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. 

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