Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Manure Removal and Flat Tires

Today was my first day back to work after being off last week for Thanksgiving.  I figured the email inbox would be full of nonsense tasks, but it wasn't too bad.  I had a chance to plan riding for the week and take care of some maintenance around the stable area. 
One on-going task I have, is getting rid of all the manure that we produce each week.  I spread it in the riding arena to mix into the sand and help keep the footing soft.  I compost the manure first, so I'm not spreading fresh manure and the parasites and weeds that go with it.  The manure pile generates its own heat, so it breaks down and kills all the nasty stuff hidden in the manure, if you leave it alone for a month or so. 
I have a small manure spreader that is just big enough to take one bucket full from the front end loader on the tractor.  I pull the spreader around the arena with the Gator which does a pretty good job.  If I have some help, the job goes pretty quickly, but if I'm alone, I have to jump back and forth between the tractor and the Gator.  I can get about a dozen loads of manure spread in about an hour by myself, not counting equipment prep and clean up after. 
I knew I needed to get the manure spread today as we are forecast to have bad weather the next couple of days.  You can't really spread wet manure, so it was today or not at all.  Of course, both the Gator and the tractor had flat tires.  Fortunately, the tires could be aired up so I didn't have to get them replaced.  It seems that I'm always dealing with some sort of tire problem. 
The composted manure was mostly broken down into dust, so every time I turned the tractor into the wind, I got a manure shower.  I wear sunglasses, hat, and bandanna over my face to keep it out of my eyes and lungs, but it is still nasty.  It spreads nicely though, and when I drag the arena, it will essentially disappear.  It's a lot of work though, and ends up killing a couple hours of the day even when you don't have flat tires. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Garbage Detail

I spent the morning today fussing with financial stuff.  Somebody came up with this new system for making purchase requests.  Must have been the same people who did the new national health care site.  It is a nightmare and kills countless hours that could be spent doing something productive.  Nevertheless, I managed to straighten out all our monthly purchases and reconcile our accounts. 
After that, I went to see the doctor who looked in my ear and said my head was infected.  He gave me a sack of pills to take.  Some of the pills make me happy, some make me sad.  Better living through random pill popping. Hopefully, this sack of pills will relieve the pressure in my head. 
I then spent the afternoon repairing garbage cans.  We use them as water troughs for the horses.  These cans are ancient, but made of really sturdy metal.  The new ones I bought are made of tin foil and don't last.  Plus, the wind blows them around.  I threw them all away.  I don't have money for new water troughs, so I got out a tube of Liquid Nails and resealed all the old cans.  Lots of fun trying to squeeze this stuff out of a tube.  My forearms are twice the size they were yesterday.  I look like Popeye the Sailor. 
I was able to spend a few minutes at the end of the day working with horses.  Pretty much the highlight of the day.  I spent a few minutes working on putting a bridle on Duke, who has always had a problem with his ears.  He doesn't like it when you pull the bridle over his ears, so I let the check straps out as far as they go and kind of toss it over his ears.  Today, we worked on that and made some progress.  I also was able to help Martina a little as she worked with Big Cal, who doesn't like jumps.  He had a bad accident years ago and has never really gotten over it.  Martina was real patient with him and managed to get him to relax and go through a course with ground poles.  He is teachable, but it takes a lot of patience.  Working with horses is much more rewarding than working with financial systems and garbage cans. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Still Kicking

Okay, so it has been a little while since I posted anything, but what's a couple months?  I don't have much to write about as far as riding horses goes as I haven't done any riding since coming down with pneumonia in September.  The doctors cured the pneumonia, but I keep coming up with other illnesses.  I briefly considered giving myself bute today--just to end it all. 

Most of my time each day is spent coordinating something, fixing something, or complying with some bureaucratic requirement.  I'm continually asked to comply with regulatory requirements that are meant to be handled by a fully manned company, not a one-man horse operation.  I have to focus on keeping the horse detachment functioning first, after that I can worry about filling out logistics paperwork and completing training in sexual harassment (is it okay to pat my horse on the butt?). 
Yesterday, I caught a couple of environmental people checking out our manure pile.  They were responding to a work order to have the manure pile moved that was issued over a year ago.  Obviously, it was not a priority for them.  They seemed to think the placement of our manure pile was okay, but I'm almost certain someone above them will insist that it be moved or modified in some way to make managing it more difficult.  The funny thing is that no matter where you put it, it all ends up being washed downstream eventually. 
Today, in addition to taking a riding lawn mower in for maintenance (the maintenance guys didn't want to take it, but I whined until they did) and taking a truck in to get the plastic cap on the tailgate replaced, I spent about ninety minutes raking the arena for the riding practice tonight.  The barrel racers had been practicing in the arena and had left big divots in the footing.  Not good when troopers are trying to practice charges at a full gallop.  I wanted to wet the arena down before I dragged it, but only two of the sprinklers were working.  Thus, the footing is like brown talcum powder now.  I hope everyone rode with their bandannas over their faces. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Return of Bob

We drove back up to Phoenix today to retrieve Bob from the veterinary clinic.  His surgery went well, but he will be on pen rest for at least three weeks.  He won't be able to do any work until sometime in October. 
Bob checking things out in his room at the spa.
Bob jumped out of the trailer without effort, when we got home.  It is nice to see him sound for a change. 
Meanwhile, he gets to stay here at the horsey spa before his eventual return to the Army.  Bob is okay with that. 
Room with a view. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Navicular Treatment for Bob

