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.