Norwich Cadets discovering the history and experience of military equine partnerships and excellence
BY ZACK BENNETT
NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2023
Norwich University is renowned for creating leaders. The university provides a multitude of paths towards student leadership, but a specialty unit like the Cavalry Troop offers a truly unique opportunity for Cadets. “You’re gaining leadership experience you won’t get anywhere else,” said Samantha McCullough ’24, reflecting upon her years spent in the troop. McCullough is a first sergeant of the troop who has spent years of her personal life riding horses before becoming a Cadet. She saw this specialty unit as a chance to foster her love of horses while in school and prepare her for life in the military after graduation. Cadets learn leadership from the first day they set foot on campus as a Rook, but leadership looks different in a specialty unit like the Cavalry Troop. “Within the Cavalry Unit, you have to become a leader, but you also have to do that with an animal,” said McCullough. “The animal comes before anything else. If you ride the horse and something happens, your first duty is caring for the animal.” Although horses are not used in the military in the way they once were, the Cadets learn invaluable leadership lessons. “It’s a different way of approaching leadership because instead of being worried about the well-being of people, you’re in charge of the well-being of animals who don’t speak our language,” she said. “It translates to putting people’s and the company’s needs before your own. At the end of the day, you’re there to get a mission done in accordance with your people.”
“You’re gaining leadership experience you won’t get anywhere else.”
McCullough said the skills she gains through these experiences are versatile, and she can use them wherever she goes. “For me personally, I’m going to commission into the Army,” she said. “I could bring this kind of leadership experience to my first duty station.”
The Cadets head off campus to Vermont Firefly Farm in Roxbury to hone their skills. Laura Hamilton and her husband own the farm and Figure 8 Riding, a full-service lesson and training program. She has been working with the students for nine years and has seen the program grow and improve.
“When we first started working together, there were about six students in the program,” said Hamilton. “Most of them had never ridden before.” She brought them through the riding basics and said, “They got quite good.” Hamilton has enjoyed her time with the troopers and is honored to work with them. “They’re very teachable. They listen, they’re respectful, and they’re committed. They give me their full attention when they’re here,” she said. Thanks to their life as a Cadet, they’re ahead of most beginners physically. “They can use their bodies in ways that most beginners can’t.”
Once troops are up to speed on horseback, she can advance their education and career prospects at the same time. Hamilton has the group complete mounted police clinics where the Cadets gain certifications for mounted police work.
Hamilton’s confidence in the troop’s skills has grown so much that now she invites them to show off their skills to the public. “I brought them to Equine Affaire, where they did mounted drill demonstrations,” said Hamilton. “We took them out there and they did a lot of public relations activities, like manning a booth in the breed barn to promote the Cavalry Troop.”
McCullough has also had the opportunity to show Hamilton’s horses individually when Hamilton sponsored her at a show at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds. “It’s a really large horse show,” said Hamilton. “She competed in several classes, both riding and in-hand on the ground and did very well.”
McCullough sees these experiences as fun and a way to promote the Cavalry Troop’s skills to the world. “If we have troopers who can show, it gives more opportunity to show both the Cavalry’s and our skills,” she said.
“They decided they’d provide funding for the unit because they believe in the work that horsemanship does for a person.”
While the troops were constantly conquering new challenges and showing the world what they could do, there was a time when the institution of the Cavalry Troop faced adversity.
“During my sophomore year, there was very, very few of us in the troop,” said Francis Smith ’17, a former Cavalry Trooper. With such low participation, there were questions about whether the program could continue receiving funding.
Smith and Alyssa Pinard ’16, a fellow trooper, couldn’t bear the thought of the troop dissolving. The pair of troopers began working to keep it alive and put together a business proposal with the hopes of finding a source of funding for the troop, and Pinard scouted the local area for potential barn owners and trainers before eventually finding Hamilton.
“My parents are businesspeople,” said Smith. “We pitched them the business proposal about funding the troop, and they graciously said yes, they want to be in as the donors. They decided they’d provide funding for the unit because they believe in the work that horsemanship does for a person.”
It has been nearly 10 years since his parents, Jerry Smith and Terry Romero, said yes to funding the troop, and the family is still providing their support. “Norwich produces successful people. You don’t go to this kind of school if you’re not motivated,” said Romero. “It’s a highly driven, high-impact kind of place. A lot is demanded, and the Cadets give a lot,” she said. “We’re happy to do it.”
Smith echoed his mother and said the family is “very, very pleased” to foster new generations of riders at Norwich. “We hope to see that horsemanship is kept alive at Norwich,” he said. “We unequivocally believe in this program with our entire beings.”