Army Reserve Soldier competes in World Cavalry Championships
April 25, 2012
POZNAN, Poland (April 25, 2012) -- An Army Reserve Soldier won first place for the show jumping portion of the 2012 World Cavalry Championships held 200 miles west of Warsaw, Poland, April 18-22.
Master Sgt. Cindy Babb, a noncommissioned officer assigned to the 200th Military Police Command, based at Fort Meade, Md., competed against some of the best military equestrians from around the world for a week. She also teamed with Polish cavalrymen to take third place for team scores in the inaugural competition.
Babb and 23 other competitors representing Poland, Austria, Germany and other European countries tested their skills in dressage, skill at arms, horseback orienteering, tent pegging, show jumping and other cavalry-related events.
"Here, it doesn't matter who comes away with the time prize, but rather what's more important are the new friendships that were developed throughout the week," Babb said about the commonality among horse lovers. "I am here representing not only the Army Reserve but all Americans."
From the beginning, Babb was the favorite among competitors, press and local onlookers. As the only female competitor, Babb said it was important to demonstrate that women and men can compete, work and if needed, fight side-by-side.
"Here, this week, I have demonstrated that I can compete with the best. I am very proud of my own accomplishments and what others have done here as well," she said during a break.
For most competitors, this championship was the first time several of the cavalry participants have interacted with a female American Soldier, and she said she hoped that her fellow cavalry comrades walked away with a better understanding of what America represents.
"Gender is not a factor in a cavalry competition," she said. "Is it unique? Of course, but it's not important. What is important is that we all stand here this week carrying our countries' flags with honor and remember those who have sacrificed before us."
Polish cavalryman and Babb's teammate, Rafal Strzelczyk, said working with a female rider was strange at first, but he said she quickly proved her abilities on and off a horse.
"I was honored to work with Cindy," he said before climbing on his horse for an individual competition. "She shows pride in her riding and her uniform. Hopefully someday I will travel to America and ride with her. I am very proud to be on her team."
Although Babb struggled with communicating with her teammates from Poland, their love of horses quickly bridged any frustrations from the language barrier.
"Without a translator it's tough to express my thoughts to them, but when it comes to horses, we share something in common, and that language barrier seemingly disappears for a brief moment," she said.
Another team member was Polish rider Miroslaw Bajak.
Bajak said watching Babb ride her horse was amazing, and the development of the relationship between the horse and Babb was exciting to see as the competition moved forward.
"Cindy showed all riders in the competition that Americans have the will to succeed and honor for others who win," he said. "During her show jumping she beat all of us, and that was fun to watch her do good on a horse."
Babb, who has her own horse Calvin stabled near Fort Meade, arrived in Poland a week earlier to train on a Polish horse and prepare for the competition.
Riding another horse takes time to build confidence between the rider and horse. Babb used that short week to grow a bond with the horse, Finka.
"I am so excited to be able to ride Finka," she said while tightening a saddle on the horse's back prior to a military inspection.
Using a small piece of cloth, Babb buffed the round metal "U.S." emblem that connected several leather straps around the horse's head.
Finka remained calm as Babb walked around the horse making final adjustments to the saddle and combed the long black hair running down the horse's back.
"Good girl," she said to reassure the dark brown muscular horse as she prepared for the next event of the competition.
"I want to take her home with me, but I don't think I could get her in my luggage," she said laughing about Finka, "She is so beautiful and rides fantastic."
Following her Polish comrades who filled her international team, Babb wore her Army Service Uniform with her riding pants that match the blue and gold colors of her service pants.
Babb appeared from the large stable's sliding door and into the cool air and partly cloudy skies of the training facility where some of the best Polish equestrians have trained. Competition onlookers quickly focused their attention on Babb.
Like paparazzi following a movie celebrity in Hollywood, spectators took turns standing next to Babb for a quick photograph while she waited for her inspection.
As the announcer started speaking Polish, "Cindy Babb" were the only familiar words that cued her to move to the center of a line of more than 20 cavalrymen.
"Master Sergeant Cindy Babb, U.S. Army Reserve, and Finka prepared for inspection," she said as she saluted the judge.
While Babb sat nearly motionless atop her horse, the judge tugged, flipped and turned every little piece of equipment she had prepared minutes earlier.
The judge talked with the score keeper as Babb's eyes were trained forward. A little chuckle between the two judges raised concerned from an Australian and English onlooker, before a military translator calmed everyone's nerves.
"It's OK Cindy, they are looking for something wrong, and they can't find it," he said.
For a brief moment, Babb broke her military bearing for a small smile, but quickly refocused on the inspection.
"She is perfect up there," said one cavalry service member from Great Britain. "She is doing wonderful, and you would never know she has been riding the horse for only a week."
Babb returned to the line of competitors, and her Polish teammates had their turns with the judge. While the German team completed their inspection, Babb was busy preparing for the next event.
"Horses require less attention than Soldiers," she said laughing. "The best thing about horses is they don't ask 'why,' but at times they will do what they want to do."
The most difficult and dangerous event of the competition was on the last day of field trials. Skill at arms tested both the rider and horse in various elements of a cavalryman including working with a saber, pistol and lance and engaging various targets.
By this point in the championships, Babb was clearly the crowd and fellow competitors' favorite.
The crowd cheered and international press focused their cameras as Babb entered the skill-at-arms arena. A black pad with the 200th Military Police Command patch sewed near the bottom rear corner above a gold "U.S." sewn into the fabric, let everyone know a military police NCO had entered the large grassy area.
Overcoming a few struggles during the event, Babb worked her horse through the difficult obstacles. Afterward, Babb received a standing ovation from the growing crowd watching the American rider.
Throughout the week, Babb was representing not only an entire country, but also was exposing others to the Army Reserve.
"I am very proud of who I am and what I have accomplished as an Army Reserve Soldier," she said. "Hopefully, the international community here will walk away with a positive experience and better understanding of who we are as a nation and the values we understand are important as Americans."
One of the international competition organizers said he was pleased the past year of planning resulted in such a successful championship.
"I never thought we would have this much enjoyment watching our competition throughout the week," said Józef Badecki. "Having Cindy at the event was important to show we are truly international."
Badecki said he hopes Babb and other American military will compete next year.
"Cindy showed the Polish people that Americans are true competitors and bring a positive attitude no matter how well they placed at the events," he said. "All of us are delighted the Army Reserve allowed her to compete this year."