Thursday, December 29, 2011

Horse Helpers

The weather today was fantastic and I finally decided to venture outdoors to do some work. While walking the fence line around my property, I noticed that the electric tape had been pulled off a couple of the fence posts. Obviously our horses have been playing with the neighbor's mules. I turned the power off, and quickly repaired the fence because I had no help. I was not so fortunate with the horse stall next to the barn. The horses had been playing there as well. One side of the pen had been bent outward so that the gate could no longer be latched. The pens are made from welded steel pipes, so you can imagine the amount of "playing" that was required to damage them. I decided to use a come-along to pull the corral panel back into position. As usually happens when I embark on any kind of home-improvement project, I was having trouble with the equipment. The come-along, a simple piece of equipment, was not functioning properly. Either the cable would come loose from the spool or the ratchet would get jammed. I struggled mightily with this ridiculous device while trying not to get my fingers caught in it. It would have been challenging enough for me, but Ruger, our three-year old cavalry horse to be, insisted on helping me. Ruger was just fascinated with the come-along. There just wasn't enough he could do to help me. He'd grab the handle with his mouth and try to pull it as he had seen me do. When the cable was taught, he would grab it with his teeth and pluck it like a guitar string. And, as I was trying to free the jammed ratchet, Ruger would press his nose up against the housing as if horse breath might free it. I'd try to waive him off or spank his nose to drive him away, but he just couldn't help himself. A ratchet device attached to a cable had too many possibilities for a curious young horse. I managed to bend the corral panel back into place (and I suspect Ruger had something to do with it being in the condition I found it in) and, before departing, thanked Ruger for his help. He had been more than happy to oblige.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sleeping Horses

I had a bit of a scare this morning while checking the horses. I had fed and mucked out my horses and was heading back from the manure pile when I saw something that froze me in my tracks. Our old war horse, Sabre, was sprawled out in his pen, seemingly lifeless. His teeth were bared in a death grimace, his eyes were open and cloudy looking, and I saw no signs of breathing. His body looked like a broken and lifeless heap of bones and hide. I hastened to his pen fearing the worst. I was already mentally preparing for the consequences of having to bury a horse when I saw something that changed my whole morning--a single spurt of vapor from one of his nostrils. As I approached his pen, Sabre started and rolled up on his side to look at me, bewildered from being woken from what was apparently a very deep sleep. Not convinced that he was not having a bout of colic, I went and got a halter and made him stand up. Sabre is a large horse and when he gets off the ground he makes a whole lot of prehistoric, dinosaur-like sounds which contributed to my anxiety. I took him to my shed to check his heart rate and found it to be about 54 beats per minute--high for a horse that is not experiencing pain. However, I soon realized that his heart rate wasn't high because he was in pain, but because I had scared him by waking him up and taking him away from his pen. I took him back to his pen and watched him for a while to make sure he wasn't having problems and then permitted myself to relax. The poor horse was just enjoying a good nap in the morning light when I came along and frightened him with my actions. Perhaps I should have just let a sleeping horse lie.         

Friday, December 16, 2011

Going Viral

The riding school has been a real challenge this year because of the weather. I plan the school in the winter to avoid the summer rains and busy performance schedule, but this year it hasn't worked out well. We had scheduled the school to avoid the trip to Las Vegas, but the rains came the week prior and the week after causing us to miss three weeks of training. And then, some of the horses came down with a virus which has spread throughout he herd. On Thursday all the horses had to be quarantined. It's not a fatal virus, but caused the horses to get runny noses and and other cold-like symptoms. We are still waiting for the blood work to determine exactly what it is. However, it has affectively shut down our school until after the new year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rain and More Rain

We had to cancel riding training tonight because it has been raining for the last two days. The students in our riding school were supposed to get their pre-evaluations tonight, but since we could not ride, we administered the written test instead. They all did really well on the test which makes me wonder. Usually we give the written test right after the riding test. I think bouncing around on a horse for a couple hours shakes up your brain and makes taking the written test more challenging. These guys all did too well for my tastes. I will have to come up with a more challenging test or have them take it while mounted. If the weather clears, we will have them do their riding test on Thursday. If they all pass, they will proceed on to Phase II training which is where we get into the ceremonial riding. In Phase II they will learn how to handle weapons while mounted, how to do precision riding at a gallop, and how to do open field charges among other things. Pretty exciting stuff. The ladies will do much of the same training, but will have to master sidesaddle riding instead of weapons handling. Should be fun, but it will not start until after the Christmas break. Hopefully, everything will go well on Thursday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Vegas Again

Photo by T.Donoghue

We were asked to be the color guard for the National Finals Rodeo again this year on Patriot Night which fell on 7 Dec. Because of the date, they gave the night a Pearl Harbor theme. We carried the colors in the opening ceremony and we escorted a stage coach into the arena at the half time show.

We drove up to Las Vegas on Monday which took about ten hours. We dropped the horses off at the arena stables, got our credentials, and then headed for the hotel. They put us up in the Gold Coast this year which was not as nice as the Orleans, but much closer to the arena. I brought eight horses this year with two being spares. We needed only four horses for the color guard, but six for the escort duty. The spares got a little time in the arena too just to see how they'd react. I rode the Wonder Horse in, but switched to Bob as Apache was much too excited about everything. He would have done the job, just not very well.

On Tuesday we spend about 30 minutes in the arena, just getting the horses accustomed to the environment. That evening, the sponsors had given us tickets to watch the rodeo, so after feeding the horses at 1600, we walked up to see the show. The seats were great. Afterwards, we saddled up the horses and got ready for the evening dress rehearsal. We managed to convince our horses to walk through the tunnel into the arena despite the noise, darkness, strobe lights, artificial fog, marching band and other distractions. We practiced for about an hour and a half. We didn't get back to the hotel until about midnight.

The next morning we had another quick rehearsal to practice the stagecoach escort duty and then wandered across the street to the Hofbrau House for lunch. The food was good, but the beer was excellent. We had a couple hours off to get a combat nap in back at the hotel and then it was back to the stables to prep for the evening show.

The color guard did well getting into the arena from the dreaded tunnel, but one of our horses moved out of position when the crowd roared--or maybe it was the strobe lights. Anyway, they all held together well enough during the national anthem, and the men and horses looked great.

I rode in the escort detail for the half time show, and again, the horses did pretty well. We trotted into the arena ahead of the stagecoach and all the horses did fine during this part. I convinced the NFR people to let us form a line abreast once we stopped to help the horses stay calm, but we still had one horse on the end move out of position for a second.

Regardless, the NFR people were very happy with our performance and hinted about having us return next year. I hope we get invited back. It is a hell of a lot of work, but a great experience for the troopers. We don't get much time to experience Las Vegas while we're there, but the experience of riding into a televised event in front of 18,000 very vocal and patriotic rodeo fans makes it a worthwhile trip.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Empire Ranch

Photos by Troy Wilcox

On November 5th we returned to Empire Ranch near Sonoita, Arizona to put on a few performances. We were delayed a couple hours by rain at Fort Huachuca, but this turned out to be a blessing as the crowd was much larger in the afternoon. One of our new riding students took photos throughout the day. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Change in the Weather

The Wonder Beast was very vocal this morning. The temperatures had dropped and it was a little windy. I hadn't ridden Apache at all this week and he was about fed up with being in his pen. He hollered at me for about 30 minutes before I finally put him out into the quarantine pasture to run off some steam. He immediately commenced to kick his heels up and race around the pasture. Of course, Duke, Charlie, and Cal wanted some fun too. I wound up putting them all out to snort around and play.

We are getting ready for the Empire Ranch Open House this Saturday, but the weather is supposed to be horrible. The weather people are predicting a 50% chance of rain and temperatures in the low to mid 50s. Riding at Empire Ranch is fun, but not when you're wet and cold. We'll see what happens.

Our old boy, Zeus, is badly lame. The mil vet examined him and took x-rays, but couldn't find the problem. It looks like he will be coming to the Z-Ranch for a few weeks of pen rest.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


The troopers crossing the San Pedro
Photo by Ty Holland

Helldorado comes once a year and thank goodness it doesn't come more often than that. It is a brutal two day event. The troopers always ride in the Helldorado parade in Tombstone on Sunday, but traditionally make the 25 mile journey on horseback from Fort Huachuca on Saturday.