Bob is one of our slow, ponderous horses who cam to the troop about five years ago.  He had been used in cowboy mounted shooting before coming to us, so he was considered a good find as he was already gun trained. Although he was slow, I considered that an asset as many of our horses turn out to be too fast when charging up the parade field.  I was wanting a horse that a beginner could ride.  I thought I'd found that in Bob, but it turned out that in a charge all that slow, ponderous behavior disappeared.  He is also obstinate and difficult to ride, if you don't have a lot of confidence in yourself.  Despite all that, he was a decent horse when paired up with the right rider.  Basically, the same situation as we have with every other horse. 
Waiting for the effects of the first nerve block to take effect.
Unfortunately, he turned out to be bi-lateral navicular and had to have a neurectomy to correct his lameness.  All attempts at pen rest, corrective shoeing, shoe removal, etc. had not helped him. The surgery went well and he was pain-free for a couple of years.  However, earlier this year he began to show signs of lameness again.  We thought it was the navicular reappearing as the surgery typically only lasts a couple years before the nerves regrow.  We had him evaluated but it seemed that the lameness was caused by a bad bone bruise on one of his fetlocks.  We put him in pen rest for several months to see if he would come out of it, but once the bruise was healed, he was still lame. 
The vet blocking the second hoof. 
Thus, we took him back to the veterinarian for another evaluation and a possible neurectomy.  The veterinarian blocked him out (numbed his heels) and the lameness disappeared, so it was clear that he had gone navicular again.  You can only do a neurectomy twice on the same horse, so this will be Bob's last surgery before he has to be retired.  Hopefully, he will be able to perform for a couple more years before the nerves regenerate and lameness sets in again. 
Meanwhile, he will be in pen rest for a couple weeks, before we begin the process of reconditioning him.  He will have to be paired with an experienced rider who can recognize lameness and can deal with any stumbling, should it occur.  After a year of so of additional service to the Army, we will start looking to retire him so he can go shoeless and not have to work anymore.  He will never be completely pain free, once the nerves regenerate, but we can hopefully find a home with nice, soft ground, where his discomfort will be minimized. 
Bob wishing he could have a coke. 
I don't really like giving a neurectomy to a horse, but sometimes it is the only option for extending the useful life of a horse.  In this economy, no one wants a lame horse, so it is in his best interests to keep him working as long as possible and then hope we can find a nice home for him where he can just be a pasture pet.  Once he's free of shoes and having to work under saddle, he might enjoy a decent retirement with minimal pain. 
Navicular disease cannot be cured and no one really knows what causes it.  It is disheartening to see a young horse, with so much promise, become navicular.   Bob is getting the best treatment available in Arizona and hopefully we can keep him going a bit longer. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Set Back

Blade's pole splitting project.
After working with Blade last week to overcome his bit-aversion problem, I kind of forgot about it.  I assigned him to a student thinking his problems were over.  Wrong again.  When Blade saw the student walking toward him with a bridle, he set back against the post.  The post he was tied to was probably about 40 years old. The center of it was rotted out and when Blade panicked and pulled back, he pulled the side of the post off like a banana peal.  The chunk of post was still attached to him by the lead rope and he was trying to get away from it when I moved over to help.  He calmed down when he saw me, so I was able to stand on the wood-chunk and untie the lead rope.  I took him over to another post and loose-tied him.  I put the bridle over his head and he accepted the bit without incident.  I had just assumed that when I was able to bridle him, that anyone could.  I still do not understand what the problem is.  It isn't just the bit that bothers him, it is the combination of the bit and someone he doesn't know trying to put it on him. Another mystery and another problem to solve.  No one ever said my job was boring. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bit Refusal

Blade in happier times.
While prepping for the riding school last night, I noticed one of the students having trouble getting Blade to take the bit.  I went over to help and found that I was having the same problem.  Blade was clamping his teeth shut, pursing his lips, and throwing his head around to avoid the bit.  I took him to the arena and tried again without tying him.  Still no luck.  When he refused, I planned to lunge him off his lead line, but he would just pivot toward me instead of running around me.  Realizing that I was getting no where, I took him back to the tie up post and tried again.  I checked his mouth and teeth to make sure there were no problems in there and found nothing.  As I was about to give up, he suddenly parted his teeth enough for me to pull the bridle on.  He was fine once it was on.  I decided that I'd need to work on it again the next day.
Today, when I tried again, I had the same problem.  Blade would keep his teeth clamped shut and when I tried to insert my thumb into his mouth, he'd lift his head to prevent me from opening his mouth.  I became increasingly angry and started smacking him on the shoulder and yelling at him.  Realizing that I was losing it, I tied him up short and went and tended to the other horses for a while until I could calm down.  On my way back to him, I grabbed a pocket full of horse treats, and went back to work.  He still refused to take the bit, but I held a cookie in front of it, so he tried to snake his tongue around the bit to get at it.  We continued this game for a while, then I put the cookie back into my pocket.  Without losing my temper, I continued to hold the bit in front of his teeth and rubbed the side of his mouth with my thumb.  Eventually, he unclenched his teeth and I was able to get the bit in.  I praised him, gave him the cookie he desired and then slid the bridle off.  We repeated this cycle five times until he would take the bit without much hesitation.  I then let him graze on the grass for five minutes and then put him in his pen for dinner.  I will try again tomorrow, but I will try to keep him out of the riding school until I'm sure he's over whatever was bothering him. 
There is no telling what causes a horse to suddenly have a problem like that.  Could be that someone accidentally hit him in the teeth while putting bridle on, or there was something nasty tasting on the bit, or something totally unrelated.  The lesson I learned was that I had to keep my temper in check while trying to overcome Blade's phobia about the bit.  I spent about thirty minutes trying to solve this problem today, but hopefully, it won't take as long tomorrow. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Military Style Riding

Our Saturday makeup session turned out to be somewhat of a marathon.  Training began at 0800, but it took the students 90 minutes to put their saddles on.  That is okay, at first, as you want to make sure everyone knows what to do.  Sometimes the quickest way to move a herd, is slowly. 
After we finally got into the arena, we practiced column movements to get the students used to moving from a single file to a column of twos and back again. We also practiced "left to a line" and "right to a line" from a column.  The students were having a little more luck with their horses, this time, as their self confidence and understanding of cues improved. 
Unfortunately, while practicing column movements, Cochise kicked Charlie in the right leg.  The kick landed on the inside of his upper leg, near the stifle joint.  Charlie was limping, so I turned the class over to the other instructor so I could tend to Charlie.  I asked the other instructor to have the students remove their saddles and try bareback for a while.
I didn't see much of the rest of the lesson, other than a quick peak while they were trying to mount bareback.  That is always a funny scene.  I can't jump as high as I once did, but some people can't jump at all.  From a distance it looked like some of them weren't able to jump higher than about two inches.  Some, however, were able to get up without too much trouble.  Eventually, everyone got aboard with a little assistance from the instructor. 
The training went on for about four hours altogether with about two hours of that spent on horseback.  The training was good and the weather was good. The students seem to be really getting into it. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cavalry Riding School Rides Again

