Friday, February 25, 2011

Riding the Wonder Horse Again

Me and Apache at Fort Concho last October.

Friday is usually a busy day for me for some reason. Today, as usual I had lots of things to do but a couple of troopers came by to help out which freed up an hour this afternoon for riding. I decided to give the Wonder Horse another whirl on the jogging track to see if we were making any progress.

He was fired up today, as he usually is on Friday, because he knows he gets to go out to pasture for the weekend. Friday afternoon is horse "happy hour" around here. Anyway, when we got onto the track, Apache was ready to go. We worked on bending on the curves at first, which went much better today. In fact, he didn't do his usual outward bending but had his head set in just slightly toward the inside--right where I wanted it. That was going so well that I decided to work on getting the correct lead. That didn't go as well, but not too bad. However, since I was having so much luck with keeping him under control, I decided to let him cut loose.

Cavalry horses are notorious for bolting in a charge. I usually don't let Apache have his head completely because it is hard to reel him back in. Today I decided to let him off the leash. There is a marked difference in a horse that is galloping and one that is in a full gallop. You can feel them lower their front ends and really engage their back ends--kinda like a dragster. Apache usually announces his "power up" phase with a loud snort--just so everyone knows what's happening. It is exhilarating but can be dangerous if you don't have a good handle on the horse. Control on the track is important because the ground is not level and sometimes your horse can loose his footing on the curves. Today, I had no trouble bringing Apache's speed down when I needed to. A tickle of the outside rein brought him down smoothly and without effort. That is when riding becomes fun. Being able to push your horse to his full potential and still bring him back safely is a great feeling and allows you to achieve a real partnership with your horse.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Riding The Wonder Horse

I rode Apache today to get him out of his pen and to work on some issues that have cropped up. He, as I've discussed before, has trouble picking up the correct lead. Apparently, it is not a mechanical problem but maybe some confusion in the cues I'm giving him or maybe he's just being a jerk. He also has problems bending in the correct direction. He doesn't have problems bending his neck, he just bends in the wrong direction, so when I'm going around a curve his head is pointed out of the arc instead of inward. It is odd and annoying.

So today we rode around the jogging track and first practiced getting on to the correct lead. He started out all wrong, so we would slow down to a trot and try again. Eventually, he started taking the correct lead fairly consistantly. Then we worked on bending. We first practiced going around the curve at a walk and keeping our head in. Then we tried at a trot. Then a gallop. He's still trying to figure this one out. He is confused by my "bring your head in" cue with the "slowing down or stopping" cue because they are essentially the same cue. I have to teach him that the inside rein is for setting his head and the outside rein is for speed control. We will get their eventually. Probably after I get it straight in my own head. Nevertheless, it was a good workout despite the gusting winds.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rounding Ruger

Ruger was given his final health check last week by the mil vet so we have finally been able to let him meet the rest of the horses. We were worried that Bandit, our alpha male out at the ranch, would take umbrage at the young colt being in his kingdom. Bandit is a giant, black Tennessee Walker that had to be retired from the Army several years ago due to arthritis in his pastern. Bandit is still lame but doesn't have any problem enforcing his rule.

We had kept our boys in the north pasture to keep them away from Ruger until he was cleared by the vet. The horses could see each other and smell each other but couldn't touch each other. The day after the vet check, we kept Ruger in his stall and let Bandit and the other boys through. Bandit walked straight up to Ruger's pen, stuck his giant head over the rails, and then.......began licking Ruger's face.

Debbie does most of the work with Ruger during the week, but I can get a little time with him on the weekends. Our first session together, about a week ago, went okay. Ruger is spirited and young but reasonably controllable. The first grooming attempt by me didn't go so well. Ruger hadn't figured out how to stand on three legs very well when you're cleaning one of his hooves. When I picked up his left rear hoof, he kind of stumbled. I lost my balance also and toppled over underneath the horse--one of my least favorite orientations in relation to a horse. I got mad at him for that and he quickly calmed down and stood still.

In the round pen, I turned him loose and it was obvious he knew what the round pen was all about. However, he didn't much care for me turning him. He'd try to bull his way through or turn without permission so I'd have to get rigorous with the whip and smack it on the ground to turn him. Then, Ruger would get angry and jump in the air and kick. After about ten minutes he calmed down enough so we could have some semblance of a normal training session.

Since today is a holiday, Presidents Day, I was able to spend some more time with Ruger. Our grooming session went much better. Debbie has been working with him on being able to balance on three legs and the training showed. I had no issues with grooming him and we made it to the round pen without incident. Once we started working, he again would get upset with the turns. Each turn was accompanied by a huge leap into the air with either a back leg kicking out in defiance or a front leg striking. He was no where near me when he kicked out, but it was obvious he was upset with me. However, after ten minutes of this nonsense he calmed down and could execute a nice turn without acting stupid or speeding up. Later, when I ended the lesson, he wouldn't immediately join with me. Initially, he turned away from me, so I made friendly noises until he turned and faced me. At that point, I approached him and gave him a pat and praised him. There was lots of licking and chewing going on as he considered all that had happened.

