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.