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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sheath Cleaning

One of the pleasures of having a gelding is that you periodically have to clean out his sheath. The cavalry manual recommends doing this once per month in the warm part of the year and less frequently in the winter. The manual makes it sound like a simple and easy process, like giving them hay, or something. I can only wonder how they performed this task in the 19th century without the benefit of rubber gloves. It is a good idea to use warm water when cleaning the horse's sheath as you lessen the chances of being kicked into the next county. It a good idea, also, to stand well out of kicking range when initiating the cleaning.

While cleaning Cochise' sheath today, I put on a rubber glove and then an old sock over the top of that. The rubber glove protects my hand from the stench, and the sock acts as a wash cloth. Getting a handful of Excalibur sheath cleaner (it looks like green jello), I stuck my hand up into Cochise' sheath. His left rear leg cocked slightly but, fortunately, he relaxed and let me finish the job without getting violent. After softening up the smegma with the green jello, I then swabbed it out again with water. You are not supposed to use soap, as it dries out the skin inside the sheath. It is not a pleasant process and there is the ever present danger of the cocked and ready rear leg should you make an error in your technique.

However, since over 20 years of military service long ago stripped away any shred of personal dignity I ever had, the task was completed successfully and without incident.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Picacho Weekend

Each year B Troop goes to Picacho Peak state park to help re-enact a series of battles that occurred in the southwest United States during the Civil War. The battles re-enacted include those at Valverde, Glorieta Pass, and Picacho Pass. Although our unit represents the Indian Wars period that occurred some 20 years after the Civil War, our uniforms and tack are considered close enough for the purposes of this event.

We left Fort Huachuca on Friday afternoon and set up our camp at the park in the usual spot. We are not re-enactors, so we do not establish an authentic camp. We do not circle the wagons so much as circle the RVs in a location far removed from the re-enactor camp. We are also constrained by a host of rules such as, "no mounted raids upon the Confederate camp", that were written in response to some of the activities of B Troop over the past 30 years or so.

Although I was not originally planning on riding in the event, I decided it was time for the Wonder Horse to get some training in battlefield activities. I have avoided taking him in previous years because I did not think he was ready. This year, I decided it was time. One of our horses was injured the first night in the camp (scratched eye and bent shoe), and so we ended up with more troopers than horses. As a result, I elected to ride in the morning and let someone else ride in the other battles. I figured it would be enough for Apache.

The battlefield is a traumatic experience for most horses due to the loud sounds of musket volleys and cannon fire. Our horses generally don't like it but tolerate it as best they can. I have never known a horse to completely lose it during these events but, they will shy away from the gunfire at times. I had no idea what Apache would do, but figured he was finally mature enough to handle it.

When we rode up to the battle area from our camp and waited for the march onto the field, I noticed that Apache was already lathered. Although that would be alarming for any other horse, it is quite normal for the Wonder Horse. He is an excitably boy. To his credit, though, he stood quietly as people gathered around to take photos and gawk at us. I looked forward with a mixture of curiosity and anxiety to what Apache would do once the battle started.

When we finally marched onto the battlefield, Apache was still calm and remained so until we were ordered to "advance carbines". Apache hates the carbine. We then trotted out to face the Confederate pickets. I say "trotted, but Apache was galloping at a trotting speed, if you can imagine that. It is like jogging in place. His feet were moving in a gallop, but we weren't going anywhere. Once onto the battlefield, we opened fire with our carbines from a skirmish line and then pulled out our pistols and blazed away. Amazingly, I was not involuntarily dismounted during the carbine volley although, it was close. After I somehow got the carbine back into the boot and pulled my pistol, the Wonder Horse began spinning in a circle. Each time we spun around I would fire off a round in the direction of the enemy. My comrades thought this was hilarious. Four times we did this, recovering to a rear area after each engagement to reload our weapons. Eventually, the battle scenario ended and we were able to ride back to the camp.