My job is to set up the camp at the lunch stop on the San Pedro river and at the overnight stop in Tombstone. I also sometimes ride in the parade on Sunday. The day starts before the sun comes up as it takes a good 10 hours to ride to Tombstone. I bring food, water, and spare horses to the river which is at about the 15 mile point. I also ask the mil vet to meet us there and check the horses for dehydration, lameness, and back injuries. We almost always lose a couple of horses at the river. Since I wasn't riding, one of the spares was the Wonder Horse and the other was Cochise.

The Wonder Horse waiting for the troopers

Sure enough, we lost Journey and Kidd at the river for back problems and we had to give electrolyte paste to a few more that were a little dehydrated. I didn't have the right size saddle for Cochise, so we had to improvise to make Journey's saddle fit. However, he managed to get the rest of the way to Tombstone without getting a sore back.

The lunch camp

While the troopers headed on to Tombstone, I and my two helpers (riding school students) took the two injured horses back to Fort Huachuca, and picked up more water and extra gear. We drove back to Tombstone and set up the evening camp. Our cook, Hop Sing, soon showed up and began preparing the evening meal. The troopers soon arrived with their tired mounts and the mil vet once again checked all the horses. Fortunately, we had no more injuries.

Hop Sing making dinner

After dinner, the troopers headed into town to celebrate with the locals and I headed back to the fort with the weapons and those troopers not spending the night. I had to be back to the stables the next morning at 0630 to feed the horses before heading back to Tombstone, so headed on home to get some sleep.

The portable corral at our Tombstone camp

The next morning, I fed the horses at the fort and, along with one of the troopers, headed back to the Tombstone camp. Groggy troopers were hunched over their coffee when we got there. Hop Sing rustled up a plate of eggs and sausage for us which we polished off then got to work. We tied up the horses and then broke down our portable corral for transportation back to the fort.

The parade began at 1100 but we had to check in at 1000 and stand around in the sun until the parade started. We were bedeviled by loose balloons that kept floating by and scaring the horses while we stood there. The parade is on famous Allen street in Tombstone, which is narrow and lined with wooden boardwalks populated by hundreds of spectators. One of the floats in front of us was throwing candy into the street for the children to pick up. This, unfortunately, resulted in a number of close calls for us as children would run out into the street to get candy as we were riding by on our horses. This sometimes caused the horses to spook and we narrowly avoided stepping on children as their parents just stood there and watched. Fortunately, no one was hurt and we managed to finish the parade and get back to our camp without incident.

The Wonder Horse was perfect, at least during the parade. He never gets frightened or misses a maneuver. He is surprisingly easy to handle given the rather horrific environment we were riding in. Our parade companion, Duke, who was being ridden by Lady Lisa, did very well also even though when the children ran out into the street, they always seemed to run right at him. He missed a few maneuvers, but otherwise handled the experience well.

Hellorado, for all its fun, is a lot of work. I will be bone weary tomorrow, but happy that everything went reasonably well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

National Cavalry Competition Part III

Photo provided by Lisa Dzienkowski


We began the day with an opening ceremony even though it was the last day of the competition. An artillery team from Fort Sill was there with a couple of pieces to liven up the morning. We weren't sure how our horses Duke and Cal would do with the cannon, but both did fine. The ceremony went well. We marched past the grand stand in a column of fours and then came back around again at a trot. Everything went well and no one lost control or fell off their horse. Unlike last year at Fort Concho, Apache did not single handedly destroy the entire ceremony. I'm beginning to suspect someone has stolen my horse and replaced him with a normal one.

After the ceremony each of the Army horse detachments put on a riding demonstration for the crowd. We were up first. We used a modified routine since we were in an open field. We did a little precision riding, a few mounted drill maneuvers, a mock saber battle, and finally a saber charge. It was fun as we were just doing what we do best without having to worry about competing.

After lunch the competition continued with the Director's Cup competition for the Level 3 riders and the Combat Horsemanship competition for Level 1 and 2 riders. A few of our riders went to the Combat Horsemanship event without really knowing what it was about. It was the first time this event was held. One of our riders managed to pick up a second place ribbon.

Two of our riders were selected to participate in the Director's Cup. This is a multiple weapons course with jumps and other obstacles to navigate. Our first rider was eliminated when one of the grounds people inadvertently spooked his horse causing him to crash into a jump and lose his saber. Our second rider made it through the course but did not place.

That evening we attended the awards dinner where the ribbons and awards for each event are handed out. Members of our team ended up taking four ribbons in the mounted events plus ribbons in combat horsemanship, the Major Howze, authenticity, and bugle. Not a bad showing but the troopers wanted more, of course. The overall winner of the competition was a rider from Fort Riley. It was good to finally see a military rider win.

DAY 7 and 8

The next day we retraced our path back to Albuquerque. There was a hot air balloon festival in the city so we were not able to stay at the same hotel, but in a hotel in a smaller town to the south. We held our own traditional water call at the hotel that night to celebrate our winnings. The Executive Officer commandeered all the patio furniture from around the pool and decorated the table with a variety of liquid refreshments. He led a series of toasts and had us read cavalry poems which were pretty good but sounded better after the various jugs of refreshments had been passed around a few times. I'm not sure what we were toasting as the night wore on, but I think several people might have inadvertently re-enlisted in the Army without knowing it. The next day, we loaded up and started the final leg of our journey. We lost another tire on the way, but otherwise had no problems. The horses were very happy to be home and rocked the trailers as we drove across post. Another NCC in the bag. Can't wait until next year.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

National Cavalry Competition Part II

Photo of Martina and Bob on the pistol course--El Reno Tribune


Thursday was the first day of competition. The NCC has become totally dominated by military riders. Fort Riley sent a huge team of 13 riders, Fort Irwin sent 12, Fort Carson sent 8, Fort Hood sent a team of four as did Fort Sill. The re-enactors totaled about 17. With our nine riders, the field consisted of about 70 competitors. Last year's champion, Dan McCluskey was there as well as Dick Ross another of the repeat winners.

The first event in the morning was military horsemanship. All the riding events are fun accept this one. In military horsemanship you really have to know what you're doing and the scoring is all subjective. In the previous year, the Wonder Horse got me eliminated in Level 3 Military Horsemanship. This year my goal was to get through all the events without getting eliminated (I dropped down to Level 2 this year also). I had been having trouble with Apache not picking up the correct lead in the left canter circle and had spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to cue him so that he would. His cues for the right canter circle and left canter circle are different--another indication that the horse is just not wired right. We started out well and Apache stood still during mounting (I got a "really good" comment on my score sheet). After that things started heading down hill fast. Being a high strung horse, Apache doesn't like to do anything that isn't at full speed. His reins were like steel bands between his mouth and my hands. He took the canter circles on the correct leads, but took them too fast. And, there was no "free walk on a long rein". I got zero points for that portion. Apache walked, but it could only be described as a "power walk on tight reins." We did not get eliminated though and was pleased that I had gotten through my first event successfully. Meanwhile Brad and Martina picked up first and second place ribbons respectively in Level 2 Horsemanship.

The afternoon event was mounted pistol--every one's favorite. Since the Wonder Horse was behaving himself, I decided to take a chance and let him try. The course was challenging with a series of strong side and weak side targets. However, there was a narrow obstacle in the middle with two targets that had to be taken in rapid succession. As I watched, I notice that most horses were refusing at this obstacle. When our time came to enter the course, Apache did his "galloping in place" routine which is annoying, but in some ways good because he stays collected during this and is very maneuverable. We took all the targets and obstacles with ease and then approached the narrow obstacle in the middle. I anticipated Apache would refuse so I did not plan my target attack well. Surprisingly, Apache went through the obstacle without hesitation and I found myself unable to engage the second target in time. I did not place in the event, but was again happy that I had not been eliminated by the judges.