Of course, when Debbie takes Ruger to the round pen, she doesn't get any of this behavior. Her challenge is getting him to turn without him coming in to join up with her. She says he has trouble focusing on the lesson. In my case, I don't see a lack of focus, but a very energetic and focused defiance. He doesn't like being herded around by me and he hasn't developed enough respect for me yet to be willingly obedient. With Debbie, all he wants to do is be next to her. With me, it is a battle of wills. It is funny how the same animal can react so differently to two different people.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wonder Horse Unleashed

Photo by Ty Holland

I rode Apache during the riding school last night. I haven't been doing much work with him lately since I've other horse projects to work on. It seems I'm only able to ride him about once per week.

Last night's riding school lesson was a fun one. We've been working on lead changes, so we set up the plastic barrels in a straight line about ten paces apart and had the students ride a pole bending pattern. I also set up a cone box in which the students had to stop their horse at the end of the barrel course. It gives the students a chance to practice lead changing cues at a gallop and then learn how to stop their horse from a gallop in a limited space. It is pretty fun.

I went through the pattern twice on Apache to show them how to do it and the Wonder Horse was nearly perfect. He missed one of the lead changes but otherwise glided through the pattern effortlessly without dropping out of a canter. After all the students had gone through on their mounts at various gaits until they could do it at a canter, I had them switch horses so they could feel what it was like on a different mount. Changing mounts is a good way to learn as the rider has to consider the way each horse moves and responds to cues.

I offered up Apache to the two assistant instructors who both gave him a try. Of course, Apache doesn't like anything new, and apparently that includes other riders. He made it known to the other riders that he wasn't happy with this new development. He didn't do anything particularly bad, he just wouldn't perform the way he was supposed to. He engaged in a little crow hopping at first but eventually became more and more agitated until that was pretty much all he was doing. I took him back before things got out of hand and stroked his nose until he calmed down and stopped hyperventilating. It's good for Apache to work with other riders once in a while but there's no sense in pushing it. Once he starts getting agitated it is just best to dismount and calm him down.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fort Lowell Park

Yesterday, the troopers put on a small demo at Fort Lowell park in Tucson as part of an event called La Reunion de El Fuerte. A local group puts on a festival every year to try and raise money to fund the restoration of the old neighborhood around the remains of Fort Lowell. Fort Lowell was a cavalry post during the later part of the nineteenth century. There is not much left now but a few adobe walls.

The troopers first participate in a mass held at a local chapel. The troopers provide a saber arch through which the people walk to get into the chapel for the mass. It is a struggle for the troopers to keep their sabers elevated while all the people walk through. After the mass, they have to cross a busy road to get back to Fort Lowell park. The event sponsors stop traffic so the horses can get across the road safely.

The riding demo in the park is done at a trot because the ground is so dangerous to ride on. They ride on a soccer field which is very hard and covered with a thin layer of grass which is very slick. The field also has a lot of gopher holes in it. They have had a lot of horses slip and fall on the field in past years so they have to keep their speed down. Also, there is no fence to protect the crowd should a horse get loose. The event attracts a small crowd, some who have been coming to watch the troopers perform for about 30 years now.

The video is by Ty Holland.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Last summer B Troop was tasked to do a photo shoot for the upcoming Cochise Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering. The theme was "Cowboys in Blue". The idea was to tell the story of how soldiers leaving the Army often became local ranchers. I immediately set out to find a suitable young trooper to represent the Army in this photo shoot. Well, it turned out to be two photo shoots so I selected two troopers to fill the bill. Unfortunately, one of them had to drop out at the last minute, so I had to fill in instead.

The photos were shot out at Brown Canyon ranch, not far from Fort Huachuca. I did one set of photos and trooper Shawn did the other. I personally thought that Shawn made for a better photo as he is younger and more cowboy looking. The photo sets included shots of us in uniform and in cowboy gear to show the transition from soldier to cowboy.

I'd pretty much forgotten about the photos, but recently advertisements for the Gathering started appearing everywhere. I was happy to see that Shawn's image was used in the advertisements, confirming my belief that he made a better cowboy model. I did appear in the web site for the event but otherwise not in any of the advertisements.

As the date of the Gathering grew closer, Shawn and I were invited to attend the opening night and bring our spouses. They wanted to introduce us as their "models" and asked us to come in uniform. As Debbie and I walked into the Buena Performing Arts center, we were handed a program which bore my sinister image on the cover (which you can see above). Well, I thought that was pretty bad but it gets worse. Somebody converted the photograph of me on the program cover into an oil painting which was proudly displayed in the lobby. I went and found it and was very uncomfortable as if looking at a painting of myself was somehow narcissistic. But wait, it gets even worser still. When I later skimmed through the program, I discovered that they had also converted the photo into a "custom-crafted collectible commemorative Cloisonne pin, belt buckle, scarf slide, and bola set." Can you imagine?

