SHERIDAN — Before the rodeo each night, the Army’s Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard demo team brings the legacy of the U.S. Cavalry to life by demonstrating the speed, skill and finesse historically required of mounted soldiers.
The company, which is based out of Fort Riley in Kansas, is composed of active-duty soldiers on a two-year detail in which they contribute to telling the story of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and provide a glimpse at how the U.S. Cavalry operated in the mid- to late-19th century.
First Sgt. Jason Therkelsen said the company’s mission is very much tied to its home base.
“We’re an infantry division, but we are actually reliving the history of Fort Riley,” Therkelsen said.
The 1st Infantry Division, which is stationed at Fort Riley, is the Army’s oldest division and has served in every U.S. war since World War I.
Fort Riley was also the location of the U.S. Cavalry School, and members of the CGMCG wear uniforms and use equipment that dates back to the Civil War in order to authentically portray the U.S. Cavalry.
The CGMCG tends to the 250 acres that comprise Fort Riley and maintains the historic stables, which were built in 1889, for continued use as well as public tours. That includes grounds maintenance as well as the daily barnyard chores that come with tending to a team of horses.
“[Fort Riley] is really a working ranch,” Therkelsen said.
In addition to maintaining the fort, members of the CGMCG are active-duty soldiers and expected to keep up with the same daily training as other Army soldiers.
Capt. Jennifer Houle said she had no experience with horses when she interviewed for the CGMCG detail and, in fact, many of the soldiers accepted into the company are not experienced riders.
“Soldiers we get these days have less riding experience than previously,” Houle said. “Because the 1st Infantry Division has to meet a certain requirement — they have to be released from their command in order to come down to us.”
Soldiers apply to join the CGMCG but the company is very selective, with a roughly 25 percent acceptance rate. As a result, many of the soldiers who come through need to go through rigorous horsemanship exercises and gradually learn to wield Civil War-era weaponry while riding.
In total, the company features 26 troopers and two officers. The eight best riders in the company form the CGMCG’s demo team, which performs the drills ahead of the rodeo.
During demonstrations, the CGMCG riders run through drills that approximate the obstacle horses the U.S. Cavalry used as training.
The drills demonstrate the team’s ability to move in synchronized formations, move over jumps and around obstacles and fire pistols and rifles accurately while riding.
The company mostly uses period equipment from the 19th century. The pistols the soldiers use are 1858 .44-caliber Remington New-Model Revolvers and .45-caliber Colt New Army Models from 1873. Some of the demonstrations also involve 1873 .45-caliber Remington Lever-Action Repeater Rifles and 1873 12-guage double-barrel shotguns. Therkelson also said the company rides using 1853 McClellan saddles, but some of the other equipment, like the bits for the horses, is more modern for the comfort and safety of the horses.
Historically, the U.S. Cavalry rode bay horses with few or no white markings and the CGMCG looks for horses that resemble that description. Therkelsen said the company typically looks for bay geldings between 5 and 10 years old and between 15 and 16 hands.
This will be the second year the CGMCG has participated in the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, but the company has participated in ceremonies and events across the country. Most notably, the CGMCG has performed in inauguration ceremonies for the last three presidents.
Members of the CGMCG travel constantly and train tirelessly to maintain the appearance of a historical fighting unit, but Therkelsen said there is nothing else he would rather be doing.
“It’s the best job in the Army,” Therkelsen said.