The last event of the day was the Major Howze event, a cross-country tactical exercise ending in a saber attack on a series of targets. The winds had picked up substantially by this time which caused problems that we would discover later. We were the first group to go and our guide was Alan, a great guy, but known for getting lost. We figured we were doomed. In a new twist, the event coordinator provided a map to the group leader who was supposed to follow the well-marked trail to the target area. About half way through the course, Alan told us we were off course and directed us through a wooded ravine. As it turned out, he had taken us off the route and we ended up cutting off a substantial part of the course. We broke through the heavy brush and found the trail on the other side and continued on our way. Apache was absolutely horrible. He fought me constantly for the first three miles of the five-mile course. I had to call for the column to slow down repeatedly so I could get Apache back down to a trot. Finally, we got to the end of the course where we were stopped by a judge because the targets had blown over and were being set up again. After about 10 minutes we were released and saw that our targets were on the ground instead of up at shoulder level where we could hit them. The Wonder Horse was near uncontrollable as we charged down the field. I saw my target and reached for it, but was not willing to lean down far enough to get it due to Apache's crow hopping and head tossing all the way down the field. Fortunately, enough of our team did hit their target and scored high enough to earn us second place. The judges apparently decided to not use the route times due to numerous problems with people going off course.


The morning event was field jumping, another fun event. I tried to warm up the Wonder Horse on the practice jumps, but he was rushing the jumps and generally being a pain in the butt, so I gave it up. I watched the Level 3 guys do their thing and then went ont he walk-though for Level 2. The course seemed really difficult. The jumps were not high, but arranged so you had to make lots of tight turns. I was convinced Apache would be unable to make the turns. When our turn came, Apache took the first jump well enough and I was surprisingly able to line him up for the second one. After that it became easy. He needed almost no set up for the jumps and cleared them all smoothly and quickly. We did not place but had a clean run. I was very surprised and again pleased that I had not been eliminated by the judges. It was the first time Apache had ever had a clean run on the jumps.

The afternoon event was mounted saber. The last time I had taken Apache in this course, he had dumped me on top of one of the ground targets. I was expecting the worst. The course was a bear. Lots of off-side targets and small strong-side targets (grapefruit). Apache's "war dance" gait worked very well on the course and I we were doing fairly well. When we approached an weak-side parry target, Apache had rotated to face the target which caused me to make a cut too close to his head. I hit the target and moved on, but was notified subsequently that I had been eliminated for an improper saber cut. I was very disappointed in the call by the judge, but what can you do? I didn't hold it against Apache, as the fault was mine, not his.

It was another exciting day and the team managed to pick up another couple of ribbons in the process. We attended a "water call" that evening and then went back to the hotel to crash and prepare for the final day of competition (mostly by taking pain killers and going to bed).


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

National Cavalry Competition Part I


We departed for the competition on 26 Sep with nine riders, eleven horses, and three vet clinic personnel. We loaded two trailers with horses and the third with hay and equipment. We split the trip to El Reno, Oklahoma into two days and spent the first night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had arranged to board the horses at a horse motel on the south end of the city called the Broken M Ranch. We arrived with plenty of daylight to spare. After putting the horses away, feeding them, and dropping the trailers we continued on to our hotel for the evening. We checked into our rooms and then assaulted a nearby Mexican restaurant with our mob. After a long but entertaining dinner, we called it a night.


The next morning the stable crew checked out of the hotel early to go feed the horses an hour before the rest of the group arrived. All the horses were in good shape and hungry. A good sign as sometimes the older horses have trouble with traveling. Working in the dark, we hooked up the 8-horse trailer and made other preparations until everyone else arrived. We groomed and loaded the horses and off we went to Oklahoma.

We made good time and got to El Reno well before dark, but because of traffic congestion, part of the convoy missed the exit and then inadvertently explored the local area before finding Fort Reno. After the customary abuse for this transgression, we found our stabling area. As soon as we got there we noticed that one of the tires on the 8-horse trailer was flat. Since this is a common occurrence on long trips, we quickly got it changed.

The stable facilities at Fort Reno were better than we usually see at the NCC. The event organizers had put up temporary pens inside a couple of large empty barns. For once, our stalls had not been given to some other group and we were able to stable all our horses together. We had brought plenty of shavings and hay so the horses were well taken care of. The vet checked all the horses to make sure they were okay and then we departed for our hotel in Yukon. Once again, after checking in, we sought out a local eating establishment for sustenance. We quickly zeroed in on an Italian restaurant and managed to get seated before closing. However, several other cavalry groups were there also, so it was a loud and boisterous evening for the restaurant staff.


The day before the competition starts is a warm up day and several training clinics are offered to competitors. I went in early to feed the horses as usual and then went to get the flat tire repaired before it was time to mount up. All the other riders in our group went to the military horsemanship clinic that morning while I decided to work the Wonder Horse off alone where he couldn't hurt anyone. I tried to warm him up with some trotting and cantering in a figure-8 pattern. Within fifteen minutes he was completely lathered and covered in foam. This was a little alarming, but not unexpected. He does not like any changes to his routine and, being a high strung horse, tends to get worked up easily. After warming (foaming) him up, I took him over to where the others were participating in the clinic. All our horses were lined up quietly and relaxed. I put Apache on the end of the line where he continued to exhibit his dissatisfaction with the whole affair. My teammates gazed at me as I sat upon the dripping wet, head tossing, snorting, Wonder Horse and shaking their heads in amusement. "He's a little agitated," I said making an obvious understatement. They smirked at me in response. *Sigh*

After the clinic, we found an open area to practice our riding demonstration. I expected this to go poorly, but Apache for some reason behaved himself. I suppose it was something familiar that he could latch onto in the strange new surroundings. In any case, it went a long way toward calming him down. His glistening coat soon dried out and he began to look and act like a normal horse. Likewise, Big Cal, our new Canadian Warmblood, did well in the practice although he had never seen the demo or participated in it before.

In the afternoon, the jumps were set up so the competitors could practice with their horses. I did not take Apache as I figured it'd be counterproductive. I went over and watched to see how our horses were doing and to see what the competition looked like. It is always interesting to see how other people ride over the jumps. You can quickly tell who knows what they are doing and who is just on a good horse. I was pleased to see most of our own riders displaying correct form and technique on the jumps, not that technique necessarily has any bearing on success in this competition. The jumps are usually so low that anyone who rides a horse that is unafraid of obstacles can win as long as he stays in the saddle. However, those who were not riding experienced jumpers were having trouble with refusals and run outs since their lack of technique did not afford them any hope to correct their horses at the critical moment of the jump.

At the end of the day, we groomed and fed our horses and headed back to Yukon to get cleaned up and find some chow. We selected a steak house to invade and, once again, enjoyed an evening of good food and ridiculous conversation. We did not stay up late as the next day was the first day of competition and everyone wanted to be ready.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

National Cavalry Competition

Tomorrow we pack up and head off to the National Cavalry Competition. It is being held this year at Fort Reno, Oklahoma. As is usual, it will take us two days to get there. The competition includes events in military horsemanship, mounted pistol, field jumping, and mounted saber. Several of the other military units will be there to compete as well as various reenactors from around the country. They usually have between 60 and 70 competitors.

It is always good to get together with our fellow Army cavalrymen. We will be taking a large team this year--a total of nine riders plus a veterinarian team of three. We will also be taking eleven horses (two spares) which creates a fairly large logistic foot print.

The Wonder Horse and I are about as ready as we will ever be. He still has trouble with nearly every aspect of the competition with perhaps the exception of the Major Howze cross-country event. I can hardly wait to see what he does to me this year.

I will write about the results when we get back. In the meantime, you can get specific information about the competition at the US Cavalry Association web site at

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fort Bowie Again

We made our annual pilgrimage to the Fort Bowie National Historic Site yesterday to commemorate the surrender of Geronimo in 1886 and to honor the soldiers buried at the fort ruins. It was fairly hot in Apache Pass and it was obvious from the sparse vegetation this year that the pass has not had much rain. Still, the view along the old Butterfield Stage route is always beautiful. The terrain is rugged and the horses always get a good workout on the trail.

