One could say the National Cavalry Competition is the Super Bowl for cavalry-era reenactors and the Army's mounted color guards.
While military units train year round for the "big game" – a deployment – those designated to keep history alive on their installations and in their communities keep the U.S. Cavalry Association's annual competition in the backs of their minds at all times.
"It's good to be able to finally get to do that Super Bowl," said 1st Sgt. John Wear, who leads the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard.
Soldiers from six posts and civilian historians from across the country were at Fort Riley from Sept. 19 to 22 for the 2012 National Cavalry Competition. The U.S. Cavalry Association sponsors the event each September with the goal of "keeping the cavalry spirit alive," according to information from the organization.
The association also aims to promote horsemanship and provide a way for reenactors and military mounted color guards to compete and improve their riding skills, according to information from the organization.
Individual events included mounted sabre, mounted pistol, military horsemanship, combat horsemanship, military field jumping, bugle and authenticity. Team events included the Maj. Howze team ride and the wheeled vehicle competition.
Riders were divided into three levels based on their skills. Level I was for beginners, II for novice riders and III for advanced riders.
The most advanced riders also were invited to go for the Bolte Cup, a final competition showcasing riding, shooting, sabre work and jumping.
The National Cavalry Competition was a highlight of the year for the troopers, Wear said. No matter what the CGMCG does during the year, the Soldiers always have one eye on the yearly event, he said.
"'Cav Comp is coming, Cav Comp is coming,'" Wear said he reminded the troopers.
That preparation paid off as the CGMCG received the Gen. Casimir Pulaski Award for outstanding military unit.
This year's Fort Riley team had three returning competitors: Sgt. Tommy Evans, Sgt. Jordan Wright and Sgt. Kasey Crauthers.
Evans won Fort Riley's first blue ribbon in the wheeled horse event, finishing ahead of Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Carson, Colo., by driving a mule team and wagon through a course on the competition field. Wright placed third in Level III mounted pistols, and Crauthers placed second in Level III field jumping.
This year was the first National Cavalry Competition for the remaining CGMCG team members.
Sgt. Eric Watson said he "most definitely" did better than he expected. Watson, a wheeled vehicle mechanic by trade, placed first in level II military horsemanship, first in level II mounted sabre and third in level II military jumping. He was named the best overall competitior in level II at the Sept. 22 awards ceremony.
His horse, Saber, received the Stable Sergeant's Pegasus Memorial Award for outstanding cavalry remount.
Watson joined the CGMCG in June 2011 after deploying multiple times with the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. He had almost no riding experience, which Wear said was preferable for new troopers. Trainers can teach an inexperienced Soldier to ride, he said, but breaking habits of seasoned riders or teaching them a new style is tough.
Watson didn't expect to win any ribbons, and participating in the National Cavalry Competition was one of the better experiences of his Army career, he said.
"It's definitely a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be," he said.
Another first-time competitor, Sgt. Casey Simmons, walked away with a first place in level I mounted sabers and second in level I combat horsemanship.
Simmons, a truck driver from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., said it was fun competing even though he was "really nervous about the whole thing."
His goal for the 2013 competition, which is set to be at Fort Carson, Colo., is to do well as a level II rider.
The National Cavalry Competition allows troopers and reenactors to compete in what Simmons called an "old school military way," helping the public learn about how the West was protected and what organization are keeping that history alive.
The event also helped ensure the past wasn't forgotten, Watson said, and large crowds at Fort Riley's Fall Apple Day Festival got a great experience.
Other CGMCG troopers to receive ribbons were Staff Sgt. Jared Davis, second in level II mounted sabers; Sgt. Chris Frost, third in level II combat horsemanship and third in level II mounted pistols; and Spc. Katie Strayer, second in level II combat horsemanship and second in level II mounted pistols.
The association tries to bring the competition back to Kansas every three years since it has headquarters at Fort Riley, Jeffery Maahs, association member and competition organizer, said.
Fort Riley is the home of the cavalry, Wear said, and with more than 80 competitors last week, it was the most horses on Fort Riley since the Army stopped using horses in the 1950s.