The best part of the Picacho weekend is the "camaraderie" that takes place around the campfire after dinner. It is hard to describe the beauty of a desert campfire beneath a bright canopy of stars. It is also hard to describe some of the activities that take place around the campfire after the whiskey bottle gets passed around a few times. Well, maybe not hard to describe but, not appropriate to describe. Needless to say, everyone had a great time and no rules were broken as far as the park rangers know.

The next day, was basically a repeat of the same. I again took Apache to the battlefield, and again, he got sweaty, but not as much. He also didn't spin around so much. He was much calmer. I do believe, though, that if I'd taken Apache out there for more than one battle a day, he would have dumped me out there. There is only so much change that the Wonder Horse can handle in one day. He did well for his first Picacho experience and will hopefully benefit from it.

After a long hot day of battles on Sunday we packed up and made the return trip to the fort. Everyone was tired but had a great time. I've given the horses a few days off to rest and recover as a lot was asked of them over the weekend.

The attached video by Ty Holland provides a good summary of the weekend. You can see me and the Wonder Horse in a few of the scenes. He is the sorrel with the blaze. Enjoy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Charge of the Wonder Horse

Photos by George Peters

My past experiences with riding Apache in ceremonies have been somewhat exciting. That is, they have been more exciting then they should have been. Today was no exception.

I wish there was some way to train Apache in military ceremonies without actually participating in them, but there isn't. It doesn't matter how many sessions we put in on the jogging track because all training goes out the window once we line up for a pistol charge. Today, to make thing more interesting, I carried the troop colors which seriously limits what you can do with the reins. That is not a good situation when you sit atop the Wonder Horse.

Everything was going pretty well until we stepped onto the parade ground. Apache immediately began digging a hole in the ground. He was pawing the ground so vigorously that at times it felt like he was rearing up. I would pop the reins periodically to get him to stop, but he would soon start again. I remarked to my fellow riders that if he dug the hole any deeper, we would disappear completely from the ceremony and all you would see would be the spear point sticking out of the field.

Apache standing in the hole he has dug for himself

Apache did fairly well during the cannon salute to the general as such things don't bother him so much. Unfortunately, the anchor horse to my right departed the formation which unnerved Apache and caused him to rotate out of position. He also had no problem with the guidon flapping in his face, although he did try to bite it once or twice.

When it came time to do the pass in review, Apache performed fairly well. He stayed in formation throughout although I had to use lots of leg pressure to keep him straight past the reviewing stand. Some of the other horses were having trouble with this part because of the marching band and I was afraid Apache would act up when he saw his buddies acting up, but fortunately he stayed on all four hooves. I had an image in my mind of him rearing up in front of the official party but, with some effort on my part, he marched right past without incident.

B Troop setting up for the charge as the band departs the field.

The next part got scary. After the pass-in-review we parked to the side and let the band play the service medleys before we marched onto the field for our charge. Apache began crow hopping as soon as we stepped onto the field. He pranced and hopped all the way down the field and when we executed a flanking movement to set up for the charge, it felt like I was riding a barrel of dynamite ready to go off. When the troop commander ordered a gallop, Apache exploded off the line. He was instantly moving at race horse speed. I heard the howitzers from the salute battery go off behind us as we pounded up the field. Apache drifted slightly to the left into another rider's lane, so I tried to move him back, but we were moving so fast it was really too late. We flew past the gazebo at the top of the field and I began to despair that I was not going to be able to stop him before we departed the field entirely and wound up somewhere in Mexico. Finally, thank God, I was able to stop him, or maybe he just stopped because the other horses had stopped.

We reformed, or rather, I rejoined the rest of the formation because we were off by ourselves. Once formed, we marched back down the field to pose for photos. As the adrenaline wore off, I began to feel the pain in my muscles from the effort of stopping the Wonder Horse in his rampage. Of course, the ordeal wasn't over. All the other horses calm down the second the charge is over. Not Apache. He remains an unmanageable beast for at least a half hour after the event.