Trying to keep warm bodies in our horse detachment seems to get harder and harder each year.  We try to hold one riding school a year to keep our numbers up, but this year things have gotten so bad that we had to schedule a second riding school.  Fortunately, we got six recruits this time, which gives us a chance of filling some holes in the roster.  Unfortunately, summertime is the worst time of year to have a riding school here because of the daily thunderstorms.  We have had four riding sessions scheduled the last couple of weeks on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and two of them were rained out. 
The first session was what we call "ground school," where we teach the students how to groom and care for their horse and how to maintain their tack.  The second session was supposed to be about how to put the tack on the horse and what the basic military commands are for riding.  However, we had a really intense rain storm just before the class which soaked all the horses, so we were limited to marching around in the mud on foot.  We were able to teach the basic commands and column movements, but it's just not the same without an obstinate, misbehaving horse beneath you. 
Our third session was supposed to be mounted column movements, but this session was completely rained out, so we had to delay that training until the fourth session and then added another session on Saturday.  So, the first night of riding did not occur until the fourth session, when finally, we got a break in the weather. 
In the fourth session, we spent a great deal of time on how to place the tack properly, with extra emphasis on saddle placement.  There is a tendency for new riders to place the saddle too far forward, where it interferes with the movement of the horse's shoulder.  This, in turn, causes the saddle to sit high in front, distorting the rider's seat and causing the horse's back to get sore.  We also go over the differences in the behavior of each of the horses during grooming; the horse that doesn't like the bit, the cinchy horse, the horse that sets back, the horse that stomps his feet down, the head-shy horse, etc.  Since the students are issued a different horse each time, they soon learn all the specific techniques for handling and tacking up each horse in the herd.
After we finally got saddles on all the horses, we put the students in the practice arena and practiced mounting and dismounting in the military fashion.  Fortunately, all the students in this class are in reasonably good shape and were able to get on and off their horses without any serious problems.  We then had them practice side-passing and backing up.   This part was a little more amusing as the horses, realizing they had newbies on their backs, were pretty much doing everything but what they were supposed to be doing.  But, this is part of the horse's job.  If the horses were perfectly behaved, the students would learn nothing.  The horses teach the students to get their cues right and to be confident in what they're doing.  You can tell by the expression on the faces of the horses and the occasional, exasperated sigh, that they know they are dealing with new riders.  It is amazing to see. 
All in all, the first riding session went well.  The second one went even better, but I'll discuss that in my next post. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Wonder Horse Rides Again

I haven't been able to ride in ceremonies much in recent months due to the sequester/furlough business.  However, I did loan out Apache for a ceremony last month that apparently went fairly well.  His rider gushed about how well he behaved and, indeed, from what I saw in the video, he was able to complete a charge without losing control.  Encouraged by this, I decided to ride him myself today in a ceremony on Brown parade field. 
How easily I fall into Apache's trap. 
We were short riders for the ceremony, so I sucked it up and adjusted my work hours so I could do the ceremony and still handle the start of a new riding school tonight.  No doubt, I will pay for this later.  I had to be in to feed the horses at 0430 as the ceremony as at 0730.  It was still dark and, of course, raining when I arrived at the stables.  Fortunately, it did not rain hard and the lightning stopped about sunrise. 
There were only four of us for the ceremony, which was okay since there was only us and the honor guard on the field.  Apache was calm until we formed up on the field and then he began his pawing activity.  He'd paw with one hoof, I'd correct him with the reins, and then he'd shift to the other hoof.  This went on for the entire ceremony including the won't-this-guy-ever-wrap-this-up speech by the outgoing commander.  I think this gentlemen thanked everybody in his command including the janitorial staff.  Apache marked the time by happily scraping about ten square yards of turf off the field while we stood there. 
Mercifully, the ceremony finally ended and we moved down the field to do our charge.  Apache was pretty good during this.  No spinning or rearing or crow hopping.  That all changed when we did a left flank and began the charge.  Apache and I were part of the skirmish line for only a moment.  I discharged all my pistol rounds as quickly as I could as I could feel Apache winding up beneath me.  I briefly though of re-holstering my pistol so I could use both hands on the reins, but quickly realized there was no time for that.  The Wonder Horse was moving at warp speed.  I grabbed reins with both hands even though I still had a pistol in one of them.  I leaned on the reins with all my strength and weight with no effect.  In fact, I think he was still accelerating. 
At the end of the parade field is a gazebo and some trees.  The horses always veer away from the gazebo and stop to the left of it where the trees are.  Apache sped toward the trees and I started to get a little concerned.  I began rocking the curb bit against the roof of his mouth to get his attention and felt the slightest little change in power that indicated I might survive yet another Apache-bolt.  As he galumphed down to a reasonable speed, I began to relax slightly and brought him to a stop about five feet from the end of the parade field. 
We were both breathing hard as we rejoined the rest of the riders, but neither of us was injured.  My thigh muscles were still shaking with the strain of stopping Apache as we rode back down to the ceremony to pose for photos.  As soon as we stopped, Apache began pawing again, of course.  He put up with standing there for a little while, but soon began to give the telltale signs of a pending horse blow up.  I suggested we depart the field while we I was still on him.  We left in the nick of time. 
I think it is important to ride Apache in a ceremony once in a while to remind myself why I don't like to ride him in ceremonies.  I wonder how he will do in the riding school. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Snake Bit Horse

