Fort Riley, Kansas



Horse consultant shares expertise

By Sarah Falcon | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | July 29, 2015

Some people dream of riding and being around horses, but for Ron Roller, civilian equestrian trainer for the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard, it’s a lifestyle. For 40 years of his adult life, Roller has been training and working with horses, and for the past 17 years, he’s been work­ing at the Fort Riley CGMCG at Building 275 on Stuart Ave. He trains Soldiers how to work with horses.

“We integrate the Soldiers into riding the horses we have,” Roller said. “Not every Soldier is capable of being on every horse because of their training ability.”

Riding bareback for 40 hours on different horses is the first training Soldiers receive when reporting to the Color Guard. According to Roll­er, the first goal is to have the Soldier develop a good seat before they be­come proficient using their hands to guide and control and being in the mouth of a horse. The rider controls the horse with the reins that are at­tached to a bit in the horse’s mouth.

“We’re dealing with something that’s got a mind of its own, and we’ve got to channel it to do what we want it to do,” Roller said. “We all have different personalities. So, we try to match the personality up to the horse.”

The horses have to be acclimated and trained continuously by the Sol­diers, because a horse’s brain is small­er than most mammals. This causes them to not retain information well.

“They forget,” Roller said. “You constantly have to be working and training the animals. They’re never finished.”

The Fort Riley CGMCG has 160 acres of land on the installation and 19 horses. The Mounted Color Guard can have as many as 35 horses at a time. The CGMCG keep its animals until they no longer are able to do their mission. The Mounted Color Guard staff trains horses by using simulations, improvising an event situation and pulling equipment, like wagons, for rehearsal before an event.

The CGMCG has attend­ed complicated events, like the Professional Bull Riders association event in Las Ve­gas. This event consisted of an audience in a pitch black auditorium with strobe lights shining above, loud noise of choppers flying, several men rappelling from the ceiling, and a cavalry charge sounding as the men and horses run out into the arena.

They also have done sev­eral less challenging events, like walking down the street in Junction City during the Sundown Salute parade.

It’s important to note that if things go badly with a horse, the trained riders look for a way to get out fast to keep a horse from hurting anybody.

“The number one thing that we talk about around here is safety and the well-being of each Soldier,” Roller. said. “We don’t want people hurt.”

The horses receive training on how to stand still, not shy away and jump around, not be afraid of objects, trust their handler, and jump. They’re trained cavalry tactics includ­ing shooting and saber drills. The animals are also trained to give into pressure to prevent them from harming them­selves in a situation where they could become stuck; such as, being caught in a rolled over trailer or tangled wire.

“We use a training device to lay the horse over and accli­mate him to being restrained on the ground and to relax, chill out and then to wait for us to come to his aid,” Roller said.

The Mounted Color Guard acquired the few mus­tangs they have from the peni­tentiary in Hutchinson. At the penitentiary they have 300 to 400 head of horses. According to Roller, it is relatively easy to obtain mustangs and inte­grate them into the system. A problem the CGMCG en­countered was that mustangs were sometimes hard to get acclimated into the training.

“The inmates in Hutchin­son spend hundreds and hun­dreds of hours getting these guys settled down,” Roller said. “Then we bring them in for a Training in Progress or TIP program. Meaning they’ve been handled and saddled, we polish them off, then they can be bought for nominal amount of dollars, compared to going out into the real world and trying to buy horses.”

The CGMCG also decided to purchase colts instead of fully grown adult horses, be­cause they are often jumpy and rambunctious and this provides a training opportu­nity. This prevents them from having unseen problems when placed with an older horse.

“We try to make sure that we can accomplish our mis­sion in the most economical way we can without jeopardiz­ing quality,” Roller said.

Furthermore, they tend to use quarter horses instead of thoroughbreds, because quar­ter horses are much more for­giving and less finicky accord­ing to Roller.

“There’s many hours of blood, sweat and tears that go into making what happens happen,” said Roller.

Healthy animals no lon­ger capable of the mission go to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office. They fall under the same guidelines as military working dogs that reach the end of their working life where they are available for adoption or live out their life in the care of the mili­tary. DRMO tries to laterally transfer the animals to other installations or donate them to non-profit organizations. Kansas State University’s Health Center euthanizes and cremates horses that are too sick to recover. K-State returns the ashes to the Mounted Col­or Guard and they perform a ceremony for the horse. A display case in the CGMCG barn holds the ashes in memo­ry of the horse.

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