive over was brutal and we arrived late on Monday after a 13 hour drive and a blown tire along the way. The next morning I discovered that one of our horses, Cochise, had gone off his feed due to the trip and also wasn't drinking. Fortunately, we brought our vet team with us and they had a fully stocked vet truck with them. They began treating Cochise for a possible ulcer and kept him hydrated by pumping about nine gallons of water into him daily. He recovered after three days but was not usable for the competition. However, since we brought two spare horses, his rider was still able to compete--a crucial benefit to the team as it turned out.

The first day we were there we practiced on the parade ground at Fort Concho and got the horses acclimated to the environment. They were pretty jumpy at first but eventually calmed down--that is, except for the Wonder Horse--Apache just never settled down the whole week.

The second day we participated in the "School of the Soldier" taught by Ray Thomas and later some of our team members participated in the jumping clinic. It was hot that day but we got some good practice in.

On Thursday, the competition started with Military Horsemanship, Mounted Pistol, and the Major Howze events all occurring the same day. It made for a long day. Our team did pretty well though with a couple ribbons in horsemanship and a couple in pistol including first place finishes in both Level 2 and 3.

Apache and I completely bombed in horsemanship which I thought would be his strong event. We were fifth in the lineup but the third contestant was thrown off his horse requiring an ambulance to be called. In the subsequent delay, Apache became increasingly agitated. By the time we started he was almost completely useless. He entered the dressage area okay but did not stand during mounting and was unable to maintain the trot. He constantly tried to speed up and when we went to the canter, he busted out of the area and we were eliminated. After that I didn't see any point in entering into the pistol competition. On some days it just takes two hands to control Apache.

In the late afternoon, we traveled to a nearby state park for the Major Howze competition. I'm guessing the route was about six miles long. The trail was much flatter than the one we rode in Nebraska the previous year. Once again, we were joined by a couple of riders from Fort Irwin as we did not have enough riders for a full team. The ride began in a wooded area with a narrow trail winding in and out of the trees. I managed to bang my knee on at least one tree before I started using leg cues to bend around the trunks. The rest of the trail was pretty uneventful except for one portion that required walking the horses through a rocky pool of water. Fortunately, the Fort Irwin team had worked on getting their horses through water so we didn't have the problems we had the previous year.

After about 40 minutes we arrived at the target area. The targets were in a confined area and set close together. One of the target sets was placed in front of a tree. Our team leader set us up for the charge with a minimum of commands and we started our attack from what seemed like 100 feet out. I was concerned about being able to hold Apache in but he stayed on the bit all the way to the target. Because of the compactness of the target set and the tendency of the targets to blend into the background, I was not actually able separate out my targets until the last moment. I heard a lot of commotion to my left but resisted the temptation to look and stayed focused on my first target and watched with satisfaction as my blade penetrate into the bulls eye. As I rode through, the target collapsed toward the ground forcing me into a moulinet in order to withdraw the blade and prepare for the second target. Again, I watched the point sink into the bulls eye on the second target and I rode through without incident. Apache, to his credit, never wavered from his lane.

As we passed through to the other side, we reassembled and reformed to complete the event. I later learned that the commotion to my left had been caused by some of the riders being cut off during the charge. It seems that not everyone had held their lane causing confusion at the point of attack. In at least one case, one of our horses had gone right over the top of a target. Despite this, we had a fairly high kill ratio and our time was decent so we managed to get second place in this event.

It had been a long day but successful. The level of competition had been keen and that would not change for the rest of the week. I will summarize the rest of the competition results when able.