We stopped at the cemetery, as we always do, and read aloud the names of the soldiers buried there. Most of them were removed when he fort closed down in the 1890's but a few still remain. The Army only removed the soldiers that had died on active duty. The men who had served as soldiers but who had died as civilians are still buried there. One of the dead is a medal of honor winner killed by Apaches after he had left the Army. A small group of tourists stopped to chat with us and take pictures, but otherwise, the park was deserted.

After the ceremony at the cemetery, we rode up to the old fort ruins where the ranger station and museum are located. We had a "period authentic" lunch of pulled pork sandwiches which were very tasty. We all ate too much and so it took some motivation for everyone to get back on their horses for the ride out of the park.

The Wonder Horse was behaving relatively well so I had a fairly relaxing ride for a change. Unfortunately, one of our horses threw a shoe, so we were not able to take the Overlook Trail on the way out of the park. The Overlook Trail affords a view of Apache Springs as was had by Cochise's warriors during the Battle of Apache Pass. It is steep and rocky, so we couldn't take the route with a horse that only had an EZ-boot for protection.

Despite the heat and lengthy day, it is always a pleasure to ride through Apache Pass. It is a place resplendent with Old West history that few people visit or even know about. We are always honored to do our part to keep the history of that place alive.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More Major Howze Practice

I set up another practice route for the Major Howze conditioning program. The last one was about 4.5 miles long. This one was 5.5 miles long. I ran the route yesterday with Martina as she was to be the guide today. I took plenty of marking tape and stopped repeatedly to place the markers. I think we placed a marker every five feet along the route. We also stopped to discuss major terrain features such as fences, gates, roads, creeks, mountains, and tree lines. I was confident she would remember the route.

She still managed to get lost.

When we returned to the stables she said, "Before you can fire me, I quit." Her husband said later that it was my fault because I picked the worst person for the job. *sigh*

Nonetheless, the troopers managed to get to the enemy village in fairly good order and launch a crippling attack on the nefarious Heckowee tribe. The Heckowees are a secretive and elusive group that are characterized by their short stature, skinny bodies, and little round heads. Their females, unfortunately, have a very short gestation period, so no matter how many get wiped out in the cavalry attacks, if even one male survives they are soon able to replace their losses.

Unfortunately, at least four survived today. There was debate on whether we should count as a kill the one that was trampled by Martina's horse. Since the horse she rode is named Sabre, she said it should still count since I did not specify which type of saber attack was required.

Good training, good times, good victory lunch after.

P.S. For some reason I cannot post comments or respond to the comments of others. I appreciate it when people comment and try to respond, but currently cannot.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Making a Cavalry Film

We had an unusual experience today. The Army was making an interactive training film concerning the importance of knowing the local culture when conducting military operations. We helped produce a portion involving the attempt of the Army to recruit a couple of Apache Indian scouts.

The scenario called for a lieutenant, accompanied by an Apache Indian interpreter, to meet with two Apaches and try and enlist their support as scouts. The three Indians and the lieutenant were all actors. Six of our riders provided the bulk of the cavalry patrol.

We provided the horses for the lieutenant and the interpreter while the local stables provided the mounts for the Apache scouts. They asked if we could provide the horses for the Apaches, but I didn't think it would make sense for two Apaches to approach a cavalry patrol riding horses with a US brand. At least not and still be breathing afterwards. None of the actors were particularly experienced riders, but did a pretty good job, nonetheless.

The film crew was a professional outfit from Colorado, although some of the crew members were from LA. It all went just like it does in the movies with cries of "quiet on the set!", "roll film!, "action!", and "cut!" The wardrobe girl came out and dusted up our uniforms to make it look like we had been on the trail for a while. Other people kept bringing food out to us. I didn't eat any of it, but the Wonder Horse did.

The Wonder Horse was his usual self. A scene stealer and over actor, he constantly did things to draw attention to himself. Tossing his head, stomping his feet, pawing the ground, he was a complete ham. He literally chewed up the scene.

Seeing the Apaches riding around out there in the wilderness was the coolest part of the whole thing. I would have liked to spent more time talking with them, but we were constantly working and on a tight schedule due to an approaching storm and another scene the company had to shoot elsewhere.

The ladies auxiliary members couldn't ride with us due to authenticity requirements, but they tacked up and wrangled horses and helped sign out equipment and uniform items to the actors. They also shot still and video photography for us, which was great. They took a huge weight off my shoulders with all the things they were doing. We couldn't have done it without them.

The final scene of the day was for us to gallop up the meadow past the camera. We shot the scene five times. Each time we galloped up the field, the horses became increasingly excited. Fortunately, five times was enough for the director as I'm not sure we would have survived another attempt.

All in all, it was a great day. A rare opportunity to see how a film is made. We were promised the footage of us, so hopefully sometime in the future, I can post some of it here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rein Cues

I was practicing circles with Apache today and discovered that he requires different rein cues depending on which direction we're turning. He has finally decided to take the correct lead in circles, so now I've switched my focus to making sure he bends correctly and stays on the arc.

He does a left circle very nicely. I can use an opening rein to the left and require very little leg. Heading in the other direction, however, Apache tends to turn his right shoulder in too far which causes him to fade into the turn and corrupts the circle. Using more right leg does not help and actually causes him to turn even more toward the center as his hips are pushed further out. To combat this, I use the military technique of the "indirect rein of opposition". In this case, I bring the right rein in toward his withers while keeping the left rein passive (or at least passive-resistant). This bends his neck to the right and weights his left shoulder. Combined with pressure from the inside (right) leg it holds him on the arc.

It is a good solution to the problem. Now, I just have to remember which cue to use when turning in each direction.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Saber Work

Last Saturday we did a little practice for the Major Howze competition. I laid out a 4.5 mile course and set up a saber target set at the end. Minutes after the troopers took off they called me because one of the horses was already injured. The Major Howze is rough on horses. I turned around with the trailer to go pick them up, but we decided that the horse was still rideable. He just clipped the back of one of his fetlocks, which bled allot. His trooper rode him over to the target area.

The troopers made decent time on the course. I couldn't get a good time because of the horse injury delay, but it seems they were making about six miles per hour. Not bad for the first practice. The target kill ratio wasn't very good, but typical for a first practice. They hit 50% of the targets. They lined up and charged in good order, but some of the horses jinked at the target sets. More practice will correct that problem.

Tonight, we set up a saber course in the arena and practiced for about an hour. I used a simple course without jumps to give the riders a chance to focus on horse control and saber work. All did pretty well. My horse, Apache, immediately began to hyperventilate once we entered the course. He crow hopped and acted stupid, but we managed to get some work done. If I could ever get him to relax, he'd be a decent horse. The other horses did okay. Regent, Charlie, and Kidd did well after some initial hiccups. Duke managed to improve greatly once he decided there were no guns involved. Cal made some progress although he is still concerned with the noise the saber makes when it hits a target. Chili did fine with everything except the ground targets. All in all, a good practice and we didn't even get rained on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gun Training

I was a little concerned about practice tonight because the footing was so hard in the arena. The people who maintain the arena couldn't drag it because their tractor is broken. It has rained a lot lately (we were rained out last week) and the normally soft footing turned to concrete. I advised the riders not to fall off because it would surely result in a broken bone. Everybody toned it down and kept their horses at nothing faster than a canter.

We had six riders so I asked three to remain dismounted to replace balloons while the rest of us rode. I sent all the "learning" horses through first as they would be using lower caliber weapons. If these horses were to hear the .45s going off, I feared they'd be reluctant to take the course afterwards.

I took the Wonder Horse through with the .22 the first time but decided to upgrade to the .45 with short loads to get him used to the smoke and flame. He had a real problem with me shooting off his left shoulder. When I realized this problem, I switched my training focus to keeping Apache straight on the course instead of him crabbing to prevent me from shooting to his left. We worked it out and managed to ride through straight most of the time. Apache doesn't like the guns, but he will do what he has to. It just isn't very pretty.

Duke and Journey went through the course a few times with lower caliber weapons. Duke is years away from being ready for a pistol competition, but Journey is making a little progress. Journey was once accidentally shot by his own rider during a competition about four years ago and has been a little reluctant to go through an obstacle course involving both balloons and guns ever since.

