Yesterday and today, we were supposed to be the color guard for the opening ceremonies at the Cochise College Rodeo on Fort Huachuca. It is one of the regional competitions for the colleges that have a rodeo team. The Cochise College Rodeo is held every year at Fort Huachuca and is the only one held on a military installation.
I wasn't supposed to be in the color guard yesterday, but one of the riders became ill and I had to replace him. We had a team of six riders carrying four flags; the American flag, the Arizona flag, the Army flag, and the Troop guidon. We also had one of our Lady's Auxiliary members singing the national anthem. I was riding Apache, the Wonder Beast, and carrying the national colors even though I knew it would be a challenging task.
As we were lining up to make our entrance, Apache began fidgeting and spinning around seeking an escape. There was a large tree next to the gate with branches hanging over the entrance. I was holding an 8-foot staff with a spear point on it. The spear point kept getting hung up in the trees every time Apache spun around, so I was trying to disentangle the pole from the tree while trying to keep him from fleeing the scene.
Finally, our entrance cue came and we walked into the arena. I say walked, but Apache was already galloping before we even transitioned to the trot. I think Pete, our First Sergeant, actually ordered a canter, but it turned out to be a good 15 mph gallop. I was to the left of Pete, who was leading the formation, and the rest of the team followed in a column of twos.
I had shortened my reins to the point where the back of my left hand was nearly touching the back of Apache's neck. As we galloped into the arena, I held him back with all the strength I had. We were supposed to circle the arena once (it is 200 x 400 feet), slow down to a trot, and then form into a line in front of the bleachers. We learned from years of experience that you can not ride right next to the rail as the horses will spook at the banners, steers, broncs, rodeo cowboys, and other scary things on the other side. Thus, Pete led us a good thirty feet off the fence as we rounded the arena. Since we weren't following the rail, he had to tell me when he was going to turn, otherwise we would have become separated from each other. However, Apache and I were able to stay right on his side with only a couple of feet between my stirrup and his.
Thankfully, we finally made it around before the strength in my left arm gave out. Once we stopped, Apache calmed right down and I was able to concentrate on working the cramps out of my thighs as Anastasia sang the anthem. Once the anthem was complete, we got the cue to exit the arena, which we did at the trot. Or, at least everyone else was trotting. The second we exited the arena they released the first bronc from the bucking chute. The other riders remarked that I should keep Apache from watching so he wouldn't get any new ideas. Apache was so fascinated by what was going on in the arena that we trotted sideways down the road that passed behind it so he could watch the event.
I never knew that Apache was a rodeo fan.