I woke up early today, about 6 AM, and was just sitting down to read the paper while the coffee brewed, when the Bat Phone went off.  It was the trooper with weekend pasture feed calling to tell me that Big Cal had a bloody nose.  He also related that Cal's nose was swollen and he could hear him breathing.  I told him I'd be there as soon as I could. 
Cal showing off his nose tube harness and his swollen upper lip.
I woke up Debbie and told her we had a possible snake bite and then we both scrambled to get underway as quickly as we could.  When we arrived, one look confirmed that Cal had been tagged on the nose by a rattler.  His muzzle was huge and he was struggling to breath.  We had been trying to contact the vet as we drove to the stables, but with no luck.  When I got to the office, I called the on-call vet tech, who promptly answered.  She said she'd be down as soon as she could, but the mil vet was out of town and she was told not to call the other mil vet because she was on profile for her own medical problems.  Unfortunately, the only other option we had was our private practice vet, but she was out of town on vacation.  Thus, we had to call the mil vet with medical problems, who was overjoyed that we had called her. 
The vet tech arrived first and administered a sedative and a drug to reduce the swelling.  Cal calmed down enough so we could try and insert a section of garden hose up his nose to keep his nasal passage open before the swelling squeezed it off.  Unfortunately, the swelling was too advanced and we could not get the hose in.  There was only a tiny passage left open and we had nothing small enough to get through. 
The tube can be seen in his left nostril.  Poor horse.
At this point, I drove back into town to the hardware store to try and find something that we could use to get past the swelling.  Quickly scanning through all the possibilities in the plumbing section, I found some tubes used on swamp coolers to drip water onto the membranes.  They were narrow enough, yet strong and slightly flexible.  I grabbed a package of tubes and a rasp to smooth up the ends, and sped back to the stables. 
Fortunately, in my absence, the mil vet showed up and squirted epinephrine up his nostril which opened up the nasal passage long enough for us to get the regular sized tube up his nose.  It was good thinking and likely saved Cal's life.  We have him at the ZERF now, where we can keep a close watch on him, but he will probably be okay as long as the tube stays put.  It will require hourly checks throughout the night and I will have to rig up a work light in his stall to we can verify that he is still okay.  Hopefully, in a day or two, we can remove the tube.  Damned snakes. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Old Troopers Never Die...

I was honored yesterday by a visit from a trooper who rode with B Troop back in the 70s.  His name was Sherman Pauley, and he rode 1978-1979.  He is getting on in years and was traveling across the country with his family from back east.  He indicated this would be his last trip out west and he wanted to impart some old scrapbook items he saved from his B Troop days. 
We chatted for close to an hour and I asked him as much as I could about a period of time from which we have almost no records.  He have me a troop roster from 1977 and it had about forty names on it.  Not all of them rode, though, some were wagon drivers and artillery crew, but based on the photos he showed me, B Troop had a huge mounted presence once upon a time. 
The troop had no formal training and did not possess its own horses.  Riding training was accomplished "on the job" and the horses were all leased from the Buffalo Corral.  The thought of conducting business like that sends shivers up my spine, but they made it work (although he indicated it was sometimes exciting).  He gave me a list of Buffalo Corral horses that indicated which horses were suitable for B Troop and which ones weren't.  There were about sixty horses they could use and about ninety they couldn't.  How they kept all those horses straight is a mystery to me.  Oddly, some of the horses on the NOT SUITABLE list have name plates on our wall of retired horses, so obviously some of them eventually were used anyway. 
Interestingly, I found a horse on the reject list called Apache.  He was not usable because he was "not good looking."  Obviously, not related to the Wonder Horse.  If he had been, the note would have indicated "insanity" or "evil genius" or something like that. 
Sherman told me that the original troop office was in one of the old Indian scout huts on Apache flats.  I remember hearing from another source how one of the huts was acquired for B Troop use and renovated to make is habitable.  The huts were torn down long ago, which is a shame.  The huts were along the road to the RV park on post and there is no trace of them now. 
To move the troop, they had a semi-tractor trailer rig for the horses and a flatbed trailer to move the cannon and wagon.  The cannon apparently belonged to the museum and they would go get it each time they needed to use it.  The Rose Bowl parade was one of their biggest events, but they also did some of the stuff we do now; Helldorado, Picacho Peak, Fort Lowell, etc.  They also participated in large-scale re-enactments with other cavalry units in which everything had to be authentic down to the food they ate (hard tack, salt pork, and beans).  And, naturally, since they had to while away the hours around the campfire, they had a 4th Cavalry Songbook which featured songs like the Boys of B Troop
"Oh, we're the boys of B Troop,
            We're not so very neat,
            We seldom comb our hair
            And we never wash our feet."
Great stuff.
It was great visiting with Sherman and he had some fond memories of his time in the troop.  He gave me all the articles and photographs he had from those years (including his old trooper manual), which I will add to our scrapbook collection. 
As I bid him farewell, I couldn't help but wonder if today's troopers will be showing up at Fort Huachuca in 35 years to recount their days of glory in B Troop. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Old School Cavalry Mounting

I have written before about the challenges of mounting a cavalry horse with weapons hanging off your body.  It is an activity that takes some practice and an understanding of the equipment you're using.  I have learned the hard way that you have to make sure your carbine sling is adjusted so that your rifle barrel doesn't hang down too far when you sling it over your back.  If the barrel hangs below your knees, you are likely to hook it with your right leg as you throw it up over your horse during mounting.  This mistake results in either the rider sitting on his own rifle, or worse, smacking the horse in the left hip with the rifle barrel, causing it to launch forward while the hapless rider still has only one foot in the stirrup.  There are other bad things that can happen during this activity and I have experienced them all. 

Thus, I was somewhat gratified to learn that our cavalry ancestors didn't have it any better.  In fact, it sounds like they may have had it worse according to an anecdote I came across while reading "Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather: Firearms in the Nineteenth Century American West" by Charles G. Worman.  Worman recounts the tale of one cavalry recruit, named James Larson, who had enlisted in the cavalry at the beginning of the Civil War and soon found himself learning mounted drill at Fort Wise, Colorado.  The new recruits were initially given no saddles and had to make do with only a saddle blanket.  Encumbered with waist belt, cartridge box, saber, and carbine with sling they were compelled to vault onto their horse's back unassisted. 
With that rig...,we stood...by our horses, ready to mount if we could...When I stood by the side of my horse that morning looking at the long saber by m left side, the lower part of the scabbard resting on the ground about two and one-half feet behind me and the upper part of the scabbard with the hilt projecting out at least one foot in front of me, and the carbine hanging down the middle of my back with the butt end just opposite the back of my head, I wondered if it was possible...  
When the command fell there followed a scramble and a terrible rattling of sabers along the line, but only a few could be seen on top of their horses when the commotion was over.  The others were either lying on the ground or standing by their horses with a disgusted look on their faces, I being among the last named...
Although, I like to incorporate as much of the old-school training into our riding school as possible, I don't think I want to use this particular training technique.  Thankfully, we attach our sabers to our saddles instead of our belts, but there is no way I'd like to see any of our recruits try to jump on a horse with a carbine slung over their backs.  We get enough cracked skulls at it is.   