The other horses, Charlie, Regent, and Monte, all did fine on the pistol course. Charlie is rough, but gets the job done. Regent is smoother, but still a little hyper. Monte is about as good as you will get. None of them particularly like the weapons fire (judging from the rolling eyes and flaring nostrils), but better able to handle their fear than the other horses.

Gun training now gives way to saber training, which hopefully will be less eventful. Most of the horses seem to be pretty used to the obstacle courses now, so hopefully we can get some decent training in. Saber work requires more skill from the rider than the other events, so we will focus on making challenging targets for them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Monsoon Weather

It has been difficult to get any decent riding in with the daily occurrence of thunderstorms in the afternoon. I have been able to sneak a little riding in during the day, but this is the busy time of year for me as a lot of events are piling up in for the next few months.

I managed to get some time in today with the Wonder Horse who was in an agreeable mood and even managed to get onto the correct lead most of the time. Tomorrow we have more gun training schedule for muster, so we will see if he is agreeable then. This weekend we have some Major Howze conditioning training scheduled, but I will be on the ground and won't ride him for that. However, I plan to ride him on Thursday to recon the training route so he will get the conditioning training nonetheless.

The National Cavalry Competition is still two months away, but with the weather the way it is, I doubt we will get much training in. I primary mission is to support ceremonies, so most of our effort goes into that. We will go and do our best, but there is only so much time you can devote to practicing for it.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bomb Proofing Cavalry Horses

We are dedicating this month to pistol training which we have long neglected. Since we have some new horses that are not used to gunfire and some old horses that never got used to them, we decided to start slow and work on desensitizing them to a .22 starter pistol.

We put the horses into a column of twos with a bomb proof horse matched up with a spooky horse. First, the column trotted around me while I fired the pistol until we were sure that all the horses were okay. Then I gave the pistol to the rider at the front of the column and had them continue trotting in a circle. The rider fired four rounds from his horse and then passed the pistol to the next rider. Each rider fired at least four rounds off their horse. Some of the spooky horses reacted a little but nothing too severe. Cal, being completely new, had the most trouble, so we decided to not fire off him.

After everyone could fire off their horse without incident, we rode them through a couple of balloon targets. Sometimes horses that have no trouble with gunfire will react badly when the pistol is combined with a balloon target. We started out in a column of twos and then switched to single file. It worked pretty well and each horse was able to pass through the targets without spooking.

It was a pretty good workout for the horses as they were in a trot for about 40 minutes. They were getting sweaty but not lagging. However, a rain squall was coming so we had to terminate training and get back to the stables. Next week we will continue the bomb proof training accept we will introduce a louder pistol. So far so good.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fire Aftermath

Sorry it has been so long since I posted anything. The Monument Fire turned into a raging inferno that terrorized the local community and Fort Huachuca. The fire started on 12 June, but by 16 June was threatening the city of Hereford. People were ordered to evacuate and many of them had horses. A local organization, Care For The Horses, was organizing a "horse lift" out of the threatened area. I requested permission from the Army to assist with the evacuation using our trucks and trailers, and the request was quickly approved.

During the next several days we evacuated 33 animals including B Troop's horses. We set up a command post of sorts in our office and sent teams out to rescue horses. Because we had government plates, we were able to get into areas that were closed to the public. The roads headig away from the fire were jammed with horse trailers.

It was madness, of course, disaster areas always are. Most of the animals we picked up had either never been in a trailer before or hadn't been in one in a long time. Some animals couldn't be loaded so the owners just opened their gates and turned them loose. I received one request to evacuate two horses after dark belonging to a man who refused to evacuate and locked himself in his bathroom. His family wanted me to come get the horses in the hope that he'd come out of his bathroom. My concern was that he'd come out of his bathroom with a gun because I was stealing his horses. I consulted with the sheriff's office and then declined the request.

On 19 June, we had 60 mph winds and the fire got out of control. The fort was not yet in serious danger, but because the Army wanted our trailers to evacuate other horses on post, we were advised to evacuate all of ours first. I had no place to take them, so I took them home where I have about eight acres of horse pasture. It was a little crowded, but all the horses were safe. The fort was under quarantine due to the EHV-1 problem, but I was assured I would be able to get the horses back on post once he fire threat was over. I expected to have the horses for a few days, but the visit turned into ten days as the firefighters struggled with keeping the fire off the post and the mil vet decided to extend the quarantine for another week.

I had previously requested leave the week after the fire occurred, but since all the horses were at my property, the Army had no problem approving it even though the fire wasn't completely contained. About half way through my leave, I was able to send the horses back, and then I went "comm out" to get some rest. Since then, the summer rains finally arrived, and the fire is 98 percent contained. Fully rested now, I'm ready to head back into the fray.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Horses and Fires

I should have known how my day was going to go when I saw Ruger on his back with his feet up in the air. I feed the horses at home before I go into work each day. The four horses and the donkey were in the north pasture, so I tossed the hay over the fence and turned to go. Apparently, I put the hay too close together, though, and Whiskey decided he wanted Ruger's hay. Ruger got surprised by the attack and jumped over the wire fence to get away. All I saw was Ruger on his back struggling to get to his feet again. Then I noticed that he was no longer in the pasture. Ruger was unconcerned about the whole affair and began to nibble up bits of hay on the ground while I went and found a halter. We put him in his stall for a while to see if anything might swell up. Nothing did, fortunately.

By the time I got on post, the troopers, who were supporting a ceremony, were on the road headed toward the parade grounds. They were behind schedule and were trotting to make up the time. I went and took care of my horses and then went out to the parade ground to watch their charge. The Public Affairs people wanted to attach a camera to the troopers during the charge and I wanted to see how all that turned out. Didn't turn out at all, though, because there was no time prior to the ceremony to strap the cameras on. The charge went perfectly and it was a shame we didn't have the "trooper cams" installed. While talking to the troopers after the charge, I noticed that Cochise had a swollen eye. Eye injuries can go bad quickly, so I stopped by the Vet Clinic on the way back to the stables to seek assistance. Unfortunately, no vets were available and I wasn't able to get a hold of the local civilian horse doctor in a timely manner.

After examining Cochise back at the stables and hearing his trooper's explanation of what happened, we decided that the injury was not to the eye but to the lower eye lid. Apparently Cochise and Journey had a dispute during the ceremony and bashed heads together. However, we also discovered that two other horses, Monte and Kidd, both had sore backs. This complicated the horse assignments for the next day's ceremony. After swapping horses around, we decided to add Bob to the lineup. Bob has only been in one ceremony since joining B Troop, so I am interested to see how he does. His assigned rider is enthusiastic about trying him out, so hopefully it will go well.

At the end of the day I was scheduled to attend a rehearsal for tomorrow's ceremony. I showed up at the appointed place and time, but everyone got up and left as there was a major brush fire on the post and everyone had to report for command post duty. I waited for a few minutes, since no one said anything to me about cancelling the rehearsal, then I left too. So it goes.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quarantine Scandal

I received a message from the Garrison Headquarters this morning inquiring about a report of B Troop horses being taken off post on Memorial Day. This was big news as our horses are restricted to post until the Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1) panic is over. According to the report, a "B Troop trailer full of horse" left the post for a short time and then returned. This was a scandal of big proportions because the gate guards are not supposed to let any horses on post until the epidemic is over. If you take a horse of the fort, it will not get back on.

I explained that if anyone moved any horses off post it was without my knowledge or authorization. Furthermore, we were not tasked to support any ceremonies on Memorial Day. Soon, I received a call from the security people asking about the incident which apparently was reported by one of their gate guards who was traveling to work and allegedly saw one of our trailers moving down the road. The incident didn't take place on Memorial Day but the day before. I checked our pasture feed logs and vehicle dispatches and asked the troopers if they knew of any trailer movements during the weekend. No one saw anything of the sort and our records showed that all horses were accounted for at the time of the incident. I asked the local stable staff and people who board horses next to us and they likewise saw nothing. It would be hard to miss a B Troop trailer moving out of the stables because there is only one road in or out and our trailers are distinctively marked.