I'm hoping in time, Apache will calm down and become easier to ride in ceremonies. Maybe when he is in his twenties. I hope I live long enough to see that day.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Easy Job

This morning when I got to the stables I had a plan of action knowing that I had to ride in a ceremony tomorrow and would need to take care of my Friday chores today. I fed and mucked out my horses but found I needed to get another bag of grain out of the grain shed. When I opened the shed, I realized I needed to pick up another load of grain, as we were nearly out of everything.

I made a mental note of that fact and went to get the pressure washer out of the tool shed because I needed to clean out the water trough in the main pasture before we turned horses out tomorrow. I was able to knock that task out in 30 minutes and returned to get the keys for the truck so I could go get grain. However, I then remembered I was supposed to go pick up one of our horse trailers from the repair shop, so I shifted gears to fit that task into the day. When I arrived to pick up the trailer the maintenance guy told him he still needed to check the lights once I got the trailer hooked up. We did that and he made a few quick repairs and then I was off. I returned to the stables and jumped in another truck to go get grain.

The grain purchasing process went quicker than normal, which was good because I still needed to give Wyatt his daily rehab session. When I got back to the stables and unloaded the half ton of grain I'd purchased, I noticed that the pin in the hitch receiver was missing. I guessed that the missing part might be in the back of another truck and I was right but, discovered that this other truck also had a fully discharged battery for some reason. I made a mental note of that problem and then turned to the task of working with Wyatt.

My plan was to pony Wyatt behind Charlie again but I determined that I didn't have time to saddle up Charlie. Wyatt needs a 30 minute work out and adding Charlie to the process makes it an hour long process. I didn't have an hour, thus, I walked Wyatt over the poles for 30 minutes on foot. While I was doing that another trooper arrived at the stables to give me a report on the ceremony rehearsal that he had attended that morning. Seeing an opportunity, I asked him to jump start the dead truck while I worked with Wyatt.

By the time I'd finished with Wyatt, the trooper had gotten the truck started, so we repositioned all the trucks and trailers where they were supposed to be and then I took the truck with the battery problem on a drive around the fort to recharge it. When I got back, I took a quick lunch break at my desk while sorting through e-mail messages.

After lunch, I saddled up Apache to give him a workout on the jogging track again. We worked some more on lead changes, bending, and transitions. It was a pretty good workout and the Wonder Horse was well lathered about 15 minutes into it. About that time another trooper showed up in his jeep and stopped to talk to me while I was working Apache. He made a remark about what a good job I had, "You just sit around and ride horses."

Ha ha. He was kidding...I hope.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wyatt's Rehab

Photo by Ty Holland

Wyatt has been lame on his left rear leg for some time now. We're not really sure why but, we're treating it as a stifle injury. We have been instructed to walk him over cavaletti poles to strengthen and rehabilitate his leg. For the last couple of weeks I have been walking him by hand. He is doing pretty well and only shows lameness when trotting downhill. I've been increasing the amount of trotting that Wyatt does in these sessions in and effort to continually challenge him. The only problem is that it is a lot or work for me to trot a horse around. Very little effort for the horse, lots of effort for me.

Today I wasn't able to take him on his walk in the morning because we had to weigh all the horses (a monthly chore that drives the feed schedule). Since I also had to exercise Charlie in the afternoon, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and ponied Wyatt behind me. I walked Charlie over the poles and pulled Wyatt over as well. For some reason, Wyatt was better able to walk the poles than Charlie. Between the pole sets, I would trot both horses around the jogging track. It all went pretty well accept that one time Wyatt decided to walk around the cavalettis instead of over them. Charlie's if-he-goes-any-slower-he-would be-going-backwards trot is perfect for exercising Wyatt. Since Wyatt is putting on weight due to his inactivity, I plan to trot him more and more. Now that I don't have to do it from the ground, I'm much happier.