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Charge Practice

Me and the Wonder Horse in a saber charge. 
One of the most thrilling and dangerous aspects of being a cavalry trooper is performing open-field charges on the parade ground.  It is there that people find out if they really want to be a trooper. 
The horses know what happens on the parade ground.  They are relatively calm on the field at first as most of what they do there involves standing still for an hour and listening to military marching music.  However, once we begin to set up for the charge, they experience a huge adrenalin rush as they know they are about to do what all horses love the most--run across flat, grassy ground as fast as their legs will carry them.  It is what they were made for.
"He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength, and charges into the fray."  
Most of our horses do this well and although they may gallop up the field as fast as they can, they will all come to a stop at the end of the charge.  They know when it is time to stop.  All of them, that is, except Apache the Wonder Horse. 
"In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground;"  
Apache is hot.  His Arabian blood burns through his veins like molten lava. The quarter horse blood mixed into his makeup offers no cooling effects.  He is a furnace of unquenchable fire and any affection he may hold for me evaporates in a mist of sprayed sweat from his heaving flanks when the trumpet sounds. 
"...he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds."
I have ridden him in maybe four public ceremonies involving a charge over the years.  It is not that he can't do it, it is just a gamble.  A gamble with my life.  It is like driving a race car with faulty brakes at full speed directly at a tree wondering if you will be able to stop. 
Yesterday, we practiced charges with the new students.  We set up a canopy on the side of the field and a boom-box with marshal music playing to simulate a ceremonial crowd and band.  As we went through the sequence of events of a typical ceremony, Apache pawed the ground with the same impatience and excitement of his ancient ancestors, referred to thousands of years ago in the above quotes from the Book of Job. 
When we tried to teach the students how to charge, we set up the skirmish line and forced the horses to alternatively walk and trot while staying on line.  The idea behind this technique is to teach both horses and students to remain in control during the charge instead of launching into an out-of-control horse race. 
Apache does not walk or trot in this situation, he basically gallops in place.  He speeds up or slows down based on the cues I give with the reins, but his legs do not stop galloping.  It is like holding the brakes on a car while spinning the tires.  He is desperate to do what God designed him to do.  It is only his respect for me that keeps him tethered. 
Finally, his frustration overwhelms him and he pops up and throws his head back into my face.  I am fortunate that I have my head turned to the right, but he catches me full in the left side of my head.  Somehow, I managed to stay in the saddle.  Woozy, I guide him to the side of the field and dismount by the people on the ground near the canopy who are watching all this.  Unsure of my condition, I dismount and shake my head a few times to try and reseat my rattled brain.  I am pleased to note that I can still stand.  I figure if I can stand, I can ride, so I mount up again. 
The other riders are at the end of the field looking at me and wondering what I am doing.  I spur Apache into a gallop and we rejoin the group without incident.  Because we are not in a charge, Apache is under control.  It is all about the context of the situation.  We try the charge again, but this time I'm careful not to put my head in a position where I can get clobbered again.  We move up the field going from walk, to trot, to gallop, but Apache is not able to reach me with his head this time and I'm able to complete the lesson without being knocked out. 
At that point pain and exhaustion compel me to step aside during the next charge. My training objective for the Wonder Horse is accomplished and there is no point in pushing Apache further as eventually he will explode.  I know this from experience.  The rest of the class attempts another charge and I am pleased to see the students are able to maintain control. 
Today I look like Rocky Balboa after a fight with Apollo Creed.  I have abrasions on the left side of my face and my eye is swollen, but fortunately the pain has mostly subsided.  I'm glad now that I didn't ride Apache during last month's ceremonies.  He can do the ceremonies, but not particularly well and not particularly safely.  Eventually, his blood will cool and he will be a good ceremony horse.  Maybe in about ten years. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Change of Command

On 12 April, B Troop finally got a new commander.  Over the years we've had a variety of different kinds of individuals command the troop, but for the first time a naval officer took command.  We had to train him not to use navy lingo during the ceremony such as responding to commands with "Aye," but he managed to get through it okay. 
We were a little short handed and had to pass the unit colors with only three people instead of the customary four, but it really didn't make much difference.  We went through the traditional ceremony and concluded with our usual cavalry charge up the field. 
Afterwards, we had refreshments in the gazebo and mingled with the spectators.  The cannon crew decided to don naval head gear and offer a little salute to the new commander, which everyone enjoyed.  B Troop has been commanded now by officers from all of the service branches except the Marine Corps.  I shudder to think what that would be like. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mountain Howitzer Artillery Harness

On Saturday, B Troop was tasked to support Fort Huachuca's Celebration of the Military Child event--a festival of sorts for the local community.  The weather was excellent and a good crowd showed up to participate. 
The artillery harness on display
I had despaired that we would not have enough people to support the event, and at one point cancelled our participation.  We had only five people to support, of which only three were riders.  Not enough to put on a riding demonstration as we had been asked to provide.  However, the five people who signed up were committed and soon a few others began to sign on until we had a total of nine people on the team. 
We still didn't have enough riders to put on a show, so the troopers elected to set up a small saber course with which to demonstrate their riding skills.  In addition, a couple of ladies agreed to ride sidesaddle, and several of our cannon crew members set up a static display of their equipment. 
The two mountain howitzers
B Troop has had for many years an artillery harness for its 1840 mountain howitzer.  I moved it into storage years ago as we never used it and it was just taking up space.  However, in the last few months, our cannon crew has grown substantially and we welcomed a couple of experienced artillery reenactors, Donnis and Priscilla, who owned their own mountain howitzer.  I told them about the artillery harness that was gathering dust in our old mule barn and they were very interested in it.  They offered to clean it up and put it on display for the Military Child event. 
The B Troop encampment
What they accomplished in the space of five days was nothing less than miraculous.  The cleaned and oiled the entire harness set and had it on display in all its glory.  They also brought their own howitzer, complete with limber.  These two individuals are a great asset to B Troop and their enthusiasm and knowledge of all things artillery, is impressive.   Now we just have to train up a team of horses to pull the cannon and we can give the other Army horse detachments a run for their money.    