I continued to receive questions about the incident as rumors spread like wild fire. I filed my report stating that there was no evidence anywhere indicating that a B Troop trailer had moved at any time during the entire Memorial Day weekend. I'm not sure what the guard saw, but it wasn't one of our trailers.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cal's First Session

I did not ride Cal last weekend as I was nursing some injuries inflicted upon me by Monster Monte and the Wonder Horse last week. However, I was sufficiently healed up enough today to give him a try. So far, I'd only ridden him once at his owner's stables.

Like last time, I had a bit of trouble getting him groomed and tacked up. He has some sort of issue with his back legs. He was reluctant to let me pick them up. However, with patience and determination we managed to get through that ordeal. He has a tendency to wander around the tie up post (I don't have cross ties) which is annoying but, again, I patiently moved him back to his position every time he wandered. He is also a little bit cinchy, but not bad. He took the bit with no trouble at all.

I took him to the arena to mount up and to my surprise he moved a little prior to mounting. However, he could see our other horses in the north pasture and he was completely focused on them. He can't wait to meet them and he told them so. I managed to get on him without mounting blocks despite his height. He's really no worse than getting on Monte or Charlie.

Once aboard this massive beast, we moved out at a walk and did a few turns. I know that I'm not using the cues he is used to, as he seemed a little confused by my directions. Next, we went to a trot, and he was smooth and slow. Again, we made a few turns and worked around some cones in the arena. Then, I asked him to canter. As I recalled from the first ride, he is reluctant to go to a canter. Of course, that is exactly what I'm looking for. Hot cavalry horses are dangerous, and you can get better performance out of a lazy horse since you don't have to worry about them bolting. His canter is unique, to say the least. I'd describe it as a gentle rocking canter. Sort of like sailing a boat. Although reluctant to canter at first, once he got going, he wanted to keep going. A good sign. Sort of like Charlie in that regard.

While I was rocking Cal around the arena, the cinch slipped back behind his belly into the bucking strap area. He was putting his head down and shaking it slightly which I didn't understand, but Debbie, who was watching explained what had happened. I stopped, dismounted and undid the cinch. I was amazed. Any other horse would have exploded into a windmill of tail, legs, and mane.

All in all, a good first session. I'm looking forward to learning more about Cal. However, I think I will bring a breast collar next time as there is something about the way he moves that causes the saddle and cinch to move backwards.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Prospect

We picked up another potential horse for B Troop last week. He is a very tall Canadian Warmblood named Cal. He passed his mil vet check on Friday and is currently residing at my ranch during his quarantine period. We will evaluate him for suitability for the cavalry, but so far seems like a good prospect. He is trained as a dressage horse and has very good cues. I rode him a couple of weeks ago at the owner's stables to see what he was like. The owner pointed out that despite the fact that my reins were all wrong and my seat was too far forward that the horse did fine. Ahem. Of course, my poor riding style was all part of the test. I was going to ride him this weekend but was too banged up from riding the Wonder Horse last Friday to get it done. Some of the ladies came by today to have a look at him and were amazed at the size of him. Cal was loving the attention and was upset when they all left. Hopefully, we can get him accepted into the Army soon so he can hang out with the other horses.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Monster Monte

I've been continuing with Monte's anti-buck training for about a month now. I taught him the hip over cue which he does automatically at any speed. As a result I have to be careful when I give it because he will just about topple over if he's at a gallop. That is not what I expected. I expected him to slow down as soon as he saw my arm move out in anticipation of having to disengage his hips, but he actually just instantly throws his hip over regardless of the circumstances.

The ultimate goal, however, was to solve his bucking problem. The hip-over thing was meant to gain control of his back end and convince him to stay collected as he never knew when I was going to throw his hip over. The rest of the solution required that I be able to stay on his back despite the bucking and also teach him that dangerous behavior has consequences for him. Unfortunately, I was never able to get him to buck again on the jogging track after the first incident, so I decided it was time to take him to the arena. I can work with an individual horse alone all I want, but effective cavalry horse training has to be done with a group of horses because their behavior is so much different when they are together.

With six other riders in the group, I formed them into a column of twos and had them trot around the arena. I put Monte in the back of the column so I could work with him without the others colliding with me. I found out that Monte is so programed to turn sideways when I give the hip-over cue that it doesn't matter what his speed is or if there is a fence rail or another horse in the way. This was a little disconcerting. I also found that in the arena, Monte drags the bit. On the jogging track, he is very light in the mouth and requires little pressure. Not so in the arena. I had trouble getting him to drop his head and softening his neck.

After I practiced the hip-over maneuver a few times at a trot, I put the column into a gallop. Monte immediately dropped his head and threatened to buck. I instantly threw his hip over and revealed to him my secret weapon--a riding crop. With this I laid three sharp whacks on his shoulder and then put him back into a gallop in order to rejoin the column. Monte again put his head down to buck and again I threw his hip and applied the riding crop to his shoulder. That was enough for Monte. I had no further troubles with him despite repeatedly giving him his head to invite another bucking session. To be sure he had learned the lesson, I formed the other riders into a skirmish line and had them practice some charges. I moved through a sequence of walk, trot, and gallop but Monte would not buck anymore.

I don't for an instant think that Monte has given up on bucking. He just gave up for the night. We will try again next week and see if we can cement the lesson. It was an important breakthrough for Monte though and reversed a trend that has been growing in intensity for a couple of years now. Hopefully, Monte can soon again be used without endangering our riders. We will see.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Last weekend a few of us drove up to Globe, Arizona for their Old West Days festival. We had been requested to ride in a parade in the morning on Saturday and to carry the colors in the opening ceremonies in a rodeo that evening. We were treated royally by the City of Globe who put us up in the Apache Gold Casino.

We were a little worried about the reception we'd receive as Globe as the casino is on the San Carlos Indian Reservation which is where Geronimo escaped from during his last rampage through the southwest. We memorialize the unit that chased him down and forced him to surrender for the final time in 1886. The last time we were in this neck of the woods, we were roundly booed by the Apaches.

However, we had no problems this time and we were warmly received by the people of Globe. The people who live their are very proud of their city which is an old mining town. It has plenty of good history and Al Seiber the famous German Army scout is buried there.

I rode Apache in the parade in the morning and Charlie during the rodeo ceremony. Apache was his usual interesting self. We started the parade with him doing his famous "galloping in place" act. This behavior is scary on a normal day but particularly terrifying on asphalt. He settled down after a while so that he was at least manageable, if not calm.

Charlie was his usual laid-back self until another horse bumped into him at the end of the national anthem, causing him to spin away from the formation. Otherwise, Charlie is about the easiest horse to ride in situations like that. He is perfect for color guard duty as he proved last December at Las Vegas. He still has some rough edges during other events, but is basically an easy ride.

All in all, it was a good trip and the City already wants us to come back next year. The weekend was exhausting but we had a good time and I'm sure I'll have volunteers to go next year.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Training with Duke and Monte

We managed to get some more training in today even though the sky looked like murky water. There are a couple of fires burning in Mexico that are filling the sky with haze. Martina rode Duke in the gray pen as she fired off rounds with the starter pistol. She kept Duke moving and not thinking so much about the gun. She changed directions and gaits frequently. Duke is progressing well. He still hates the guns, but he doesn't react to them so much.

Monte is progressing also. He can do the hip-over maneuver at a canter now. Naturally, he put his head down to buck as soon as we went to a canter, but that is exactly what I wanted him to do. I instantly disengaged his hips as soon as his head dropped. Since he reacts almost automatically to the hip-over cue, he instantly slows down as soon as I move my hand out. In fact one time I accidentally dropped the rein and he disengaged his hips over even though there was no tension on the rein. It remains to be seen if he will react when in a full gallop. No hurry though. I'll work at the lower speeds until I'm sure he will answer the cue before I try at higher speeds.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Charlie's Bucking Charge

I rode Charlie in a ceremony on Friday at Chaffee Field. It was his first charge since his surgery last summer. Things went well at first. He stood still during the entire ceremony even though he was on the end. Not all horses are good in the anchor position so I was very pleased with his demeanor. He also did very well during the pass in review even though the crowd began applauding as he rode by. That all changed, however, when we began the charge. Charlie couldn't seem to make up his mind about whether to buck or run. He had his head down and was shaking it side to side during the entire charge. I had images of being launched through the air when we got to the end of the field. Fortunately, he didn't do anything crazy. I suspect he will be calmer during his next charge. He was just probably a little excited to get to do one again after so long.

