The 1st Cavalry Division’s Horse Cavalry Detachment competed against dozens of military and civilian horse cavalry detachments during the 2019 National Cavalry Competition at Fort Reno, Oklahoma, bringing home two first place wins, as well as several other ribbons.

The U.S. Cavalry Association hosted the annual event from Sept. 25-28, with riders competing against one another in several dozen categories.

Despite taking three “green” mules and horses, who had never competed before, Capt. Jenny Nocella, commander of the detachment, is happy with the results and so are the detachment’s big finishers.

“Our mule team did an amazing job overall,” Nocella said. “They have definitely shown they are the right people to carry on that team to the next level of training.”

Spc. Cody Person, a Killeen native, makes up a quarter of the detachment’s wagon team. As the swamper, Person takes care of the mules – Trudy and Traveler – throughout the competition, while Sgt. Ruben Rodriguez, from Brownsville, acts as the muleskinner, the driver of the wagon.

Teamwork is how these two native Texans beat out the competition to take first place in the wheeled competition. Even with all the cards stacked against them, having two new mules on the team, they prevailed.

“To me, it wasn’t much on winning,” Rodriguez said. “I went there with one goal. I went there with a new team of mules and my goal was get them to behave as well as they could around bands and gunfire.”

Rodriguez revealed that during the competition, everything has to be done by voice command, so he needed the mules to listen and connect with him.

To do that, he needed to learn them and, in turn, they needed to trust him.

“Thankfully, we did all that and we also won the competition,” Rodriguez said. “I know those mules are gonna be great in this detachment.”

The competition included individual competitions in three class levels. Nocella explained the levels are dependent on the experience of the mounts. Level I for beginner mounts, Level II for novice mounts and Level III for advanced mounts. Other competition categories included combat horsemanship, trumpet competition, authenticity and the Major Howze team mobility event, among others.

Spc. Justin Alcorn took home first place in the Plains Indian Campaigns, an award for authenticity. Alcorn also placed fourth in Level III – Pistol.

Nocella competed in five different categories. While she performed well in all the events, she placed second in the Level I – Military Field Jumping category and fourth in Level 1 – Combat Horsemanship, while also riding with a new horse.

“I think that taking the new mounts and new mules allowed us to get a rep in that we absolutely needed,” Nocella said. “Our mounts do not get to compete in those environments and it exposes them to a lot of unfamiliar things and is a great training aide for both the troopers and the mounts.”

The other detachment competitors included Spc. Judson Conatser, who placed second in Level III – Mounted Pistol and third place in Level III – Combat Horsemanship, while Spc. Calvin Cuchens placed third in Level II – Combat Horsemanship and fourth in Level II – Horsemanship.

“We brought home six ribbons across the board at all three of the levels, as well as the mule team placing first in their event,” Nocella said. “I am feeling extremely proud of all of the troopers that went to compete.”