Trooper Jake Schultz didn’t grow up around horses. The last horse on his family’s farm in Villa Ridge died about 10 years before he was born.
But when members of the Horse Cavalry Detachment of the 1st Cavalry Division greeted him as he was returning to Fort Hood, Texas, in October 2016 after being deployed to South Korea for eight months, he was drawn to them.
“I don’t have family in Texas, so when it came time for the families to greet their soldiers, I kind of just meandered around and toward where they had our bags,” said Schultz, son of Scott and Sarah Schultz. “They were toward that direction, so I stopped and talked with them for a bit. It was just the two troopers on horseback.”
A week later, the detachment was looking for volunteers to join them, and Schultz immediately said yes.
“I talked with them, heard about how life was out here, and I was interested, but I just didn’t know how to start the process until they asked for volunteers, so I figured that was my best avenue to jump in and get my face out there,” said Schultz, who is the detachment’s mule skinner (or mule driver).
The purpose of the 1st Cavalry Horse Detachment, one of seven mounted cavalry units on active duty, is to promote the U.S. Army.
“The days of mounted troops and squadrons may be behind us, but the spirit and traditions of the old cavalry lives on in today’s modern 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas,” the 1st Cavalry website reads.
They participate in ceremonies and parades all over the country, including the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
This Monday, Jan. 1, Schultz will be driving the wagon in the 2018 Rose Parade.
There will be more than a dozen soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Horse Detachment in the parade, including 11 on horseback and two on the wagon.
This will be the detachment’s 14th time in the Rose Parade since 2001.
Enlisted in 2014
After graduating from Pacific High School in 2013, Schultz — who had earned his Eagle Scout honor with Troop 329 in Pacific for building and installing six bat houses at the World Bird Sanctuary — enrolled in classes at East Central College.
In high school, he had been active in the theater department and even won a Best Actor award for his performance in PHS’s production of “The Triangle Factory Fire Project” for the Missouri one-act play competition.
At ECC, Schultz was ready to continue pursuing his interest in theater, but it wasn’t holding his interest.
“So I joined the Army instead,” Schultz remarked.
“It was something I always thought of doing growing up. As a kid, I used to play soldier in the woods and everything. I guess I just decided if I was going to do it, I’d better make the jump now while I’m still young.”
Schultz enlisted in November 2014 and completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. From there he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, 1st Calvary Division.
In February 2016, Schultz was deployed to South Korea.
“When we came home, the detachment sent out two troopers on horseback to welcome home everyone from our rotation, and I got talking to one of the riders out there. He told me about it, and a week later, my first sergeant, who is the head noncommissioned officer of my company, asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to try out, and I raised my hand, and here I am,” said Schultz.
Represent the 1870 Era
The 1st Cavalry Horse Detachment’s garrison, workshops and stables are located in a rural setting adjacent to the main entrance of Fort Hood.
“The detachment is organized and equipped to represent the division as an 1870-era ‘horse soldier’ troop, complete with cavalry uniforms consisting of government issue blouses, trousers, hats, belts and boots, authentic firearms, sabers, saddles and work details of the period,” the website reads. “The standard weapons issued to the troops are the 1875 Model 45-70 Springfield ‘Trap Door’ carbine, the 1875 Colt single action, 45-caliber revolver and the 1860 Light Cavalry saber which was considered as standard issue for the Civil War period. Saddles used on the horses are the McClellan 1885 Saddle, which has been modified with the 1904 quarterstrap.”
All of the soldiers at Fort Hood are welcome to apply for the horse detachment.
“I’m an infantryman, but we have cavalry scouts, tankers, truck drivers, aircraft mechanics, tank mechanics, anyone can come out and try to be a member,” said Schultz. “They make sure you have certain leadership skills already completed, and you continue on your training career.”
He joined with 25 training candidates, but only 12 were in his graduating class.
“At the end of your training phase, you have to take a written test on what you learned,” said Schultz. “It’s on basic history, anatomy of the horses, the components of certain weapons and equipment that we use out here and basic horsemanship questions. All of that goes into what riding rank you receive.”