You can watch the charge via the link below. The charge is at the very end of the video. You can see Charlie acting up in the background.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Graduation Ceremony

Photos by Ty Holland

On Thursday we had a graduation ceremony for our new riders. It was the culmination of about six months of training. We had started the class with six riders but three of them had to drop out for various reasons. The three that finished, are good riders and will be an asset to the Troop.

The ceremony was hosted by the Garrison Commander and was well attended by the fort leadership as well as by the local press. This is the fourth time we've had a graduation ceremony and each time it gets a little more involved. The leadership at the fort really seems to understand the dedication and courage it takes to become a member of the Troop and they want the ceremony to be memorable.

After some introductory remarks, the invocation, and playing of the national anthem, the new troopers perform a pistol charge for the crowd. The lady graduates are trained in sidesaddle riding and so do not perform the charge. However, as ladies are sometimes required to suit up as troopers, they are also trained in the pistol charge and all aspects of cavalry riding. We try to remain faithful to the era we represent, so for the purposes of this ceremony, men are men and ladies are ladies. The ladies, of course, looked fantastic in their dresses. When they are dressed like this you'd never know that these young woman, who seemingly embody the very essence of femininity and grace, ride like she-devils when astride a McClellen and armed with pistol and saber. It is a testament to the versatility of these woman that they can play both roles so well and convincingly.

The men, likewise, show no lack of courage or vigor when riding. Both male graduates rode horses that are known for spirit and speed. Although new graduates typically execute their first public charge with eyes wide open, neither of these men exhibited any more sign of concern than a veteran of dozens of charges would have. It is hard to find men like these.

After the charge, the graduates dismounted and lined up in front of the crowd and the Garrison Commander made a short speech before presenting spurs to the troopers and a riding crop to the lady graduate. It is difficult not to be proud of them. It is not an easy accomplishment. Of the ten riders graduated in the previous three classes, only three still ride with the Troop. More people have left the Troop in this time than are riding with it now. It is not a hobby for the feint of heart.

After the ceremony, we held our traditional barbecue at the stables for the graduates and their families. Much time is demanded of riders so we try to include their family members as much as possible so they don't feel as if they've been abandoned. Hopefully our new riders will still be here next year to welcome the graduates of the next class.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jumping Horses

We practiced jumping horses a couple of times this week. On Wednesday I set up three different sized jumps and had everyone see how far they could get with their horses. We have new riders now, so they had their first introduction to jumping. I did not ride that night as I had been given a steroid shot in my thumb that day and couldn't use my left hand for much. A few people jumped very well, but several were having issues with their horses. I noticed these horses were not jumping smoothly, but were sticking their noses way down to look at the pole before they'd leap over it.

On Friday my hand was feeling well enough for me to ride again, so I gave the Wonder Horse a whirl over the jumps. He'd given me a lot of trouble the previous weekend during the Military Child event, so I wasn't expecting much. However, he was having one of his good days, so I had a great ride with him. He did not get over excited and he did not hesitate at the jumps at all. I started out with a low cross-bar jump and then changed to verticals and gradually increased the height.

Martina and Lisa S were with me and did some jumping also. Lisa was riding Kidd and did fairly well but was consistently behind the saddle and rocking after each jump. I couldn't figure it out until I later noticed that her saddle was too far forward and I believe that was causing her legs to slip forward and thus putting her weight behind the saddle. Martina was having a hell of a time with Chili and Cochise. She could get them over the obstacles, but it was a major battle each time. I had ridden Cochise the previous weekend and had several really good runs through the jump course and we were all surprised at his inability to function normally a week later. Chili has always had problems but Martina can usually get him to jump. He does fine in the training area next to the stables but, for some reason, couldn't jump poles in the arena. On our way back from the arena, Martina took Chili over the jumps in the training area with now problems.

Yet another horse training mystery.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hot Riding

We were asked to support an event on Fort Huachuca today called the Celebration of the Military Child. It is more or less a festival for kids on the post but is open to the public. We were asked to put on a performance in a field next to the pavilion where most of the activities were. We know from experience that no one is particularly interested in watching us ride horses at these things. Because we don't have an enclosed arena to perform in, we have to tone down the activities.

We tried to put on a little demonstration near the pavilion but becuase there was a band playing in there, our horses were not particularly cooperative. We finished our rather pathetic demonstration and then moved to another area where we could have some fun.

We set up a pistol and saber course and just practiced taking our horses through it. It included a series of low jumps and some targets we could engage with our weapons. A few people came down to watch but soon left. We didn't really care because we were having fun with it. I took the Wonder Horse a few times and then switched over to Cochise. Both horses are high strung but managed to go through without too much trouble. We brought Bob along who hasn't been in a public event in about a year. He did fine and didn't get overly sweaty. Charlie revealed that he needs some remedial training in jumping but all the other horses did find. It was a long day and hot as blazes but we made the most of it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ups and Downs of Cavalry Training

It has been a busy week. We finally tested in our three new riders on Tuesday. All did really well, and I'm looking forward to getting them into the next phase of training which involves weapons employment from the horse on obstacle courses which include jumps. The test was uneventful, fortunately, and nothing really exciting happened other than Charlie was reintroduced to the riding demonstration for the first time since his surgery.

Gun training with Duke progresses. Lisa D and I have worked with him a couple of times since Monday. On Monday he did not progress, but on Wednesday he absolutely regressed. Duke would refuse to ride past me as I fired the cap gun. In fact, he refused to ride past the spot I was firing from even after I had left it and had stopped firing. Lisa eventually got off and led him around the arena until he calmed down. Then she got back on but rode at a trot. Duke had trouble at first but eventually calmed down and was able to ride past me without reacting too much. Today we tried again, and at first, Duke balked at riding past me. Lisa forced a few corrective circles on him and then he was able to ride around the arena without incident. I was able to fire even as he passed me without any problems or reaction of any kind. The key in his case seems to be the gait. If his feet are moving in at least a trot, he is okay.

I also worked with Monte this week. I've been round penning him to achieve a little respect and have been teaching him the hip-over cue. Although Monte was fairly homicidal during the first round pen session, as described earlier, he was a lot more calm the second time. He gave a little head tossing and lots of sullen looks, but no really bad behavior. Today I saddled him up and worked on the hip-over cue from the ground and then from the saddle. We also worked on lowering his head as he, like nearly all our horses, holds his head above the bit. Monte learned to lower his head within about five minutes of training. His attitude is also much better than it was when we started. He was almost affectionate today. Of course, he may be trying to lull me into letting my guard down.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Duke's Gun Training

Lisa D and I have had several sessions with Duke as we try to get him re-adjusted. I again tied up Charlie in the nearby round pen and had Lisa ride Duke around the gray pen. We have had steady progress with Duke and got to the point where he could handle the cap pistol from about 20 feet away. Today, however, he plateaued in his training. As Lisa rode him in a circle in front of me, Duke would get agitated as he got close to me. Not really badly, but not good enough to progress to the next level of training. I had her increase his gait from walk to trot to see if the extra speed would calm him down, but it didn't seem to work. We will stay at this level until Duke progresses some more.

After we finished with Duke, I did some work with Charlie who is starting to muscle up very nicely. After his colic surgery in August, his back end atrophied and he looked pretty pathetic. Not so much now. He's starting to show his "guns" back there. I worked him in the round pen, concentrating on turns in a specific direction and changing gaits on command. Most of our horses know the words "walk", "trot", and "gallop", so I build on this. Charlie, although basically lazy, can really get wild when his dander is up. I'm trying to get some respect down with him before I get up and have to push him hard from the saddle. He's a friendly horse for the most part and is a pleasure to work with most of the time. However, after several trips to the emergency room over the years, I've learned that taking things slow works best for horse training.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wild Horse Training

We had another riding school last night during which we gave our students their pre-evaluations to ensure they are ready for their final riding test next week. I again rode the Wonder Horse with the anticipation of being rocketed around the arena like the last time. However, without his arch nemesis Regent there to goad him on, he was very calm and controllable for the whole evening.