I always wondered how celebrities felt when they saw their image marketed on items of merchandise or on billboards. I think I must not be cut out to be a celebrity, because I'm feeling a little embarrassed by this. At least my image hasn't appeared on underwear yet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Horse Conditioning

Photo by Ty Holland

I realized today that we have a lot of horse training to do. I have three that need to be reconditioned and several more that need training of one kind or another. Last night I had a riding school class for the new recruits and we worked on lead changes. We had all kinds of problems. Not because the students didn't understand, but because the horses were not cooperating. I tried to demonstrate lead changes on the Wonder Horse who refused to take up a right lead--except once--grudgingly. Likewise Kidd and Journey were not playing nice and I'm not sure what Cochise was doing. Cochise would take the correct lead every time but was otherwise not responding to cues. Of course, the 45 mph wind gusts may have had something to do with the problems we were having.

Today I debated trying to work with the Wonder Horse and lead changes--which is what I really wanted to do--or do some conditioning work with Charlie. I decided to save Apache for tomorrow and work on Charlie today. Charlie has what the mil vet calls "body wall defects" which look and feel like hernias but apparently aren't. They are supposedly common after colic surgery. It feels like little bubbles on his belly along where the incision was. I have decided to improve Charlie's muscle tone before allowing him to do the heavier work so his "body wall defects" don't turn into real hernias. I may be overly cautious in this but it can't hurt.

As always, Charlie starts out slow. I'll walk him around the track one time then push him into a trot. Charlie's initial trot is one that is designed to expend as little energy as possible. You can sit it for hours if you needed to but you won't get anywhere very fast. After a while I pushed him up to a slow canter and then brought him back into a trot. I try to work on his down transitions as much as possible because he has trouble with those once he gets fired up. Sure enough, after working through a series of gait changes he started to get a little riled. He gets irritated when he decides he wants to gallop and I make him trot or walk. Then, when I go back to a canter, he starts to "gallumph." A term I use to describe an intentional, excessive rocking of his back during a canter designed to bounce me out of the saddle. "Gallumphing" is Charlie's way of getting back at me when I won't let him do what he wants. It is similar to a child stomping his feet. Of course, I take him back down to a trot and then try again until he canters nicely. It takes a few tries but eventually he gives in and plays nice. Hopefully, some of the other troopers and ladies will help Charlie by taking him on some trail rides to strengthen him as he still looks like a horsehide bag of potatoes. We will need him full up again by summer so we need to get to work.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ruger Arrives

Our new recruit from Florida finally arrived last night. His journey across America was delayed by terrible weather that was affecting the entire continent. He arrived two days late, but he arrived in good health. Naturally, the delays meant that he arrived right in the middle of the Super Bowl game I was trying to watch. The transporter didn't want to come all the way down to Whetstone, so we had to drive up to Benson to meet him at a truck stop along the interstate. The driver told us he would be there at 1845 so we timed our departure to arrive at the same time. Miraculously, we arrived at exactly the same time--right at 1844.

We made the transfer fairly quickly. Ruger wasn't sure about getting into our little stock trailer after having traveled across country in a fancy rig, but he got in without too much trouble. Twenty minutes later, we had him in his stall at the house. Debbie fell in love with him immediately. She tried to make a statement too the effect that she wouldn't fall in love with him but had already admitted defeat by the time she finished the sentence. Ruger is a very cute horse. He is very friendly and has good manners. Not at all like a cavalry horse. But, no doubt, that will change in time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

New Recruit

While our vet was vacationing in Florida last month, she came across a hard luck case involving a horse. The owner was sick with cancer and couldn't keep the horse. A friend took the horse but couldn't afford the stable costs and needed to get rid of the horse. The horse, named Ruger Golden Acres, could be ours for free if we could transport it to Arizona. Ruger is only three years old and green broke, but otherwise met the criteria for service in the Army. I don't usually take a horse under these circumstances. I like to see the horse, do a temperament check, ride it, and then keep it for a couple weeks so the mil vets and farrier can examine it. However, our mil vet gave Ruger an examination and declared him sound which is usually the biggest obstacle. Since the transportation costs were not bad--about $700--I decided to take a chance. If the horse doesn't work out for the cavalry, we could probably still sell it. The horse will probably arrive here this weekend but is delayed due to the winter storm raging across the continent right now. The horse is too young to begin any serious riding training with, but we can do lots of ground work with it and see if it is likely to be able to handle the cavalry environment. It will be an interesting experience and maybe we will get a good horse out of it.