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Horse Bee Stings

One of our retired Army horses, Bandit, had a bad run in with some bees today.  I had put all the horses in the north pasture so I could unload some sand into the horse pens which are in the south pasture.  The horses were spending the afternoon happily nibbling at the new shoots of grass growing in the north pasture.  It was pretty peaceful save for a little fusing between Regent and Wyatt who is a retired Army horse on our neighbor's property.  Regent and Wyatt are old rivals and it was necessary to discuss a few things over the fence. 
Poor Bandit covered in bee stings. 
However, the afternoon calm was shattered by the sound of Bandit, who is lame, galloping madly for the gate to the south pasture.  Debbie heard all this and went out to find Bandit frantically trying to scrape his sides on the fence and kicking at himself.  She saw that he was covered in bee stings.  She let him through to the other pasture and led all the other horses over too.  Fortunately, none of the others had any stings.  Debbie put Bandit into a stall and tried to calm him down, but he was extremely agitated and didn't want her to touch him.  She gave him some antihistamines she had on hand and called the vet to see if there was anything else she could give him other than banamine for the pain. 
Bandit calmed down after a while and will spend the night in a stall until he feels better.  I went out into the pasture to see if I could find a hive, but found no sign of any bees.  Apparently a swarm had come through and Bandit just happened to be in the way.  I'm guessing they weren't Africanized bees or Bandit would probably be dead by now.  Its just one more thing you have to watch out for here in Arizona.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More Horse Vaccination Reactions

After the incident yesterday with Ruger, we discovered four other horses having bad reactions to the vaccinations they received.  Apache, Blade, Duke, and Charlie were all found to be stocked up in their legs.  Duke was only stocked up on the back legs, but all the others experienced swelling in all four legs.  Charlie also developed swelling at the injections sites on both sides of his neck. None of the horses lost their appetite or became sick, but Charlie developed a slight fever for a while.  We're trying to determine if there is something wrong with the vaccine.  We have never experienced anything like this. 
The swelling on Charlie's neck

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Horse Vaccination Reactions

Our horses were due for their vaccinations in March, but due to the bureaucracy associated with the new budget restrictions, the vaccines didn't make in until this week.  The mil vet, with her team, showed up this morning and jabbed all the horses (accept for Blade, who I had to hold during the injection).  I then sent an email message out to all the troopers to warn them to look for swelling or other reactions to the vaccines. 

Later in the afternoon while I was in the office, one of our ladies wandered in and started asking questions.  I may not have the exact words, but the conversation went something like this:

"So, a horse lies down when its tired and it lies down when its sick.  So how do you know the difference?"  she asked.

"Well, it depends on when the horse is laying down.  For instance, if your feeding and the horse is laying down, he's sick,"  I replied.

"Oh, well, I just tried to give an apple to Ruger, but he wouldn't take it," she said.

"Well, some horses don't like apples," I replied.  "Has he ever refused an apple before?"

"I don't remember if I ever tried before," she answered.  "He wouldn't even lift his head," she added. 

I was kind of distracted by some work I was doing on the computer, but as she went out of the office her words began to sink in a little.  I decided I'd better go out and see what was going on. 
Ruger, a couple years ago--just a little guy then.

Ruger was laying flat out on the ground in his stall.  He is a young horse, about five years old.  He's not the kind of horse that stays on the ground when someone walks into his stall.  I walked up to him and tried to harass him into standing up.  After a little bit of flapping my hat at his back, he struggled to his feet.  We put a halter on him and I took him over to the medicine shed to check his vitals.  I tried to give him an apple treat, but he wouldn't take it.  Normally, he snaps it out of your hand.  I checked is heart rate and temperature and found he was at 52 BPM and 101.5 degrees.  He had bowel sounds and was passing manure, so I figured it was a reaction to the vaccinations.  I called the mil vet and took him back to his pen.  We kept him up and walking around until the vet arrived.  While we walked him around, he developed bad diarrhea. 
The vet arrived and confirmed the vital signs we had found and I noticed then that his respiration's were up also.  He was desperate to lay down, but we kept him standing.  The vet gave him banamine and began to treat him for colic.  First, she stuck her arm up his backside to check for obstructions or twisting.  Everything seemed to be okay so they then tried to get a tube down his nose to pump water into him.  Ruger was pretty well sedated, but he was having none of that.  Unfortunately, he got a bloody nose in the process which was getting spattered all over everybody and every thing. 
They were never able to get the tube in him, but it didn't seem to be necessary.  All the trauma associated with their treatment efforts seemed to get him through the colic.  The banamine probably did the job as it usually does in cases like this.  Once the pain was gone, he started feeling hungry and normal again.  We took his food away per the vet's instructions, gave him electrolyte paste, and left him plenty of water.  He was looking pretty normal about 30 minutes later, so I stopped being concerned.  The vet promised to come back later to check on him. 
Just another dull day at the office.  It just goes to show that you have to sometimes read between the lines when someone is talking about horse behaviour. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Regent's Hoof Surgery

One of our finest horses, Regent, began showing signs of lameness in his front feet last year.  After a trip to Arizona Equine and an MRI, it was determined that Regent had keratomas in both hooves.  A keratoma is a rare, benign tumor that grows in the hooves of horses.  Regent, somehow, managed to get them in both hooves. 
We schedule the surgery to have the tumors removed in early December, but due to a very complex and confusing government contracting process, we weren't able to get it done until after Christmas.  The surgery was very successful and Regent did extremely well considering that both hooves were operated on simultaneously.  The veterinarian, Dr. Howard, took a large strip out of the front of both hooves and pulled the tumors through the gaps.  We were told the recovery would take at least nine months.
We brought Regent home with instructions to replace the bandages on his hooves every two days.  As you can imagine, Regent didn't much care for this process, but because he trusts both me and Debbie, we were able to get the job done without too much trouble.
Regent's hooves in February--about 6 weeks after surgery
The bandage consisted of sticking a betadine-soaked piece of gauze into the hoof gap and then putting, I kid you not, diapers over his hooves.  The diapers helped absorb the drainage from the wounds.  Next, we wrapped the hooves with vet wrap and, finally, covered the whole thing with a duct tape boot.  Because Regent was missing a significant amount of his hoof wall, the farrier bolted a couple of steel plates to the bottom of his feet to provide support. 
Of course, the worst part of bandage changing was removing the gauze from the holes in his hooves.  Regent hated this part and it was only the fact that we had formed a solid relationship with this horse over a period of ten years that we were able to perform this task at all. 

