Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cavalry Charge Practice

The pre-brief

As part of the riding school, we spend a couple of Saturdays training the students in open field charges.  The open field charge is the most exciting and potentially dangerous activity the troopers engage in.  The troopers perform a pistol charge at the end of each ceremony on post so it is important to train both riders and horses in how to do it safely.  The charge is a rare opportunity to ride a horse as fast as it will go (unless you're a jockey).  The charge only lasts about 14 seconds, but it is an exhilarating 14 seconds.  It is during the charge that riders find out if they really want to pursue cavalry riding as a hobby. 

Walking on line

The practice starts out pretty slowly with the riders forming a skirmish line and walking the parade field to look for holes or objects in the ground.  If a horse steps in a hole while at a gallop, it would likely result in the destruction of both horse and rider, thus inspecting the field is an essential step in the training.  Once the field is determined to be safe, the instructor leads the students up and down the field at various gaits until everyone is comfortable.  It is a good exercise in horse control as the horses know this is the place they do charges and become excited the moment they step onto the field.  By forcing the horses to walk and trot on line up and down the field, the students and horses gain more confidence in each other.  Getting a horse to charge is easy, getting him to stay on line with the other horses, and stopping him before exits the field is sometimes the challenging part. 

Cantering on line

If all goes well, the instructor has the students draw sabers and switch to neck reining at a canter.  The first lesson ends when all the students can control the horse with one hand, stay on line, and keep the horse's speed down.  The second lesson (on another weekend) will build on this training and the students will eventually be allowed to ride their horse at a full gallop up the parade field. 
Wrapping up

Brown Parade ground is nestled between 19th century officer's houses and cavalry barracks at the mouth of Huachuca Canyon.  It is a very historic setting and offers some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and of the San Pedro valley.  The troopers riding there today join a long line of cavalrymen who have practiced and drilled on that rectangle of grass for the last 135 years. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Picacho Peak Part II

Prepping the horses for the first battle of the day.

Riding to the first battle

B Troop contributes the only cavalry presence during the weekend.  However, they also provide a significant contribution to the Union artillery with their mountain howitzer.  It is pretty obvious that without B Troop, there wouldn't be much of a show.   

The day starts with the battle of Valverde.  In the afternoon the battle of Glorietta Pass is re-enacted.  And in the late afternoon, B Troop recreates the battle of Picacho Pass.  The first two battles are virtually the same as far as the mechanics of the battle.  B Troop is sent forward periodically to deal with Confederate skirmishers or advancing infantry and then fall back when their ammo runs out.  The battlefield is so small, the participants are almost standing toe-to-toe.  The spectators are also very close to the action and they can literally feel the concussion from the artillery fire. 

Skirmishing with Confederates

The battlefield is next to a large volcanic rock outcropping that the spectators climb to get a better view of the action.  The terrain is rocky, scrubby, and full of cactus.  The cavalrymen have to be careful where they ride so as not to get a horse stuck in a saguaro or barrel cactus.  Behind the battlefield is an RV park which makes it hard to get decent photos of the battle without RVs in the back ground.

Repositioning for another attack

The mountain howitzer in action

The audience

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Picacho Peak Part I

Last weekend we made the trip to Picacho Peak State Park for the annual Civil War in the Southwest event. The park is about 25 miles north of Tucson, Arizona. It was the site of a skirmish between Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War in 1861. It is known as the "western-most battle of the Civil War." Although we do not normally portray the Civil War era, our Indian War Period uniforms and tack are close enough. We just trade our campaign hats for kepis to create the illusion.

The horse corrals are set up first.  Horses are segregated by rank. 

We left Fort Huachuca on Friday afternoon and arrived at our camp site at about 3 pm. The first order of business is putting up the horse corral, then we set up the mess tent and fire pit, and lastly we set up whatever personal sleeping arrangements we intend to use. Some people bring recreational vehicles, some tents, some sleep in the horse trailers. We have been doing this for many years, so the camp goes up rather quickly.

Horse trailers sometimes serve as sleeping quarters.

It was fairly cool this year, which was a blessing. Some years it gets very hot in the desert and trying to wear dark blue wool uniforms can get a little uncomfortable. It was chilly sitting around the camp fire at night, but the weather was perfect for fighting Confederates.

An interesting variety of casual wear may sometimes be seen at the fire circle first thing in the morning.
Between battles, troopers may find unique ways of amusing themselves.  This trooper is trying to rope an escaped creosote bush.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Color Guard Duty

Here is a video of the troopers carrying the colors during the opening ceremony of the Cochise College Rodoe last weekend on Fort Huachuca, Arizona.  They managed to hold a pretty good formation as they galloped around the arena.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Getting Back Into The Saddle

I haven't been writing much lately as I don't have much to report. I'm still very limited in what I can do since my riding accident. I can ride, but can't put a lot of pressure on my foot or even wear a decent pair of boots. I've been doing all my riding in tennis shoes. The leg and foot are healing, but very slowly. The doctor said it could take nine months for it to heal completely. Great. Only seven months to go.

I did manage to ride the Wonder Horse a couple of times this week. We are just working on simple things like staying on the bit and staying collected. It is a slow and boring process, but it keeps me in the saddle at least a little bit. I've also tried to ride Duke a few times, but he is not as stable a platform as Apache, so I'm reluctant to do much with him. He has a dry cough and when he puts his head down to cough, it gives me flashbacks to the day he fell down and landed on top of my leg. It is very unnerving.

We are getting ready for our annual trip to Picacho Peak for the Civil War in the Southwest on 10-11 March. Unfortunately, it does not look like I will be able to ride in it as I still cannot get my foot into a cavalry boot. I just can't bend the foot enough. I also can't spend long periods of time on my feet in general which makes me pretty much useless around camp. However, I will go anyway and look after the horses and do what I can. If nothing else, maybe I can take some photos to share with everyone.

Me at Picacho Peak in happier times.