Schultz was assigned head mule skinner, or mule driver. He also serves as one of the armors at the barn, which means that he works on and maintains the weapons that they use.
Training to Work With Animals
Newcomers to the detachment have to complete a two- to three-month training period where they learn how to work with the animals and acclimatize to the lifestyle, said Schultz. .
“You come in every day at 6:30 a.m., do PT (physical training). And then at 7:30 you go home to shower and get changed into your duty uniform,” he said. “You come back at 9 a.m., and that just starts the duty day. You work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., go about your assigned duties as a trainee.
“A lot of it is being taught basic horsemanship, because we will get trainees who have never seen a horse before. And you kind of have to train to that lowest level of skill that comes in,” he said.
A soldier’s initial commitment to the detachment is 18 months. Schultz said the length of his assignment will be determined in February, when he applies for Special Forces.
“If I get accepted, I intend to pursue that career path,” he said. “It all hinges on that. I intend to finish my 18 months, which comes up in about a year.”
The day-to-day work in the detachment can vary greatly depending on the schedule, Schultz explained. It can include maintaining the area, mucking out the stalls and caring for the assigned animals to getting the animals ready for a big event on post or sometimes off post.
In the detachment, there are 31 American Quarter horses, three Belgian draft mules and two cattle dogs. Schultz is responsible for the three mules and both dogs.
“Every day with the mules means checking up on them, making sure there are no injuries, grooming them and getting them basic exercise,” said Schultz.
Any member of the detachment also is able to lead barn tours for visitors. Tours include an explanation of the day-to-day operations and what each shop does, as well as unit history, said Schultz.
The unit also gives a mounted weapons demonstration every Thursday at 10 a.m. Those are open to the public, said Schultz.
“The mounted demonstration is a thrilling exhibition of skill and precision required of the mounted trooper,” the 1st Cavalry Division website reads. “It includes drill maneuvers at the walk, trot and gallop. The weapons portion of the show demonstrates the mounted use of the Cavalry Saber, Colt .45 caliber Revolver, and Springfield Carbine.”
The unit is located just off post, so there is no need for an on-post pass, he said.
“We put it on for the public, and we we love having people come out to watch us,” he remarked.
Driving the Wagon
When the detachment performs in ceremonies or parades, like the Rose Bowl, Schultz drives the wagon pulled by two mules. A second trooper, the swamper, sits next to him in the wagon, and the cattle dog rides in the back. Each of the three has a separate job to do.
“The mule skinner’s only job is to drive the wagon in a safe manner. The swamper’s job is to make sure the mule skinner, the mules and the dog, are all safe,” said Schultz.
And the cattle dog’s job on the wagon is to motivate the mules to keep pulling.
“So when we put the wagon at a trot, they’ll bark and keep the mules kind of motivated to maintain the speed they are going,” said Schultz. “It works quite well.”
The detachment currently has two cattle dogs, Sgt. Buddy, 13, and his trainee, Pvt. Bouncer, a puppy.
“Right now, Sgt. Buddy is a little too old to go on the road a lot. He does all of our home events. Pvt. Bouncer, his eventual replacement, will be our wagon dog for when we go on the road,” said Schultz.
Important and Fulfilling
Since joining the Horse Cavalry Detachment, Schultz has found the work to be both important and fulfilling.
“It’s a tradition thing,” he said. “It’s always important to look back on where you came from before you can look ahead to see where we are going. This is a good place to kind of look at your career, and it’s a really good jumping-off point for a lot of opportunities.
“I’m using this to help push myself to go to Special Forces. I know people who have used it to start their Green to Gold package, which is to go from an enlisted soldier to being an officer in the Army,” he said. “And everyone loves to come out and see people riding around on horseback. It’s fun to be part of that.”
For more information on the 1st Cavalry Horse Detachment, go to https://1cda.org/history/history-1cd-horse-det/.