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.