Eventually, we were able to stretch the bandage changes to every three days and then, not at all.  His hooves are still growing in and he is only about three months into his recovery.  We let him out to walk around now, and he seems to be recovering quicker than we expected.  We hope to begin the process of reconditioning him sometime in July. 

Regent's feet now--3 1/2 months after surgery

He is an excellent horse and has become a much more affectionate horse since coming to live at our house during his recovery (that is mostly Debbie's influence, I'm guessing).  We expect a full recovery and look forward to the day when Regent can charge up Brown parade field again. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bad Hats

This is a photo of the 71st New York in 1898 after having just returned from Cuba during the Spanish-American War.  Note that they are still wearing the same campaign hat and blue, wool over shirt as worn by B Troop which represents the 1880s.  However, they do not have suspenders for their trousers and their hats are not blocked in to any particular standard.  Most have creased the crown in the center, but a few have varied from that standard, and the brims seem to be influenced more by chance than anything else.  It is also interesting to see that one individual is wearing what appears to be a white T-shirt. 

Photo by Detroit Publishing Company


Gang Tat Dancer

We finally got Blade freeze branded today with the 'US' placed upon his shoulder.  A previous attempt had failed because Blade does not get along with the mil vet and wouldn't stand still to be sedated.  Debbie worked with him for a couple weeks to see if he was afraid of needles, but it turned out he was just afraid of the vet.  The vet managed to sedate him today, but not enough to compel him to stand still for a brand.  She asked me to hold him while she tried to apply the brand, but he was having none of it.  She tried additional sedation and manged to get the syringe into his neck, but Blade danced away before she could push the plunger.  Fortunately, he was less afraid of me, so I was able to administer the sedation.  I stroked his nose and calmed him down until he stood still.  I went to the bucket where the brand was and calmly walked over and applied it to his shoulder where the vet had shaved him.  I was holding on to Blade's lead rope with my left hand and applying the brand with my right.  After a few seconds, Blade could feel the cold of the brand and began to move, but I kept the brand on for the full 15 seconds required.  I don't think I got a good brand because of a ripple in his upper arm muscle.  Because of the angle I was holding the brand at and Blade's movement, I couldn't really push the brand flat.  The 'U' should come out okay, but the 'S' may not be complete.  It will be a few months before I know for sure. 
After all that, we then had to put the microchip in.  We put microchips in all our horses.  Ruger got his today, but he was no trouble.  Blade, not so cooperative.  Again, the vet managed to get the syringe with the chip into his neck, but I had to grab it and push the plunger.  After all the trauma, I stood with Blade and stroked his nose to calm him down.  I removed his feeder since he was too "drunk" to eat properly, but after an hour he was pretty much back to normal.  It amazes me how some horses can resist sedation.  Anyway, Blade has his "gang tat" now and is a full member of the herd. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Return of Bob

Debbie and I made the long trek back to Phoenix to retrieve poor Bob.  We thought that he'd be getting a neurectomy, but turns out he wasn't navicular at all.  He just had a bad bone bruise on his fetlock.  He may be down for a month or two, but at least no surgery is needed. 
Bob was a little reluctant to come out of his stall at the clinic as he wasn't sure what was going to be done to him.  Once he realized he was going into the trailer, he moved with a little more energy. 
No problems on the way back and no more blown tires. Smooth sailing all the way home. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What About Bob?

Debbie and I transported Bob to Phoenix today.  Bob has been lame for several weeks and we finally got the Army to provide funding for him to be seen at the Arizona Equine Medical and Surgical Centre which provides the best care that we can get.  They have seen many of our horses over the years and they are truly excellent.  Unfortunately, it takes three hours to transport horses there from Fort Huachuca. 
The trip was going well until about two hours into the trip when a trucker signaled to me that there was something wrong with the trailer.  I pulled over and discovered that we had blown one of the tires.  The tire tread was completely gone and all that was left was the shredded sidewalls.  Fortunately, we had stopped along I-10 next to a horse ranch with a little bit of grass along the fence.  I untied Bob and led him out of the trailer.  Or at least tried to.  When Bob saw all the oncoming traffic he tried to squeeze as far to the left of the trailer as possible.  It wouldn't have normally been a problem, but I was wedged between him and the left side of the trailer.  I got real skinny as he exited the back of the trailer.  Once he was out, Debbie let him graze on the grass and look at the horses in the ranch. 
Meanwhile, I tried to get the blown tire off the trailer.  Unfortunately, so much of the tire was gone that when I tried to crack the lugs, the wheel spun around.  I had to pull the shredded tire rim up onto a tire ramp to hold it in place while the lug nuts were loosened.  About that time, a fella pulling his own horse trailer stopped and offered to assist.  Between the two of us we managed to get the spare on and then loaded Bob back in.
The man who stopped was a nice gentlemen from Texas who happened to be an equine dentist.  His name was Joe Yasinosky and he claimed he'd worked on everyone's horse from "George Strait to George Bush."  He was a genuinely nice man and when he heard Debbie's British accent, inquired as to what part of Texas she was from. 
We eventually got Bob to Phoenix and left him in the hands of the wonderful people at AZ Equine.  We will be back to get him on Friday and hopefully they will have figured out what is wrong with him and hopefully we will have a new spare tire by then. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bad Cues

