Monday, February 29, 2016

Horse Control

Last Saturday, the students progressed to riding a military horsemanship pattern in the practice arena. We try to teach three fundamental skills during the first phase of training; balance, control in a group, and control in a solo pattern.  The bareback portion helps them with balance, but control is more difficult to achieve.  Riding a horse solo involves different control problems then when riding as a group.

Riding as a group involves riding in a circle and maintaining the correct distance between each horse. Depending on the horse, the student may have trouble slowing the horse down or speeding him up. Changing the direction of travel (clockwise or counterclockwise) may change the dynamic depending on which horse is at the front of the line.  A higher ranking horse may object to having a lower ranking horse in front and may try to pass it in the line. Also, a slow horse up front will cause the line to scrunch up while a fast horse will string the line out.  All these dynamics require the student to control his horse in both speed and direction.

Riding a solo pattern is a different exercise, but still requires the student to master both speed and direction. Without the distraction of moving in concert with other horses, the rider must now compel his horse  to perform based solely on his cues and can't rely on his horse just following the other horses. The biggest challenge in this case is maintaining the required gait and riding a complete and round circle.

Both exercises in horse control require a great deal of concentration from the rider and often frustrates them as the horse seemingly does everything, but what they want them to do.  However, they usually get to a point where the "light comes on," and they suddenly understand how to control their mount.  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Riding School

B Troop typically holds two riding schools each year.  One in the winter and one in the summer.  We just began a new class on 6 February.  We usually have trouble finding enough recruits to fill out the class, but this year we actually had to turn some people away.  We are really only able to handle four students at a time, but we went ahead and took six (although one of them had to quit already due to a job schedule change).

The students with instructors Pete (left end of line) and Jay (right end of line) .
 We are in the first phase of training where we teach riding basics.  Most recruits have little or no riding experience, so we give them a crash course in basic riding.  Of course, they aren't riding your typical school horse, but an Army war horse, which makes it all much more challenging.

We have school three times per week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  I always like the Saturday classes because there is plenty of daylight and it is warm.  At night, I have to rig up some work lights to illuminate the arena.

Today, we worked on riding bareback in column and in a circle.  The students are asked to control their horse at a walk, trot, and gallop.  I have to keep an eye on all of them simultaneously to look for someone losing control or losing balance and adjust the gait before someone comes off.  I had a student take a spill on Thursday night and sprain her wrist.  Thus, she had to watch the lesson from the ground today.

Riding in a column of twos while bareback.

Today, everyone managed to stay on their horses, although a few got close to coming off.  They did a pretty good job considering that two weeks ago they didn't know anything about riding and now they are galloping bareback.

After the lesson, a few of the experienced riders rode over to Wren arena to practice for the opening ceremonies of the Cochise College rodeo.  We gallop around the arena with the colors while one of our Ladies Auxiliary members sings the anthem.  Our First Sergeant, Pete, thought he'd try Ruger, one of our young and wild horses. There were people working on the arena fence, so it was a good chance to expose the horses to the distractions of things going on around the arena.  I tried to keep my horse parallel to Ruger as we galloped around the arena, but Ruger was doing all kinds of strange things with his head and legs, so I kept a little bit of a distance.  We eventually decided that Ruger wasn't quite ready for the rodeo and needed more training in galloping in formation. It was a fun practice, though, and it has been ages since we rode in the arena.

Ruger--1,300 pounds of love and joy.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fort Lowell Again

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog and it is time to start again.  There are too many interesting things going on in the cavalry world.

Yesterday, B Troop participated in Fort Lowell Days as we do every year.  It is an event held at Fort Lowell Park in Tucson, Arizona as part of an effort to promote the history of the old Army post and the surrounding neighborhood.  Fort Lowell has an interesting history both before and after it was shut down in 1891.  It was from this fort that Captain Samuel Marmaduke Whitside rode out and established Fort Huachuca in 1877.

Anastasia putting a sidesaddle on Journey.

B Troop brought six riders and three cannoneers to put on a historic presentation at Fort Lowell.  Our stable call was at 0600 and we departed Fort Huachuca at 0700.  Arriving at Fort Lowell at about 0830, we unloaded the horses and began setting up our arena.  Four of the troopers headed over to the San Pedro chapel to provide a saber arch for a procession into the chapel, but they were back at about 1030.  Meanwhile, the artillery crew and I set up the portable arena for the riding demonstration.

Upon returning, Ruger spooked for some reason and broke free from the trailer and ran around the field for a couple minutes with all his campaign tack still on.  He circled the trailer two or three times and then came to a stop next to the rest of the horses as if nothing had ever happened.  He broke the strap on his leather halter, but otherwise nothing else was damaged.

One of our lady riders rode around the park in sidesaddle, wearing a period authentic dress and let people know that we were about to start our demonstrations.  She looked fantastic and soon a sizable group came to watch us.

After lunch, the cannon crew gave a great presentation on the procedures for firing our 1840 mountain howitzer.  The rest of us untied the horses from the trailer and held them while the cannon went off.  None of the horses spooked, but it is better to have a man hold the horse, so it is less likely to panic then if tied to something.

The cannon crew getting ready for their demonstration.

After the cannon demo, we put on a mounted drill demonstration in our arena.  The crowd enjoyed it and then we set up some jumps and targets and gave a saber and pistol demonstration.  All the horses did pretty well.  Blade was fired off of for the first time in years, but did well.  Blade had developed a dislike of gunfire at the Picacho Peak re-enactment a couple years ago and we have been slowly getting him accustomed to the sound ever since.  He protested a little at first, but eventually became OK with it.  We had fitted him with earplugs to make it easier for him.

We finally finished around 1500 and headed back to Fort Huachuca.  The horses were all drenched in sweat as they still have their winter coats and it is much warmer in Tucson than at Fort Huachuca.  We got all the horses taken care of and unloaded all the equipment and cleaned weapons.  We signed off the arms room at 1840 and sat on the porch and discussed the day for a piece before heading home.  A long, but successful day.