Unfortunately, our lead horse Monte was not having a good evening. Monte, in recent years, has developed a tendency to buck when transitioning to a gallop in the arena. He was recently assigned to a more experienced rider who we figured would have better luck with him. However, his new rider suffered the same fate as his predecessors and wound up eating arena dirt not once, but twice. When an experienced rider gets bucked off when he knows what's coming, its time to take the horse out of the lineup and re-educated him.

I took Monte to the round pen today to see what his personality was like. Monte is one of our best horses and has always been a solid performer. The bucking thing began gradually and has gotten steadily worse. I always considered Monte to be a lazy horse and an easy ride. Today, in the round pen, I came to know a different Monte. He leaped about the round pen making all kinds of what I call "homicide gestures". That is, he was aiming kicks and strikes at me every time I turned him. At one point he got so mad he cussed at me in horse language. I wasn't sure of the words, but I recognised the tone.

After about 15 minutes of this we managed to get things settled down enough so I could do some work with him. I began to work on teaching him the "hip-over" cue which the horse experts say is how you control a bucking horse. The theory is that if you compel the horse to disengage his hips, he can't power up and hurt you. I don't know how well this will work, but I think it's worth a try. I can't afford to lose riders to a bucking beast in the arena. Monte, to his credit, responded to this training well. I have a gradual training process in mind that I will implement in between other projects and will hopefully have him re-educated in a month or two. We will see.

I also began the process today of re-educating Duke in gun training. I screwed him up last year by putting him into the riding demonstration before he was fully gun trained. As a result, he is now terrified of gun fire. His primary rider finally got a schedule that permits her to help with this training during duty hours, so we began today. I had her ride Duke around a small arena while I fired a cap gun at the opposite end. I also tied up a veteran horse, Charlie, nearby so Duke could see there was nothing to get excited about. It worked pretty well and Duke progressively got less and less excited by the sound of the cap gun as we worked with him. This is another long-term project but one worth the effort. Duke has come a long way since we got him and he promises to be a good cavalry horse.

Since I am not a professional horse trainer and have only limited time to spend on training, I don't know how well all this will work out. All I can do is try and hope nobody, especially me, gets hurt in the process.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arena Charges

On Tuesday we had the new riders work on the preparation for their final test which is coming up in a couple weeks. We basically just have them perform our riding demonstration. The demonstration involves a series of maneuvers at the gallop and at a walk and several other displays before culminating in a couple of charges.

Arena charges are safer than open field charges, but still require a fair amount of control. The arena is 400 feet long by 190 feet wide which allows the horses to get up a fairly big head of steam. I was leading the charges on the Wonder Horse who is reasonably good in the arena.

In addition to the students, I had a couple of instructors riding at the front of the column. Our German lady rider, Martina, was riding Regent in the #1 position. Regent is hot and I forgot that it was the first time that Martina had conducted charges on him. The first charge is a pistol charge which, of course, means the rider has only one hand on the reins. I elected to keep my pistol holstered to better control the Wonder Horse and then set up the troopers in a skirmish line and called for the charge.

Apache started out under control but out of the corner of my eye I could see Regent bearing down on us. I could almost feel the heat coming off of Regent. When we get to the end of the arena during a charge, we curve to the right and rejoin into a column of twos. Because Martina was on the right of line, I feared she and Regent would cut me off, which could spell disaster. Apache saw the problem too so I gave him his head. He lit the afterburners and we dug in at the rail and turned hard to the right. My right knee was nearly in the dirt, but the Wonder Horse kept his footing and drove out of the fur ball right under Regent's nose. We lit up the rail as the rest of the herd reformed behind us.

The second charge is done with sabers and I again decided to keep both hands on the reins. We lit out at a good gallop but the line held back this time and Apache didn't feel compelled to bolt. Fearing I would get too far ahead of everyone, I turned early and let everyone form up behind me. No worries. The second charge was a little less chaotic and, of course, any charge you can walk away from is a good one.

The student riders are about ready to test and have only one more practice session before the real deal. Hopefully all will go well and we will soon have three more riders on the team. Maybe one of them will want Apache.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dead Bolt

Photos by Ty Holland

Last Saturday we practiced charges on Brown Parade field on Fort Huachuca. This is where we normally conduct our ceremonies and I wanted the new riders to get some experience in a controlled charge before they have to do it in front of an audience. I also wanted to work with the horses as they tend to get out of control during the pistol charge. Instead of a controlled charge where everyone is on line, it turns into a mad dash to see who can finish first.

The calm before the storm--the Troop rides to the parade field

With cavalry horses you have to not only train your horse individually, you have to train as a group. If you want your horses to move together, you have to train them together. This is also how the Army used to conduct charges. Horses were moved in a line starting out at a walk, then a trot, then a controlled gallop so the entire force would arrive at the enemy position simultaneously for maximum effect. To train the horses this way, I started out moving everyone up and down the parade field at a walk. When I could see that everyone was able to control their horses (the horses get very excited on the parade field), I had them go to a trot about half way up the field. Once everyone could move their horse up the entire length of the field at a trot without breaking the line, we moved to a gallop. The training worked very well and both riders and horses performed as expected. Even Apache, who has the peculiar ability to gallop in place, was able to hold the line.

What a controlled charge is supposed to look like

However, for the final charge, I reversed the order of the line to add variety. Big mistake. Apache was used to being on the left of the line and now I had him on the right side of the line. Up to that point, I was able to control him with a single rein. Once we began the charge, he started out okay, but then broke into a flat out bolt. I had anticipated this and had a plan to use S-turns to slow him down. Unfortunately, there was no controlling him once he began the bolt. I'd pull on one rein and then the other but he barely responded and then cut diagonally across the field to get where he thought he was supposed to be. He is very competitive also, and when he realized another horse might beat him down the field there was no stopping him. He was so out of control and violent that I lost both stirrups. My efforts to slow him down were then replaced by an effort to get my feet back in the stirrups to improve my chances of staying in the saddle. I figured I was a dead man at this point. I was alternatively swearing at Apache and praying that I'd survive the ride. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see our photographer darting behind a tree to get out of the way. We were passing through the trees and headed for parts unknown when, for some reason, Apache came to a stop. I was angry and sore and glad to still be breathing. My thighs were burning with the effort to stay in the saddle and my hands were cramped from squeezing the reins. I turned the troopers over to the Executive Officer and asked him to lead another charge while I dismounted and worked the cramps out of my legs and hands. Apache's eyes were bloodshot and crazy looking. It is hard to stay mad at him when he is so obviously distressed.

The Wonder Horse in full bolt mode

Accept for that last episode, the Wonder Horse had done really well. I don't know what his problem is, but I need to find a solution before he kills me. The training strategy had worked for every other horse in the herd accept for Apache. Of course, when the other horses saw Apache take off, they wanted to bolt too. It is the nature of horses to want to race each other. If one horse departs the line, they all want to depart the line. The ceremony season is still a couple of months off, so hopefully, I will get this figured out. Until I do, Apache won't be participating in any ceremonies in front of an audience. The rest of the troop will, I believe, look great.

Trying to walk out the cramps

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Battle of Picacho Peak Photos

Here are some of the photos taken by Ty Holland during the Picacho Peak weekend.

B Troop tries to hold the Confederates at bay while the Union infantry retreats during the battle of Valverde. At least we got the chubby rebel on the end.

Fierce looking cavalrymen.

Me trying to get my carbine back in the boot while the Wonder Horse keeps a wary eye out for Confederates.

Apache not liking the whole carbine thing.

Apache not having a problem with the pistol.

Two dismounted troopers trying to find some shade.

B Troop in heavy action against the Confederates during the battle of Glorietta Pass. Gotta protect them RVs.

Dismounted troopers in an orderly retreat from the Confederates during the battle of Picacho Pass.

B Troop trying to find a path through all the dead bodies. It is considered bad form to let your horse step on the re-enactors.