I rode the Wonder Horse today as I had been away for a week and he was acting like he wanted to get out.  I took him over to our recently constructed practice arena and got him moving.  The ground in the arena isn't quite flat yet, but its getting there.  Apache didn't seem to mind though as he is pretty sure footed and can navigate just about any type of terrain. 
The Wonder Horse in action
Until today, that is.  We were galloping around the arena at a pretty good clip when I decided to change directions.  I put him on the long diagonal after a right turn and he seemed to understand we were changing directions.  I felt him attempt a flying lead change even though I hadn't cued him and figured he didn't need the cue at that point since he already knew what we were doing.  I thought wrong.  He didn't execute the lead change correctly and remained on a right lead as we headed into the left turn.  I could tell he was on the wrong lead, but instead of dropping down to a trot and executing the lead change, I let him power through the turn.  Apache, again tried to change leads while we were already in the turn.  He probably would have pulled it off if the ground had been flat, but he instead tripped and went down on his left leg.  I saw the ground rushing up and figured I was a goner, but at the last second he came up and we avoided the wreck. 
I stopped him, dismounted and checked out his knee as I thought he had gone down on it.  I didn't see any scrapes on his knee, so I walked him around to see if he was lame.  He looked fine, so I mounted up again and continued the lesson.  He was fine after that, but I didn't try anymore flying lead changes.  I figured I'd better quit while I was ahead.  Nevertheless, it was a good ride and we both enjoyed it. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Budget Cuts

With the implementation of the seq...seek...sqwa...uh...budget cuts, the Troop is going to have to get along without its previously enjoyed state of abundant funding and support.  Although we haven't had a budget in almost four years, we are now being cut to the bone.  Supposedly, as of the end of this month, government employees will be furloughed one day a week. 
This is a complication for me because I have over 300 hours of compensatory time built up.  The comp time is meant to be used up in the form of time off.  If the comp time is carried on the books for a year it turns into overtime pay, which the Army doesn't like because overtime pay is paid at a time-and-a-half rate.  Therefore, to avoid having the comp time turn into overtime pay, I have to take one day a week off.  I typically incur about eight hours of comp time every week, so I have to constantly take time off to avoid building up more comp time than I can burn up.  Now, with the furlough coming, I will be taking two days off a week. 
Now, a new rule has emerged as part of the sequestration (rhymes with castration).  Department of the Army civilians are no long permitted to work overtime.  Since the Troop is a volunteer outfit for everyone accept me, I have to put in a lot of overtime hours to help train new riders and to participate in events.  Now, this won't be happening anymore.  With two days off a week and no overtime, I'm going to have a lot of free time on my hands.  Maybe I can spend it blogging. 
Since I will have fewer hours to get things done and no money to maintain resources, I will have to get creative in finding ways to accomplish the mission.  The photo below is an idea for making the training of Ladies Auxiliary members more efficient.  Wish me luck. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rusty Blade

Blade is a horse we acquired last year for the Troop.  However, he developed an odd skin condition that started out looking like dandruff, but eventually became so itchy that he began to bite himself.  We had it analyzed and it was determined that he had a fungus on his skin.  Fortunately, it seemed to affect Blade only.  None of the other horses were infected with it.  I tried to treat it at the stables, but because the horses go out to pasture on weekends, wasn't abe to provide the daily treatment necessary to rid him of the fungus. 
Blade in his war tack
Eventually, I brought him home and had Debbie begin daily treatment.  She managed to get it cleared up in a couple months and I took him back to the stables to continue his cavalry training.  Unfortunately, within a week the fungus had reappeared along with welts on his skin where the tack was rubbing him.  We concluded that he was having a reaction to the tack--either the tack still had residual fungus on it or he was reacting to something else on the tack. 
So, again, I brought Blade home for treatment.  Within a week, Debbie had the infection cleaned up and she cleaned all of his tack to remove any residual fungus or chemicals.  Today, I tacked him up and rode him to see if it would cause another reaction.  Blade was a pain during the tacking up process, as I have not ridden him in a long time (I had another rider work with him the past month).  He dropped the saddle in the dirt and I had to have Debbie hold him while I finished putting the saddle on him.  Once we got going, he was fine.  Very responsive to rein cues and able to transition between gaits without trouble despite the fact I forgot to bring my riding boots and spurs home.  
We should see soon enough, if he is still having a reaction to the tack.  Hopefully not as he is a good horse and we need him in the Troop.   

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Indelible Marks

Tattoos have become very popular these days.  Fifty years ago, you rarely saw them and usually only on a veteran or a biker.  They were typically placed somewhere you couldn't see them when the person was wearing a long sleeve shirt.  Now you see them everywhere--even on necks and faces.  There is a lot more writing now, also.  Modern tattoos feature lengthy statements or verses from the Bible.  You have to ask the person to stop moving so you can read the entire tattoo.  In the old days you wouldn't see much written in a tattoo except 'Mom' or 'Semper Fi.' 
I was recently surprised to discover that tattoos were once used by the military as a form of punishment.  A friend of mine loaned me a copy of some 4th Cavalry Regiment court martial proceedings that had taken place at Fort Concho, Texas in 1870.  Two of the soldiers had been given sentences that included being given "indelible marks" indicating the crime they had been found guilty of.  One soldier had been caught stealing government property.  He was sentenced to forfeit all pay and allowances, be dishonorably discharged, be drummed out of the service, and to be "indelibly marked on the left hip with the letter 'T'."  The 'T' apparently indicating that he was a thief.  Likewise, another soldier was found guilty of desertion and was to be marked with a 'D' on his hip. 
I later learned that the military often used these "indelible marks" to brand soldiers that had been found guilty of various infractions.  Other letters used included 'C' for cowardice, 'H D' for habitual drunk, 'W' for worthlessness, 'I' for insubordination, and 'M' for mutineer.   Sometimes the tattoos weren't put on the hip, but on the forehead or neck instead.  They also sometimes spelled out the entire word (just so no one would confuse a drunk with a deserter, I guess). Most frightening of all, though, is that sometimes they actually branded the soldier with a hot iron.  The "indelible mark" punishment was borrowed from the British military which ended the practice in 1871.  The US Army ended it a year later.   

I makes you wonder if discharged soldiers would modify their tattoos to indicate something less offensive.  Maybe a girl's name or maybe 'M' was turned into 'Mom' and maybe that is where that popular tattoo came from.  I also wonder if men had to drop their trousers when applying for a job to prove they hadn't been dishonorably discharged from the military. 

Things have obviously changed since the 19th century.  Getting a free tattoo would hardly be considered punishment nowadays.  It's too bad they don't use this punishment anymore.  I know a few people who could use a 'W' on their forehead.