By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsJune 11, 2008
KILLEEN, Texas - When they showed up to the rodeo grounds, the crowd might not have expected to see something reminiscent of 1800's horsemanship at the pre-rodeo show event.
But that's just what spectators experienced as Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's Horse Cavalry Detachment performed a 30-minute mounted cavalry demonstration at the Killeen rodeo grounds here June 6 as part of the festivities just prior to the start of the rodeo competition.
The demonstration included horseback techniques harkening back to the old days of the cavalry during the Indian Wars with the Horse Cavalry Detachment executing tactics and traditions used by the U.S. Army in that time period. Some of these included the featuring of marksmanship and saber skills.
A light mountain howitzer was fired by two Horse Cavalry Detachment troopers, signaling the beginning of the demonstration. With the loud boom, riders from the detachment charged onto the rodeo grounds with their pistols firing into the air.
Along with the Soldiers on horseback came a covered wagon pulled by a team of mules.
One of the first demonstrations had the riders jumping their horses over an obstacle in a display of the detachment's expert equestrian skills. As the show continued, the riders then began shooting balloon targets as they quickly jumped the obstacles.
In another highlight, cavalry Soldiers brandishing sabers and riding at full speed hit stationary targets such as sandbags and watermelons-showing their mastery of the saber. After the pre-show, four of the detachment's mounted troopers, one of whom carried the national colors while another carried the Texas state flag, posted the colors in a ceremony dedicated to military service members by the organizers of Killeen's rodeo.
According to Capt. Jay Bunte, Horse Cavalry Detachment commander, his Soldiers and their ability to put on such performances does not come easy, it takes a lot of time and dedication.
"This gives them the opportunity to showcase their skills and hard work in front of the public," said Bunte, who hails from Arlington, Texas, prior to his troopers starting their show. "They trained all week for this and they're getting to represent the 1st Cavalry Division and the Army. It's an extreme honor for them to do this and they're part of a very unique unit."
"This is great," said Sgt. Dominick Anderson, a Horse Cavalry Detachment "mule skinner" or wagon driver, who hails from Wray, Colo. "We've worked really hard busting our humps to be able to do this. But it's worth it and it gives us a chance to show the public a different side to the military than what they're used to seeing."
Along with the hard work, the detachment pays painstaking detail to the authenticity of their weapons, their uniforms, boots and saddles among the many other accoutrements they use in their performances.
"We use powders and primers for the weapons," said Bunte, revealing everything is done just like in cavalry units of the 1800's while also explaining that the bullets fired during their shows are wax bullets. However, their firearms are real, working 1800's rifles and pistols. Many of the rifles used by the Horse Cavalry Detachment are the 1873-model Springfield.
The detachment's Soldiers also make their own saddles, their own boots and shoe their own horses. A typical duty day starts for the detachment much the same way as other units with physical training at 6:30 a.m. and work beginning at 9 a.m., but that's where the similarities end.
As opposed to other Soldiers, on an average work day, these horse troopers ride their horses, take care of their feeding and grooming and train up on such things as how to protect a wagon with a firearm or other traditional 1800's cavalry-type topics. Some days might include squads in the unit cleaning the horse stalls and mowing the grass.
"We're a very self-sufficient unit," said Bunte. "Who else in the Army can say they get to ride horses every day and wear blue shirts'"
"I never dreamt that I would get to do something like this in the Army," said Anderson. "I joined the Army as a cavalry scout and always thought I'd be doing that, but this has been a wonderful experience and we get to do stuff most people normally don't get to do."
The detachment is made up of nearly 40 Soldiers, 36 horses, nine mules and one mascot-a dog named Private Buddy. All the members of the team are vital to its success, according to Bunte, who explains that the detachment's mission is mainly two-fold.
"Our goals are to uphold the cavalry tradition as authentically as possible, and to act as a recruiting tool to get young teens and young kids to think about the Army and some of the unique, fun jobs it has to offer," said Bunte. "Hopefully, it can persuade them one way or the other."
It also has a role to "faithfully represent the 1st Cavalry Division, III Corps, and the U.S. Army in military and civic ceremonies, parades, and demonstrations," according to Bunte.
Besides rodeos, the Horse Cavalry Detachment has performed at several notable events throughout the United States to include five Tournament of Roses Parades, three Presidential inaugural parades and the 1984 World's Fair-just to name a few.