- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) - When Mary Norrell was 3 years old and her parents brought her to an Aggie game, she looked at the Parsons Mounted Cavalry and knew it was something she wanted to be a part of.

The Eagle reports now a junior in the Corps of Cadets’ B-Battery, Norrell proudly rides with the cavalry, and hours before the Oct. 7 football game against Alabama, she was helping her fellow cadets ready dozens of animals for the trek from their ranch to Kyle Field.

“For me, my reason for joining the Corps of Cadets was this,” she said. “I grew up in an area where though I wanted to be around horses, I couldn’t. At first I was just in the marching band here, and I thought I couldn’t do both that and the cavalry, but when I was told I could do both, I was ecstatic.”

Though fans may only get a peek at Texas A&M;’s noble steeds and their riders at home football games, it takes a lot of hard work, planning and Aggie spirit behind the scenes to keep the Cavalry coming.

There are 68 animals that make up Texas A&M;’s cavalry - 61 horses and seven mules. Dozens of cadets, mostly juniors and seniors, from various battalions dedicate much of their time to caring for and training with the animals. The horses and mules have the task of not only marching their uniformed riders into Kyle Field, but also must pull several old-fashioned cavalry wagons and the large cannon used on the field during the games. The horses and mules must travel from their ranch area on F&B; Road in College Station to Kyle Field, maintain regal and calm despite traffic, thousands of excited fans and loud noises and flashing lights.

Cadets of all levels of riding experiences are allowed to try out to be in the cavalry in the fall of their sophomore year. They study and memorize various facts, take on the burden of regularly feeding the equines and must be deemed “teachable” and have a noticeable chemistry and sense of control with the animals, Norrell said. Most of the cuts made in the tryout process are by the students themselves, dropping out because the responsibility of being in the cavalry and correctly training the horses is too much to handle.

“It’s a lot of stress,” Norrell noted. “You know at any point that if you mess up, they’re at liberty to take you out.”

Cadets are first trained to ride their animals bareback. Horses must be specially taught to handle the sensory overload of an Aggie football game.

“We actually practice at the beginning of each year by having footballs thrown at us,” Norrell said. “Just in case something weird happens. … The point is to get the horses used to it. The more they do it, the safer it will be for the public.”

Horses and mules are often donated to the university. Some of the current Parsons steeds are former prison horses, while some have been used on movie sets. One Clydesdale was donated to Texas A&M; by the Houston Police Department after Texas A&M; temporarily housed the animal in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey. While students rotate between different animals on each ride, Norrell noted that most cavalry members do form bonds with certain horses and mules.

Jared Scott, a junior in the cavalry’s “half-section’ wagon team and a member of Company E-1, was riding a female mule named Mandy. Scott and Mandy would trot behind a large wooden wagon as they made the journey to Kyle Field.

Scott loves being a part of the long-standing tradition. While he has worked with horses before being a part of the mounted unit, he said there is a special feeling that accompanies being a part of something bigger in the Corps.

“It’s awesome seeing people, and getting the girls out in public,” he said, affectionately referring to the female mules.

“It’s really cool to see this in action, with how hard we work, getting to see it in march-ins. … This is a really good organization that’s one of a kind.”

For parents, watching their child proudly ride in uniform is a touching moment. B.J. Nelson did not attend Texas A&M; but was happy to see her son Randall, a junior, riding out on F&B; Road.

“He’s learning a lot about horses here,” she said. “I’ve found in talking with parents that a lot of kids in this group were in FFA or were 4-H kids growing up.”

Lisa Dillon, an Aggie mom who is an alumna of the university, said the cavalry has grown and changed since she was in school in the late 1970s, and it’s a bit surreal to see her son Michael, a senior, riding atop a horse before the football crowd.

“I have three kids who all went here,” she said. “…I love that Michael is in the cav. I’m so proud. I get chills seeing him come into stadium.”

Several hours before kickoff, Aggie fans flooded the grounds outside the stadium with fellowship and tailgating. Many fans approached the cavalry, who were stationed at the Quad under a grove of trees. Michah Shackel, a Texas A&M; junior, said she doesn’t consider herself an animal person but walked over to stroke the horses’ noses with a friend who was in town visiting.

“I think this is a very unique thing, just another tradition I love about (Texas A&M;),” she said.

Shackel’s friend, Bri Reed, is a student at East Texas Baptist University. As a self-proclaimed horse lover, she was impressed as she admired the 50 horses and mules stationed outside Kyle Field.

“I think Texas A&M; has a lot of tradition, and that’s important for the foundation for a school,” she said. “I think it’s great that they trust their horses enough to be around this many people. They look healthy and well fed, and that’s good.”

___

Information from: The Eagle, https://www.theeagle.com

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