Random Thoughts

How I Became An Equestrian

...it went with the territory.

Russ Priestley

When I chose a college to attend, I was urged to choose the University of Illinois. They were building an ice hockey team and I had the credentials. I did not realize the size of this University at Champaign-Urbana. The fact that it spreads over two cities should have been a clue. It had 13,000 students in 1940, making it the third largest in the U.S. That should have been another clue as to what I would encounter when registering for classes.

The advice was to go first for the classes that I needed most. This was a state university so ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) was required, and there were no scholarships. Other things to consider were my job at a book store, working in the kitchen of a frat house for my meals and, of course, I had to reserve late afternoons for the reason I was here...hockey practice.

It was a mad rush trotting from building to building, waiting in line and signing up for each class. By the end of the day, I had registered for all classes to fit my schedule, except ROTC. The only choice that fitted my schedule was the Cavalry. Hey, coming from an urban area, I had never mounted a horse. As a youth, I saw them pulling milk wagons, garbage wagons and the like, but I never had a desire to ride one.

During this period, the old U.S. Army Cavalry was becoming mechanized. I guess they could not have us driving tanks, and they had to keep the old Cavalry officers busy...so the mounted Cavalry was being trained and I was to be one.

Along with others, I was issued a uniform. This included puttees, a canvas type of material having a leather portion to be worn so that the leather was on the inside of each lower leg. This protected the horse and rider from chafing and had to be polished dutifully to a high gloss for inspection.

After the required marching in the Armory, we were introduced to the steeds outside of the stable. Most of my companions came from rural areas so riding a horse was something they had done since early chilhood. For the rest of us, we were taught how and where to mount a horse, as well as the practice of approaching and talking to the horse before mounting.

The training went well until one day we rode out to a field. About a dozen of us formed a circle, then we were shown how to post. This involved getting the horse started and then removing one's feet from the stirrups. As the horse trotted around, the rider would rise and fall in the saddle in rhythm with the horse. Without the stirrups, this caused serious chafing on the inside of one's thighs. I was sore in that area for several days.

This must explain why horsemen/cowboys walk with a bow-legged gait.   

May 5, 2000


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